Is it plastic? Or not? Safe? Not safe? Unnecessary panic? Or really scary? Media hype? Or scientific fact?
Yesterday, I was a panelist on a TV discussion about plastic in our rice and eggs. There were scientists, food experts and two worried consumers who thought they had eaten plastic rice and eggs.
I was silent for the most part of the discussion, listening to everybody else on the panel vehemently argue that plastic rice is a myth, cannot be made, commercially not viable, technically not possible, creation of the media, etc, etc.
There was even a “scientific” demonstration by one of the panelists who took a cup of cooked rice, added a drop of iodine tincture and showed that the rice turned blue and was therefore real. That is, he took a cup of real rice and proved that it was real. Which made me wonder exactly where the “science” in his demonstration was.
It was all about denial. Denial, denial, denial.
The videos on Youtube were loudly denounced, the two aggrieved consumers on the panel were hushed up, the caller who called in with her complaint about a dubious cabbage was overwhelmed with “science”.
The general attitude of the learned ones on the panel was, “I don’t believe it, therefore it does not exist”.
Where’s the proof, they all cried. We’ve analysed a hundred samples, but all were clean, they claim. Sure. If you take a sample that is clean to start with, you will get a clean result.
The one panelist I found really entertaining was the food expert who kept screaming and shouting about the rampant ‘malnutrition’ that is allegedly happening because people have allegedly stopped eating eggs. Egg farmers will go out of business, thousands of jobs will be lost, the economy will collapse, what will happen to our country, etc, etc.
I wonder if he meant that millions of Brahmins (like myself), Lingayats, Jains, vegans and other non-egg eaters across India are (a) severely malnourished and (b) responsible for India’s economic ruin because we do not eat eggs.
But hey, who am I to argue? I’m no “scientist”, am I?
I’m not surprised at this vehement denial. Some people have their reputations at stake, you see.
This is a classic case of confirmation bias. You can read more about it in this blogpost of mine. What it means is that if one is totally convinced about something, then he will either twist the existing facts to support his conviction or worse, create facts of his own.
This is just what I saw during that panel discussion. Not one of those “experts” was willing to even consider that there may, just may be, some basis to all those reports pouring in from across the country. They were not willing to concede even the remotest possibility. No means no, to them. We, the experts, say there is no plastic, so there is no plastic. That’s all.
I was reminded of that scene in Matrix, in which the little boy says, “There is no spoon”.
My take on this issue: The people deserve to be heard. The people deserve to know.
This is our food, damn it. Our food.
As it is, most of our food is already adulterated with all kinds of shit, and with all kinds of “legally permissible” stuff.
As our vociferous food expert loudly told us, and the rest of India, during the panel discussion, our sugar and salt have about 1.5% “legally permissible” silicates added to them. In other words, your sugar and salt have about 1.5% sand in them. And that’s legal. That’s right. When you add a hefty spoonful of shining white sugar to your child’s milk, you are legally feeding a little amount of sand to her. Cho chweet, no?
Did you know that? No? Then blame it on the same “experts” who tell you your rice is absolutely clean and totally plastic-free.
Don’t believe me. Try it yourself. Dissolve a teaspoon of your sugar in a glass of water.
The question here is not whether there really is plastic in our rice or not. The real question is, what are we not being told about the food we eat? How exactly is officialdom dealing with our food safety?
We saw this during the MSG issue during 2015. Vehement denial, confusing the public with “science”, contradictory statements by “experts”, rules and regulations, brushing aside consumer worries, raving and ranting.
But not one straightforward answer.
Do not underestimate the Indian house-wife. She knows her food. She knows what she’s buying. She’s the most skeptical consumer on earth, because she buys not for herself, but for her family.
When a deeply worried housewife tells you there’s something wrong with her food, you had better take her seriously.
And that is what the “scientists” do not understand.
This is not an effing research project, not an effing scientific experiment. It is not about “science”. And not a political issue, either.
It is about a worried wife and a scared mother. It is about a laborer who lives on daily wages. It is about a terrified farmer who already has enough problems in his life. Whether it is vada-pav on the roadside or a buffet at a 5-star hotel, whether it is a laborer or a corporate magnate – the questions on their minds are exactly the same.
How safe is our food? What are we not being told ?
Vehement denial is not the answer. Throwing “science” in our faces is not the answer. Quoting rules about “legally permissible” crap is not the answer.
People do not need “science”. They need compassion, and understanding. They deserve a proper explanation, not rhetoric. They need to know that someone in the administration is doing his job and someone is keeping us safe.
They need the truth.
Is there plastic in our rice? Are our eggs fake?
I do not know. It may contain plastic, it may not. Is it technically possible to make plastic rice grains and eggs? Yes it is.
But, does your rice really have plastic in it? I just do not know for sure. That I do not know for sure does not scare me. I am not responsible for your food supply.
What really scares me, is that those who are responsible for your food are not entirely sure either – and just do not want to accept that fact.
Think about that, when you order your biryani.