A pack of woes

Quick-fix meals

A pack of woes

They are tasty and quick to prepare. Packaged and instant foods have gained immense popularity among people of all age groups, be it students or busy couples. However, with a popular noodle brand coming under the scanner for the high amount of monosodium glutamate (MSG) and lead it contains, a question has been raised on how safe these products are. Is it possible to completely avoid them or more convenient to just turn a blind eye towards everything?   

Instant noodles are the most favourite food of youngsters, especially those living in hostels. Chitra, a postgraduate student, used to live on them when she was in the hostel. “Though I knew that noodles have wax in them for that glossy look, they were my survival food when I was living in the hostel. I knew people who would struggle with an iron box to heat them up or just have them plain with the ‘masala’,” she says.

And it’s not just the noodles that are in question. Any ready-to-eat food could consist of ingredients that we may not be aware of. “Though I prefer to cook, there are days when I am just so lethargic. And when you see a packet of instant ‘rajma’ rice and ‘paneer’, you just can’t help but go for it. After a hard day’s work, all one needs is something to eat to get some energy,” notes Chitra. 

Linfriola Pinto, a student of St Joseph’s College of Commerce, lives in a hostel and used to make noodles if there was no other option.

“Everyone always knew that instant noodles are bad. Yet, if I couldn’t get food from elsewhere for some reason, I’d opt to have them. But now, I will definitely not go for them,” she says.

Young married couples many a time opt for readymade curries that can be quickly eaten with rice and ‘chapathis’. “When it comes to packaged food, the only thing I look for on the box is the expiry date,” laughs Chetana, who is newly-married. “But after the recent turn of events, we need to look at the ingredients in a particular food item more carefully too,” she adds.

Food technologists feel that the consumers can have faith in the law. Aarti (name changed), who used to be a food scientist and product developer, had started her career testing the seasoning of noodles. “The Indian laws are quite stringent,” she informs. She wonders why there is so much hue and cry over the noodle brand. “They say that the lead content in it is high. But have people wondered about the amount of lead in water and soil these days? Besides, it’s not actual MSG that is used in it but a substitute,” she adds. Ask her what can one look out for in a packaged product and she says, “Each product has an ‘E-number’ that can be looked up online. This will give you all the ingredients that it has.”     

Nutritionists feel that it is best to go natural. Dr Ashwini Sukumar, a nutritionist, says, “We all want to buy anything that saves time. But one must keep in mind that whatever is packaged is extensively processed. It has taste enhancers and other chemicals that increase its shelf life. Even the so-called healthy products like muesli and cornflakes fall under this category.” 

She feels that even the manufacturers play with the consumers’ psyche. “For instance, why wouldn’t a plant-based item like sunflower oil be ‘zero cholesterol’? However, by labelling it as zero chole­sterol, the manufacturers make people think that it’s ‘extra healthy’.”

 She feels that one must take a stand against readymade food items. “Even pulses and legumes are packaged these days but one can’t help but buy those. However, something like a ready-to-eat ‘pulao’ or ginger-garlic paste can easily be made at home. One just needs more time and effort but in the long run, it will definitely be worth it,” she says.

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