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Little appetite for all this

In New York, the city administration has valiantly fought to have an allowable volume of cola per serving reduced. Apparently personal or parental responsibilities, and self-control are no longer relevant. Anirudh Bhattacharyya writes.

columns Updated: Jan 25, 2014 00:15 IST
Anirudh Bhattacharyya
Anirudh Bhattacharyya
Hindustan Times

As a fan of technology, I welcomed the recent introduction of an automated book return facility at our local library. Push a couple of buttons and the task is complete.

The process was as complicated as twiddling thumbs. However, the bureaucrats who frame diktats for the system obviously don’t credit their patrons with possessing much intelligence.

Therefore, on one trip, I found that a librarian had been deputed to lend a hand to members in undertaking the baffling business of using their fingertips. Just in case, possibly, they were all thumbs. As a result, a process that usually takes me fewer than 10 seconds, with such able aid, consumed a few minutes.

If you’re concerned with recent criticism over the Anarchic Banana Republic of Delhi, living in the Nanny Nations of North America is another experience altogether, and, no, this isn’t an attempt to sneak in commentary about the Khobragade episode.

There’s a push to outlaw such terrible threats to modern existence such as the humble incandescent light bulb and even the doorknob. As an article in the Wall Street Journal points out, in parts of California, "half of the lighting in new kitchens is required to be ‘high efficacy luminaires’." As these tubelights flicker, these are but minor skirmishes; the true conflict is over the food we consume.

In various places, there have been campaigns to remove whole trees such as oaks from the vicinity of schools, so that children with severe nut allergies aren’t exposed to potential hazards.

The lactose intolerance epidemic has also caused several schools to militate against lunches that include anything dairy, from simple cheese slices to milk and eggs. Apparently, a student carrying a peanut butter sandwich is now a human rights violator. Unfortunately, the campaigns to launch nut-free zones are targeting the wrong parties.

Given that such dietary restrictions are tighter than those for a hipster vegan, it’s hardly a surprise when I find that fast food outlets in my neighbourhood are brimming with hungry kids after school lets out.

Harvard University professor Nicholas Christakis has pointed out that of the 3.3 million Americans with nut allergies, approximately 150 die of related causes each year. Interestingly, nearly a 100 Americans are killed each year by lightning.

But then virtuous victimhood is the flavour of the millennium. Actually, they’ve already simplified the process of complaining to the appropriate authority. Simply call or email your friends, and the friendly folks at the National Security Agency will forward your gripe to relevant quarters.

In essence, we’ve entered a phase of the War on Taste. Now that the War on Drugs has given way to marijuana legalisation and the War on Terror to the effort to combat man-caused disasters, the new al Qaeda and Taliban attacking America’s youth are salt and sugar, which are peppered with peril. The meal menus of previous generations would be frowned upon as weapons of mass destruction.

In New York, the city administration has valiantly fought to have an allowable volume of cola per serving reduced. Apparently personal or parental responsibilities, and self-control are no longer relevant.

The problem, of course, is that over decades, the food industry has made highly processed, chemically enhanced products its meal ticket. Taken with the cult of nutritionism, eating, that most basic of routine acts, is deemed worthy of deconstruction. Michael Pollan, author of books like The Omnivore’s Dilemma, has a simple suggestion: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."

But for busybody bureaucrats manning the floodgates of food faddism, eating can’t go unregulated. There’s the introduction of innovations like the traffic light diets, which somewhat like the post-9/11 colour-coded threat levels, alert eaters of unhealthy choices they make.

Coupled with calorie counters, this barrage of food forewarnings are enough to make most lose their appetites. As George Bernard Shaw once observed: "Statistics show that of those who contract that habit of eating, very few survive."

Currently based in Toronto, Anirudh Bhattacharyya has been a New York-based foreign correspondent for eight years

The views expressed by the author are personal

First Published: Jan 25, 2014 00:07 IST