If you can’t eat chips, eat chakli

I don't know if the "ban" on the sale and consumption of junk food and aerated drinks in school and college campuses in the State, recommended by Medical Education Minister Dr V.S. Acharya will work.

But I certainly like his advocacy of chaklis and undes as worthy alternatives to crisps, colas and candy.

I can't say much about the ban because government-run educational institutions are increasingly places where those who have no other option, or those who cannot afford chips, colas and candy, go to.

So, whether banning something their students do not or cannot consume is such a startlingly good idea, I know not.

On the other hand, I am wondering, in an era when ministers defend their turfs like bloodhounds (remember the Union I&B minister squabbling with the Union health minister over the ban on smoking on screen?), if the writ of the medical education minister extends over the primary and higher education departments, or the directorate of collegiate education over a matter not involving education but food?

More to the point, are fancy private schools and colleges dutybound to implement such rules, without cries of intrusion from fancy students and their even fancier parents for whom crisps, colas and candy are becoming fashion statements?

The minister's rationale for the ban is that their unbridled sale and consumption can cause damage to teeth and bones, if not result in malnutrition leading to obesity.

Dr Acharya is a man of medicine, so we can take him on his word.

He even cites the example of the United Kingdom where there is a tight check on what school and college cafeteria can or cannot sell. Indeed, he claims, there is a tight check on food sold in the immediate vicinity of the institutions, too.

To that, we can add whether children should be exposed to monopolies on campus, but we will let that pass.

But the point to ponder is whether young people consume all their chips and kurkure in schools and colleges? If they cannot buy it there, surely they are smart enough to buy it elsewhere?

Maybe, mom stores them at home?

That's why I say I am not so sure about efficacy of the ban. 

Which is where his advocacy of chakli and unde comes.

Dr Acharya says these are made fresh, contain urad dal and black gram, and have the requisite content of vitamins, carbohydrates and fat that young bodies need.

In other words, they are much better than untouched-by-human-hand crisps, colas and candy.

Whether there is a hint of the "Hindu Nationalist Party" behind this avowedly desi suggestion is not difficult to guess, but surely there is little to be argued even if there is.

What can be so patently wrong about saying that it is better you eat what your people make?

It is Dr Acharya's underlying freudian belief that the local snack industry is languishing and may need a leg up that deserves closer examination. 

The disappearance of fresh, locally made snacks, although probably inevitable, is one of the sadder phenomena.

In the late 1970s, my cousin Guru worked in a outfit which made upperi in Chamundipuram and which women, usually widows and very poor girls, went and sold door to door.

Such cottage industries have more or less vanished, although there are now a couple of joints between the Apollo hospital and Cauvery school in Kuvempunagar, which make and sell locally made snacks at frightening speed.

Even today, every three weeks or so, a man on a cycle wearing cooling glasses waltzes into 8th Main Road, Yadavagiri, screaming: "Chakli, koda bale, rave unde."

(On weeks he can't make it, his wife, hauls along the stuff on the same men's cycle, bar and all, that must be the family's only mode of transport.)

So, nobody can claim that the local snack industry is dead; it's more centralised in the hands of a few big players.

Indeed, as George Orwell wrote in the case of second-hand bookshops, it is only those who haven't worked in one, who romanticise them.

Likewise, chakli, koda bale makers.

It is possible we mourn their passing, although they themselves must be pretty happy at having graduated to something more paying, smething more secure.

But what we can truly mourn is the non-availibiliy of good chakli and koda bale in pubs and bars.

Spicy koda bale and cold Kingfisher beer may be the greatest culinary combo the war of 1857 wrought on us (that's the year United Breweries was set up). And yet to find our watering holes serving ghoulish gobi manchurian takes the breath away.

I once asked Ramesh Bopaiah, the man who runs Bopy's Pub near Aishwarya Petrol Bunk, why he couldn't put churumuri or koda bale on his menu.

"Margin," said Ramesh, ever the businessman. "If I serve them, all my customers will eat is churumuri and koda bale. And you know who earns the most on my staff? The cooks. They need to be making and we need to be selling stuff that will earn them their pay."

So, I don't know if Dr Acharya's school ban will work, but if ever he wants support to put them on the menus in pubs and bars, he can count me in.