Monday, May 28, 2007

Supreme Court's war on street food


Vir Sanghvi is angry. In his latest column, he argues strongly against the Supreme Court's recent ban on the "cooking of food items on Delhi pavements." Here's his sixth line of attack on the ban:

Six: And finally for the so-called hygiene argument. I am angry enough now to be blunt.

Of all the arguments advanced to justify the ban, this is easily the stupidest.

Only a fool believes that it is hygienic to ban the means by which street food is heated in front of you to temperatures at which no bacteria can survive. Anybody who eats on the streets knows the basic rule: be careful of food that has not been freshly cooked; try and ensure that the vendor heats it before your eyes.

The stupidity of this ban lies in the failure of those who propound it to grasp this basic fact. Years ago, when I was editor of Bombay magazine, we conducted a survey of street food and hygiene. Our lab told us that the chutney used for bhel puri was often too full of bacteria for human consumption (though this is an arbitrary distinction because most Indians have acquired the ability to survive high levels of bacteria), but the report made it clear that anything that was heated to high temperatures was much safer because most of the bacteria had been destroyed in the cooking process.

And yet, the Delhi ban turns this basic truth on its head. A roadside vendor can still sell you a samosa or a kachori. You have no way of knowing where the kachori was made or what went into the samosa. For all you know, the samosa could have been made near a dung heap four days ago — long enough for it to be contaminated by bacteria. Because the vendor will no longer be allowed to reheat it or crush it on his hot tawa, the bacteria will flourish and multiply.

And the Municipal Corporation will encourage this bacterial multiplication — all in the name of hygiene.

1 Comments:

  1. Rahul said...

    Spot on. But as for this sentence
    "Only a fool believes that it is hygienic to ban the means by which street food is heated in front of you to temperatures at which no bacteria can survive"
    -- well, if that's not contempt (in the ordinary English sense of the word), I don't know what is. In the legal sense, too, I'm pretty sure it would have been contempt until the recent Parliament act; now I'm not sure.

    Good to see the media taking on the Supreme Court like this.