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Mumbai Calling! – Press 7 for Consumerism…

Street Scene in MumbaiStreet Scene in Mumbai

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Compared to the Western World… what was blatantly apparent, is how thin the majority of the population are!  Not through malnutrition, but simply good diet, natural foods and exercise.  

If I go back in time to the 60’s and 70’s, it was rare to see a fat child in school, perhaps 1 in 2,000 or more…  Today, however the rate of overweight children has increased to an alarming 30% (approx) (Source: ).

Ok, we all know that the amount of calories consumed must be at least equal to the output of physical exercise we undertake, however a further problem is within our eating habits…

If we go back in Time, the Victorians taught us to eat at least three times a day (Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner) and occasionally Supper, however snacking in between meals was not accepted, and portions weren’t over the top.  If you were lucky/good (as a child) you may have had a weekend treat of a piece of chocolate/snack, but there was definitely no snacking between meals.

Today however, snacking (Crisps, Cakes, Chocolate and Savoury Snacks) for many, has replaced the staple diet of solid square meals, in fact, go into any large office/corporate environment and you can guarantee that someone will have brought in a plethora of cakes, samosa’s, pies, snacks and sweets for everyone to graze throughout the day.  This is in addition to the availability of snack machines, canteen facilities or access to sandwich shops etc.  It’s big business and we are surrounded by food!

I brought to India with me, a couple of 1Kg Tins of Cadbury’s chocolate to share with the team.  What I found surprising to begin with… back home people will dig in and, there will be a flurry of wrappers, and, by the end of the day (if not by lunchtime) the tins would be empty.  

Not in India though…. People in the office would eventually select one or two treats, and then save them for later in the day, after two weeks, most of the sweets (or candy if you’re an American) still remained intact!  Now this could be that they don’t like Western Confectionary, but apparently it wasn’t the case.  The key difference here is that people tend to eat when they are hungry, stick to the main times of day for their meals and generally don’t graze throughout the day!

So what has this got to do with consumerism?

As big businesses have outsourced a number of functions to India, there’s a new wave of upcoming middle class.  Competition for jobs is high, everyone I speak to, have at a minimum, a university degree, studying for a Masters or PhD at the same time, they work long hours in the office environment (A very common problem in Europe), and have an excess of available cash to spend on luxury goods.  

The standard of living is much better than Europe in economic terms.  Whilst I’m sure they all complain they don’t earn as much as their US or European counterparts, the reality is that many items, housing etc is significantly cheaper in India.  So someone earning ₹10 Laks is the equivalent of earning around €40,000 to €60,000 loosely based on house prices/rental/taxes and basic items, and the average wage across India is around ₹1.2 Laks (Source India Times).

As a result, they want what we have, which are the big franchises, McDonalds, Subway, Dominos, ready made meals, processed foods, shopping centres (Malls if you’re American) etc etc.  As a result, you can see obesity growing in India.

If you compared Europe to the 70’s, where people bought locally grown produce, vegetables that were in season, meat from Butchers, Veg from Corner shops or green grocers, and made meals from scratch, there was little problem with people overweight.  Once the big boys came in (Beefeater, Burger King, Kentucky Fried Chicken, McDonalds, Pizza Hut, Domino’s, SubWay to name but a few) we chose to eat/substitute fast food in place of wholesome meals, simply because our lives become more hectic, we have less time to prepare meals etc, we’ve opted for convenience and as a result, we do have a problem with a nation of overweight people, to the point that health services are bracing themselves for a wave of Diabetes, Asthma, Heart Conditions, Strokes and the ilk.

India from my perspective looks to be on the verge of the same epidemic as developed countries are experiencing.  The fast food joints and supermarkets all claim their meals are balanced and nutritious (within government guidelines).  They spend millions in marketing their food products as healthy options, but the fact remains, something has happened in our food chain to create the problems we see today, if someone or a group were to study India, I’m sure that they will find a clear link between convenience foods and obesity.  If this was left unmonitored it’s easy to see that the new emerging middle classes will look like Europe in 30 years time!

Given that the vast majority freshly prepare and cook their meals from scratch sourcing local produce, I hope that India doesn’t inherit this Western Disease.

This is not a rant against fast food, as a European I’ve enjoyed my fair share.  This is simply an observation, and perhaps we have many lessons and balance to be re-learnt about convenience, processed foods and snacking!

A Drive Down Laxmi Road

More Street Scenes in Mumbai.

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