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The taste of success

To understand the changes in India's economy and society, Jacob Silberberg decided to look at what its people eat. As a consumer culture takes hold and the nation's eating habits are transformed, the agricultural and food industries are changing in unprecedented ways. Western style supermarkets are beginning to emerge and they, in turn, are seeking suppliers who can provide a steady stream of clean, green and uniform produce.

Many farmers who previously sold their products in open-air markets are adapting to supply commodities for sale to formal retail chains with identikit, air-conditioned stores. Farmers are slowly learning to produce baby corn and okra to specifications needed for industrial packaging machines. Newly emerging middle and striving classes are searching out fast foods, both those imported from abroad and Indian fare. Processed foods are seen as modern and more advanced. Some parents pride themselves on being able to order a pizza or fried fast foods for their children on a daily basis, something they could not afford as children themselves. With this desire for 'new' processed foods has come a corresponding obesity epidemic among India's growing urban middle class. Schools have begun to combat this by mandating what children can bring with them for lunch. School nutritionists now design varied and healthier menus that parents must adhere to for their children.

As the middle classes discover the joys of junk food, the newly minted urban, professional classes are finding that processed foods are not the panacea of modernity they once believed. India's elite are beginning to return to more traditional foods, fresh vegetables and organic ingredients. The challenge they set themselves is both to find fresh produce in a western, urban setting, and to prepare that produce into more sophisticated versions of traditional Indian food. Some wealthy women now attend cooking classes, often accompanied by their servants, in order to make their diets healthier and richer.

India's booming economy is leaving behind nearly 800 million of the country's one billion people. They don't work in call centres and they don't pass their free time in shopping malls. The nearly 80 percent of India's population that lives in the countryside is often untouched by the food revolution as well. In some rural districts, malnutrition is rising, not falling. Protein consumption as a portion of the diet is falling.Meanwhile, globalisation is creating unusual outcomes. At one factory visited by Jacob Silberberg, Indian gherkins are packaged for a French food company and then exported to Russia, where the French brand adds value.
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