The Food Report January 2023 (Maharashtra)

India | Public Health | Food and Health

We are living in tricky times. Older generations, which valued the merits of naturally-produced foods like the small Gauthi Methi (indigenous fenugreek) or the thin-skinned locally-produced Tamatar (tomato) consumed on a daily basis once, have now either been elbowed out of an existence that counts towards consumers or simply relegated to a minority whose opinion doesn't matter, writes Gajanan Khergamker

Food choices, patterns and benefits were brought down generations by families that cherished values and processes innate to the land. But, with the burgeoning of consumers and, concurrently, their market-manufactured desires, the compulsion to copy tastes and ratify non-native foods and choices, is now overwhelming. Also, gluttony is the new normal.

Simply put, one must respect the weather, wares and wishes of a land s/he belongs to. After all, just like native humans, processes too are native to the place of origin. And, the more we disregard local processes, the more we expose ourselves to the backlash of nature.

Yet, population growth, synthetic surges of taste and need have triggered food patterns that are foreign yet customised to the taste of the native. Chinese foods, for instance, in urban India, as opposed to the Chinese food in Russia or in Maharashtra's rural districts vary drastically.

Humans have willingly offered to allow their senses to be tricked by flavourings that are produced in laboratories and mimic natural tastes. And, with an industry that's growing by the day, for one to question less even object about the inclusion of 'fakes' into food products simply to enhance taste, is a rarity. 

To generate 'The Food Report', DraftCraft International's team of researchers travelled across Mumbai, Pune, Raigad districts and the interiors of Maharashtra like Kolhapur and Solapur districts - both urban and rural zones - to identify the dietary patterns of people, the foods being consumed and the effect of Western 'fast foods' v/s the traditional Indian fast foods and emerged with interesting findings.

Cities, where one would imagine there are several options and information available, seem to be gripped by some sense of misplaced propaganda. 

Oblivious to the dangers of processed foods, 'fast foods' and faking agents, there are restaurants, bakeries, Chinese-selling food stalls even Indian food outlets using flavouring agents to enhance traditional Indian dishes in Mumbai. Concurrently, in the interiors of Maharashtra, the food of choice remained more or less the same, just that their ingredients were truly 'Fresh and All-Natural'. The vegetables and fruits were produced naturally and not in commercially-driven bulk processes and for mass consumption. They looked and smelled fresh while being sold for consumption and given away for free to the poor at the end of the day. 

Hoarding old foods, refrigerating them and reheating them the next day for sale, camouflaged as 'fresh', simply didn't happen in rural Maharashtra. The simple yardstick for good healthy food would be to eat it fresh off the stall as you watch it being prepared in front of you and delivered 'fresh'.

The need to opt for flavourings arises when there is a surge of consumption and an unpredictable shift in eating patterns. If you could avail fresh food without any adulteration, you wouldn't need to opt for any faux flavouring. Also, the use of millets in food is prevalent across rural zones as opposed to refined wheat-flour aka Maida and its makes across cities. The consumption of millets such as jowar, bajra and ragi is restricted to diet food and made available at hefty prices in ‘Healthy Food’ outlets in Mumbai. 

As for the general population, it's the obvious-convenience of cooking, readily-available and cheaper Maida-based foods like rotis, naans and puris that elbows out any chance of going through the drudgery of cooking jowar and bajra rotis, also considered 'rural' and not coated with the commercial finesse of, say, a Butter Naan. 

The goodness is restricted to choosing Garlic over Butter in one's choice of Naan. Exasperating yet true. Food habits will change if not by choice... by circumstance! The urban consumer in metropolitan cities like Mumbai is making the shift. After all, it's health that's at stake. And, he'll have to make the change or risk extinction. Just like that good ol' greenish-orange Santra which has disappeared and been replaced by the juicy, commercially-produced Malta.

Introduction: Parents, Educators And Industry Hold The Key
By Manu Shrivastava

One of the biggest ‘influencer’ of the 21st century, ‘food’ has come a long way in its evolutionary journey from being a naturally-available source of nutrition essential for human sustenance to a commodity of luxury.  

For eons, food has been used to make a statement, represent cultures, status and beliefs. It has also been a substance offering warm comfort igniting childhood memories. In the last few decades though, food has seen some of the biggest transformations. Most food items available today has gone from being natural to ‘naturally-flavoured’ and key natural ingredients have been replaced with chemicals in the name of flavouring agents, taste enhancers, colouring agents, emulsifiers and stabilisers. India’s third largest state Maharashtra, with a population of 11.24 crore as per Census 2011, presents a good opportunity to evaluate food type, availability and food habits with its urban and rural populace that stand at 45.23 per cent and 54.76 per cent of the total population, respectively. 

As part of media-legal think tank DraftCraft International’s The Public Health Project, researchers spread across Maharashtra to evaluate the food culture and habits and the availability of ‘good’ food. 

Additionally, talks and discussions were held across the state’s urban and rural pockets focussing on ‘safe’ and ‘natural’ foods. An important finding revealed how the same food item’s nutritional value and health impact changed from urban to rural zones.  

For example, Maharashtra’s most favourite food that has also become a part of its identity, the vada pav, triggered gastric troubles in urban Mumbai even when consumed in small quantities and, in rural Pune and Solapur, which registered an even-higher consumption, didn’t cause any problem.  

A common guess would be that in rural areas, Batata Vada – the potato patty inside the pav or the bread – is prepared fresh and served and that’s what doesn’t trigger gastric problems in the consumer. Concurrently, there were many outlets in urban Mumbai that prepare fresh Batata Vada and still elicited gastric issues in many consumers. It’s not just the time of preparation but also the quality of ingredients that affect the outcome of eating snacks like Vada Pav, Samosa, Poha, Upma, etc.  

In rural zones, there’s a higher likelihood of freshly-procured fruits and vegetables used as ingredients. The flour too, in most cases, is derived from desi varieties of grain that taste better and agree more with the body. Interesting contrasts were also seen in the availability of type of food and eating habits.  

So, in the interiors of Maharashtra, in Solapur district, for example, improved economic conditions owing to cash crop plantation have changed the landscape of the zone and public tastes. The talks and discussions held here elicited overwhelming response from senior citizens, parents and educators. 

Some talukas in Solapur like Karmala have been inundated with ‘fast food’ outlets serving Chinese food, processed food, cake shops, aerated drinks, etc. Freshly-prepared and natural food outlets here have been reduced to a trickle in comparison to avenues for junk food that pepper the arterial road in the town. 

In Karmala and nearby talukas, successful sugarcane plantation and increased sugar production in sugar mills have improved the income of farmers and that, in turn, has led to gradual transformation of the kind of food available and in demand.

On the other hand, across rural Pune, despite the growing influence of changing food habits and the intrusion of packed and processed foods in most places, towns and villages across the zone have managed to retain 'good food'. 

Fresh fruits and vegetables picked from nearby fields inundate the markets here. Almost all the food outlets serve freshly-prepared food as accessibility to fresh produce is easy and public awareness of the perils of packaged foods and use of harmful raw materials is high here. 

Even beverages use ingredients that are not processed. So, one will find many vendors selling Gudyachi Chai – tea with jaggery and not sugar. In Pune city, one could see a mix of outlets selling processed food and those serving natural and traditional fast-food items. So, there were stalls selling Chinese food next to those serving hot parathas, dabeli, etc. Then there are vendors selling Neera, a highly-nutritious drink extracted from palm trees. 

DraftCraft International held interactive talks with the locals in Pune district especially those involved in the food business. There was a higher level of awareness about food additives and other agents that are widely used today but known to cause adverse reactions in the human body. 

A very important aspect of healthy living is eating habits i.e., not just what you eat but how you eat, when you eat, etc. This becomes more important when one is dealing with children.  

Developing good eating habits in children is a challenge that most young parents face today. It can be overwhelming and challenging for parents especially young mothers to feed children and most of them deploy diverse methods such as playing with them or telling stories or running after them and the most common being handing a mobile phone to their child while feeding them and that’s a cause of concern.

In a study conducted recently at the University of Illinois, it was concluded that using technology, as a means of distraction, while eating may decrease the amount of food the child eats. Excessive use of gadgets during mealtime may also lead to less chewing of the food.  

The focus of a child who is watching a cartoon or playing a game on mobile phone while eating is on the screen and not on the food. In the process, the child might chew his food less or not chew at all without even realising.  

The study titled ‘Cognitive Distraction at Mealtime Decreases Amount Consumed in Healthy Young Adults: A Randomized Crossover Exploratory Study’ concluded that, ‘When distracted, healthy young adults consumed significantly less food and their memory of the meal was dampened. These findings underscore the potential importance of cognitive distraction in affecting food intake.’ 

In cities where nuclear family is a norm and both parents are working, the situation is grim and calls for attention. Many Day-Care and Playschools focus on developing proper eating habits but the buck stops on the family. Addiction to technology a huge issue most parents face.  

Recently, in Mumbai, a teenage boy committed suicide after he got angry when his parents told him to stop using his mobile phone and concentrate on his studies. Parents and law enforcement personnel are faced with similar situations everyday where children behave irrationally owing to addiction to mobile phones.

Chapter 1: ‘Children Must Develop Good Food Habits’
(The Kids Company Founder and Principal Kavita Vyas)

A big challenge that parents face today is making a child eat healthy, nutritious food. Feeding a child healthy food is an uphill task that becomes more difficult when it comes to feeding green, leafy food. Now, nutrition is important at every age and stage of life for a healthy body and mind. Child nutrition is all the more important because a child needs proper nutrients to grow and stay healthy and strong. 

A childhood with good eating habits can go a long way in ensuring the child’s overall well-being as it establishes a foundation of good eating habits and knowledge of good food that will help the child throughout his life.

The diets of young children should comprise eggs, dairy, vegetables and fruits, grains, etc., that provide the body with essential nutrients for growth. Owing to paucity of time and sometimes sheer laziness or lack of knowledge, parents often feed their children processed or packaged food, sugary or sweetened drinks, aerated drinks, etc. These items are devoid of any nutritional value and being rich in salts, sugar and fats are detrimental to the child’s health as well.

A child with poor dietary habits is highly likely to develop deficiencies of essential nutrients and minerals that will further worsen the child’s health affecting his or her immunity and lead to other health complications at a young age.

In cities, most households have nuclear families. If, in such families, both parents are working, the challenge of providing nutritious food to the child increases multi-fold. When both parents are leaving home to go to work, the child is sometimes left with a nanny or sent to a Day-Care facility or a Playschool. In these facilities, special care must be taken by the staff to see that the child is eating healthy food. 

The role of teachers and educators in ensuring young children eat right and develop healthy food habits is of paramount importance. 

South Mumbai-based The Kids Company’s Founder and Principal Kavita Vyas couldn’t agree more. She has been very vocal about healthy eating and developing good eating habits in children.  

“I am very particular about what children eat when they come to my school. I can’t emphasise how important this phase of their lives is that will decide their future as well. It’s the best time to ensure the young develop healthy eating habits and food preferences. Once a good foundation in laid, it will help them throughout their lives ahead,” says Kavita.

Kavita regularly talks with the parents of the children enrolled in her preschool and her staff about the importance of healthy and nutritious food for children. And, rightly so, because “food habits are something that have to be developed especially among children.”

She makes sure the children coming to her school bring healthy food in their lunch boxes. “After all it’s not just about one meal, it’s about developing dietary habits at a young age to establish the foundation of a healthy life ahead.”

Some parents are proactive and pay heed to the food time-table given and then there are those “that need to be reminded often sometimes explained the importance of healthy food for the children in cases where they are ignorant.” 

A mother of two grown-up kids, Kavita was always very particular about what her children would eat. Despite being a working mother, she ensured her children ate home-cooked, well-balanced meals. 

“For the longest time, my children didn’t know the real colour of a chapati or puri because I would always stuff their chapati or puri with vegetables such as palak or beet. It was much later, when my children grew up a little, did they realise they had been eating stuffed chapatis at home,” she adds.

At her school, Kavita takes up the role of a foster mother and keeps a close eye on their lunch boxes. “Children are innocent and ignorant. 

They’re entirely dependent on their parents and teachers for everything. It’s our responsibility to provide them with a healthy environment and inculcate good habits that will help them lead a wholesome life ahead.”

Today, it’s the easiest thing for a child to replace a healthy meal with a sugary drink or a packet of chips or a burger. These items are available everywhere in the vicinity of homes and schools and are advertised heavily on television and now as advertisements in mobile apps within easy reach of the child. 

Easy availability of ‘unhealthy’ snacks and drinks, lack of supervision from parents and, most importantly, the addictive nature of packaged foods and snacks can very quickly push a child into a spiral of bad food habits and unhealthy lifestyle that will affect him for the rest of his life. 

The time to change now!

Chapter 2: ‘I Believe Natural Food and Yoga Treat All’
(Yoga Enthusiast Shabnam Mithani)

The ancient Indian practice of Yoga has many takers now, around the world. What once people ‘mis’understood as a spiritual pursuit, has finally got its due. Yoga is for the mind as well as the body, it is a way of living that is now practised by fitness buffs, celebrities, world leaders, etc.

Yoga enthusiast Shabnam Mithani swears by a healthy and active lifestyle. “I practise Yoga extensively and teach it as well. I have experienced the change Yoga has brought in my life and strongly believe it can cure almost any health problem,” says Shabnam. Practising Yoga is a great way to stay healthy and keep the mind and body in sync. It helps in reducing the physical manifestations of stress hormones and keeps the body’s vitals in check. 

Apart from treating depression, anxiety, etc., regular practice of Yoga helps boost the immune system and the process of digestion.

She is also a great believer of natural foods and products to cure general illnesses. 

Indian kitchens are filled with natural products that can cure several illnesses. For example, turmeric has traditionally been used to treat infections, colds, wounds, etc. Ginger’s anti-inflammatory properties make it a must-have ingredient and it also helps treat headaches, stomach pain, etc. Other natural products include clove, black pepper, cinnamon, garlic, etc. 

“I believe nature holds solutions to all our problems. If you look around carefully, you’ll find every naturally-available product has a remedy to offer. I regularly consume turmeric, for instance, and advise the same to others as well. Modern-day living has added a lot of unnecessary stress in our lives and going back to nature is the only way to counter it,” she adds.

Chapter 3: Children’s Eating Habits Have Changed Drastically
(Primary School Headmaster Gajendra Gurav)

Not too far away from Karmala in Solapur district, a zone known for raising and addressing social issues, lies Pothre village. 

Education and awareness are critical for change and schools provide the right environment to incubate any social transformation. And, Zilla Parishad Prathamik Vidyalaya, Pothre Headmaster Gajendra Gurav cannot agree more. 

The Zilla Parishad’s primary school where he has been a Headmaster for over an year has 192 children from Pothre and nearby villages.

“Before my Pothre posting, I was a teacher in a primary school in Seorwadi. I strongly believe that food habits of children must be monitored closely and attention must be paid to ensure they eat the right thing. 

For instance, children now-a-days prefer eating junk food available outdoors rather than home-cooked food. I remember, as a child, eating out meant chewing berries. I don’t see children doing that anymore. Their eating habits are also changing fast… I know many children who, oddly, don’t even like tomato in their food,” he says.

In a village, like Pothre, the parameters of good food change even further. The food-grains grown and harvested absorb chemicals from the fertilisers that are used to increase production. 

“In that case, the nutritional value of food grain gets depleted and it becomes more harmful than beneficial for the end consumer. The value of a fruit or vegetable increases multi-fold if it looks more colourful or weighs more. Even water is not spared… the minerals in water, good for health, get removed with modern methods.”

Chapter 4: ‘Allergies On The Rise’
(Chemists Ajit and Ajinkya Gharbude)

One of the best ways to learn out about ‘general’ health or illnesses people face in an area is by looking at the demand of medicines. Ajinkya and Ajit Gharbude, who run a chemist shop in the heart of the Karmala in   Maharashtra’s Solapur district, are regularly visited by customers looking for medication for food allergies and gastric disorders. 

“The number of customers buying anti-histamines for allergy and antacids for acidity and related problems has increased multi-fold in the last few years…it is an alarming situation that needs to be addressed,” says Ajit. Food additives that are now commonly used in packaged and processed foods are known to cause a slew of health problems and adverse reactions in human body. 

Additives, basically, are substances added to food as preservatives, food-colouring agents, flavouring agents, taste enhancers, emulsifiers and stabilisers, etc. These chemicals can cause problems in the digestive tract, in respiratory processes and on the skin. Common reactions caused by these chemicals in the human body include rhinitis, cough, anaphylaxis in the respiratory system; hives, itching, atopic dermatitis, flushing, etc. on the skin; and abdominal pain, diarrhoea, nausea, acid reflux in the digestive tract.

“A lot of times, people come with complaints such as stomach-ache, chest pain, acid reflux, itching, hives, etc., which are common symptoms of gastritis and allergy. Most are unaware of the cause and many are swift to conclude it’s ‘nothing’. I feel it is important for members of the public to know how food is causing these reactions in their body. Information is the biggest tool that can help them,” adds Ajinkya.

Chapter 5: Here, Roadside Stalls Provide Healthy Options
(Stall-owner Rohini Budhakar and Son Deepak)

In interiors of Maharashtra, there are certain pockets where improved economic conditions have led to the inundation of ‘fast food’ outlets. This, in turn, has drastically changed eating habits of the locals. Several zones in Solapur district has seen a rise in Chinese food stalls, cold drink and beverage outlets, etc. 

So, 60-year-old Rohini Budhakar who runs a small restaurant in Karmala, with son Deepak, makes sure that each time a customer visits her hotel, the food served is prepared fresh. She also takes care of the raw materials used so that customers get safe and tasty food also at an affordable cost. 

“In most places, people use maida (refined wheat flour) to make puri but I make puri with aata (wheat flour) even if it takes much longer to prepare.  My customers, too, are patient as they know what I’m doing is good for their health,” says Rohini. She also takes special care in serving the food. “If a customer tells me he wants non-spicy food, I serve him the curry accordingly.”

Not just that, she doesn’t store any food item especially ‘fried’ items such as batata vada, bhajji, etc. “When we get an order, only then does my mother or I prepare the vada or the bhajji. These items are high in demand and in most places, people prepare and keep batata vada, etc. But my mother doesn’t do so,” says Deepak as he helps his mother with the customers at the hotel started by his grandfather decades ago. 

As local Arjun Mane says, “I love eating here… be it puri bhaji or batata vada. Maushi makes the best that’s available.”

Chapter 6: All Restaurant Food Is Not Bad For Health
(Restaurant Owner Phurkan Kazi)

There is a common notion that restaurants don’t serve fresh food. 

While that logic holds good in most places, particularly cities, DraftCraft International during its interactive sessions in interior Maharashtra found, in a rural town, Hotel Ashutosh located right opposite a bus-stand offered freshly-prepared food and as a rule. 

Why, its thali also had wheat puris and jowar bhakri as an alternative to wheat chapatis, a boon for those allergic to gluten. Now, who would imagine that such an option would be available in rural Maharashtra.

Phurkan Kazi’s restaurant in Hotel Ashutosh is known to serve freshly-cooked food to its regular customers travelling through the town for work or pleasure.

“We don’t even store anything and that’s why once someone eats in my canteen, he always comes back. It’s healthy and economical too,” says owner Phurkan.

Chapter 7: There’re Jowar Bhakris Even Wheat Puris Here!
(Restaurant Cook Chhaya And Nephew Sagar Aarne / Canteen Workers Balasaheb Raut and Manoj Gavali)

Hotel Ashutosh employee Chhaya Aarne sits comfortably in a corner in the kitchen, waiting for the next order. As soon as her nephew Sagar walks in with a new  customers’ order, Chhaya swings into action. And, within moments has the required order in place.

Depending on the order, chapatis made from wheat flour or bhakri made from sorghum (jowar) flour get readied. Within minutes, Chhaya prepares the dough and the chapati or bhakri and Sagar runs across from the kitchen into the seating area with the freshly-prepared bread of choice.

Sagar, who has been working at the restaurant for a few months now, says the guests who come to eat at the canteen, return home happy and satisfied. They return to eat, even if they visit the town after weeks or months. 

Here, traditional food outlets and restaurants are still doling out natural foods and freshly-prepared meals. 

In another zone, a local bus-stand canteen workers Balasaheb Raut and Manoj Gavali vouch for the food items sold at the bus canteen. 

“All the items are fresh. Even fried snacks that have a longer shelf life such as methi vadi - our speciality - are prepared with the best quality ingredients. Our customers always return to buy the items sold here,” says Balasaheb.

Chapter 8: Locals Throng For Regional Dishes
(Tamil Nadu Anna Snacks Centre’s Vellapandi Tevar / Dabeli Stall Owner Irshad Ansari / Paratha-sellers Rakesh Chavan, Komal & Prem)

In cities like Pune, it’s easy for fast food enterprises, with ample resources, to lure crowds especially the young to their outlets with marketing tactics such as lucrative deals on social media, discounts, cash-back schemes, etc. Despite the cut-throat competition, small food vendors are surviving solely because of the quality of food they offer. 

Tamil Nadu’s Tirunelveli’s Vellapandi Tevar left home 20 years ago. “I started selling home-prepared idli, vada, dosa, dal vada, sambhar, chutney, etc., a good 17 years ago in Pune. I have seen the demand of fresh, home-cooked South Indian food only increasing,” says Tevar whose stall is thronged by customers even as a neighbouring restaurant struggles to do business.

Irshad Ansari has been selling Kutchi Dabeli in a Pune locality crowded with students enrolled in nearby colleges and coaching centres. In a zone inundated with fast food joints catering to the student population, 

Irshad’s Dabeli stall stands out. Despite being a fried snack, his Dabeli is known to “never cause any stomach problem.” 

Irshad is aware of the digestive problems that ‘stale’ food and fried snacks cause and how, in the absence of alternatives, people resort to fast food and fall sick. “I can guarantee my dabeli won’t cause any problem.”

Rakesh Chavan has been making and selling stuffed parathas in Pune for over three years now. With mother Mankibai, and sometimes sister Komal, he serves a variety of freshly-made hot parathas. With his 13-year-old nephew Prem who helps out on weekends, Rakesh doles out hot and delicious stuffed aloo, palak and veg parathas too.

Chapter 9: Thandgaar Neera Strong Across Maharashtra
(Neera-stall Owner Chandrakant Bhandari)

While traversing across Maharashtra, one can see small stalls selling ‘Neera’ – the unfermented nectar extracted from various species of toddy palms. Being an unfermented fresh juice, neera is non-alcoholic making it suitable for consumption by all.

Neera is a health drink and an extremely effective hydrating agent that is therapeutic for several health conditions as well. 

Karnataka’s Chandrakant Bhandari has been selling Neera in Pune since 2007 and can’t stop talking of its benefits. “It’s a naturally-sweet drink and good for general health. In fact, many of customers are patients with kidney-related issues and they swear by the health benefits of Neera.”

Presently, Neera is available only at outlets called ‘Neera Vikri Kendra’ (Neera Sale Centre). “ Earlier, my grandfather used to climb on the trees and extract Neera. Now, only government outlets like mine can sell Neera.”

Chapter 10: Ultra-Natural Chai Dumps Sugar Uses Gud Instead
(Tea-Shop Workers Shivam and Shera)

‘Gud’ or jaggery is an unrefined natural sweetener derived from sugarcane juice, like sugar, but processed differently. Sugar is prepared by condensing and crystallising sugarcane juice syrup while jaggery is made by boiling the syrup for several hours. Jaggery is basically unprocessed sugar and loaded with vitamins and minerals. Sugar, on the other hand, is empty calories with no nutritional value. 

In rural Pune, for example, Aamdaar Gudyachi Chai shops, some even open overnight, are very popular. They are thronged by tea-lovers, day and night, an indication of how, if given a choice, healthier choices have takers too.

At one such tea shop, Shivam and Shera Goswami, both originally from Uttar Pradesh, sell the ‘healthy’ tea to hundreds of pilgrims and passers-by that cross the town.

Apart from using jaggery instead of sugar, men working in these tea shops brew fresh tea and serve to the customers. “We don’t prepare and store tea like others. We brew it as and when there’s an order, even if that takes longer,” says Shivam. 

In urban zones, many tea stalls and restaurants prepare tea in bulk and then serve the same tea reheated often to their customers through the day. This is a major factor why consuming tea from such places causes bouts of acidity and gastric discomfort. 

So, for those who complain of acidity after consuming tea, a quick check on when the tea was prepared will help identify the cause.

Chapter 11: At Jejuri, The Fruits Come As Fresh As Can Be
(Fruit-seller Shabbir Bagwan / Fruit-seller Haseena Bagwan)

Fruits are great for health. And, that is a known. But now, with the surge in artificial ripening agents, news of regular raids by the FDA across India and the quality of fruits itself hitting a nadir, things have changed. 

DraftCraft International’s researchers moved to Pune’s Purandar taluka, known for the famous temple town of Jejuri and found the ready availability of fresh fruits and vegetables from nearby fields played a big role in the type of food available in restaurants and food stalls in the area. Interestingly, most of fruits tried and tested seemed fresh and retained their original taste.

Fruit-sellers Haseena Bagwan and Shabbir Bagwan sell fruits in the town frequently visited by pilgrims from across Maharashtra. 

And, for the unconvinced buyer, Shabbir will hand out an anjeer or a piece of sitaphal to taste and dispel his doubts. 

Haseena came to Jejuri after her marriage and has been selling fruits for more than 25 years now. With a warm heart and a big smile, she doesn’t hesitate in offering a fruit or two to a talkative passer-by even as she goes on talking about the Khandoba temple and how close the God is to his Muslim believers as well.

Customers buying fruits here especially those visiting from nearby cities and towns vouch for the taste of these fruits. 

One customer says, “The taste I get in the fruits here is amazing. I buy fruits in Mumbai also but they lack taste as, I feel, most of those fruits are ripened artificially, kept in cold storage and then sold in markets.”

Chapter 12: They Risk Their Lives To Fetch You The Freshest
(Fruit-sellers Krushna with Kamla, Rahi and Dehu / Fruit-seller Jhanki Pardhi / Tribal women selling vegetables to a local)

Under a tree at Maharashtra’s famous hill station Matheran’s central marketplace, Adivasi (tribals) from nearby villages sit huddled in groups as they open their baskets full of fruits and berries. Most of them belong to Tadwadi, Ambewadi and Dodhani villages, located downhill from Matheran hill station. 

Their job is not an easy one as they trek on uneven and treacherous terrain, carrying heavy baskets filled with vegetables and fruits on their heads, for up to three hours as they climb uphill to reach Matheran. 

“Selling berries and fruits, most of which is grown locally in our villages, is our only source of income apart from the little sustenance farming we do on our land. So, despite the hard trek, we come to Matheran to earn a few extra bucks,” says Krushna Hindola who sells the natural produce with wife Kamla. 

“Even today, there are ‘loyal’ tourists who visit Matheran for a few days to soak in the clean air and natural environments. They prefer eating healthy food and natural produce like berries, guava, amla, cucumber, etc.,” says Kamla. 

Another Tadwadi villager Jhanki Pardhi who sells raw mangoes and guavas says, “It takes me two hours to reach Matheran from my village. It gets worse during the rains. But, business is good as young couples who visit Matheran for a day prefer eating our fruits which are much cheaper than food sold in restaurants here.”

Matheran locals, on the other hand, wait to buy their weekly groceries on Sundays, when Adivasi women from Dodhani and Ambewadi villages set ‘shop’ with freshly-harvested vegetables and fruits such as bitter gourd, yam, dill leaves, custard apple, etc. As these women start selling the fresh produce, locals converge to the marketplace with carry bags in hand, getting ready to bargain for the best price.

Chapter 13: Nightly Food Fiesta
(Food-stall Owner Suryakant Rupnar)

Interestingly, in several towns across rural Maharashtra, there are some food stalls that open in the night only. One such stall is that of Suryakant Rupnar who prepares and sells Bhurji-Pav, Sandwiches, etc., on the outskirts of one such town.

Originally from Sangli in Maharashtra, after completing a Hotel Management course, Suryakant started working in a five-star hotel in Pune before COVID struck and changed everything for him as he lost his job. 

“With no other option in sight, I decided to open my own food stall. I came to this town and started selling egg and bread dishes. My speciality is carrot and beet sandwich that some find a rare combination with bread but after tasting once, swear by it,” he says. 

Mostly catering to night travellers and passers-by, Suryakant’s food stall is a small stall lighting up the otherwise dark corner of the town.

It’s only in rural Maharashtra that one can find a stall selling salted peanuts and spicy kala chana almost always near a Liquor Store for the benefit of the drinking customer.

In cities, however, the wares sold by a shopkeeper at his shop are all packaged, far from fresh...and to be sold within stipulated periods. Needless to say, his rural counterpart puts up his stall in the evening and sells off his wares around the time the liquor store shuts.

Chapter 14: Vada Pavs, Bhajiyas Made In Front Of Your Eyes
(Hotel Owner Ramesh Shere / Hotel Owner Ambu Chowdhury)

The famous temple town of Maharashtra, Jejuri offers a wide range of healthy and fresh food items for its locals and visitors. Here, apart from fruits, street food and snacks are ‘healthy’ to eat too.

Local Ramesh Shere has been selling Vada Pav, Bhajiya and Misal Pav for seven years now. “I prepare batata vada, bhajiya, etc., here at my restaurant itself.” 

Ramesh also doesn’t hesitate to offer a vada as a sample to taste. When most of the time, fried snacks such as these cause gastric troubles to the one consuming, Ramesh is confident his food won’t cause any problem. “I know the quality of my food and the ingredients and am confident there won’t be any complaint from a customer. Moreover, I prepare everything fresh when the customer orders and that makes all the difference.”

In Maharashtra's Raigad district that is spotted with popular tourist zones and towns, food options available are primarily catering to tourists. These include fast food items and other processed foods that are okay to consume in limited quantities such as during a vacation but are harmful in the long run. In zones likes Alibaug and Karjat, frequented by tourists round the year, similar scenes are common. 

Despite being a popular tourist town, certain hotels in Matheran, particularly the low-key ones, have been able to maintain a balance. 

Resident Ambu Chowdhury gets up early in the morning to open his eatery-cum-general-store, located near the main market in Matheran. With daughter-in-law Manisha who helps him with the chores, Ambu prepares fresh snacks and tea for the visitors. “One of the best ways to stay healthy is by eating freshly-prepared food. I never store any food item at my shop. Whenever there’s an order for poha, upma, vada or tea, I prepare it fresh just as my customers want.”

Chapter 15: Awareness On Food Must Reach Masses
(Social Worker Sayyad Bukhari) 

In Mumbai, DraftCraft International held talks for the slum-dwellers in several zones across the city. Cuffe Parade-based social worker Sayyad Bukhari, who is actively working in the education and upliftment of the slum-dwellers in Ganesh Murti Nagar and Ambedkar Nagar slums, understands the perils of consuming ‘outside food’ that is easily available on the streets now.

“I don’t even allow my own children to eat food from outside. They only eat home-cooked food and, in between, if hungry, I give them roasted chana or some other healthy snack. It’s important to inculcate good eating habits in children. Now, my children don’t like to consume chocolates or cold drinks,” says Sayyad Bukhari.  

At an informative session organised by DraftCraft International for a group of women from the slum and associated with Sayyad Bukhari, food-related health problems faced by most women were highlighted. 

One of the most serious conditions affecting women today is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome or PCOS: A hormonal disorder that has now become very common among women of reproductive age. The condition affects 1 in 5 women (20 per cent) across India, as compared to 1 in 10 women worldwide. If not monitored in time, the condition can have serious health impacts.

Milk is a common trigger for the development of PCOS. During the talk, the women learned how milk and processed foods cause a host of health problems including PCOS. 

Many women present identified with common PCOS symptoms and several spoke about how they could see these symptoms in their daughters, nieces, etc.

Chapter 16: Eating Home-Cooked Food Without Mobiles Is Must
(Mother Sapna Gandhi with Himanshu and Yashaswa / Mother Pradnya Jedge with daughter Siya)

Even in small towns, changing food habits are causing a series of health problems. Sapna Gandhi is a mother of two and runs a general store in a town in the rural interiors of Solapur district. Her teenage sons, Himanshu and Yashaswa, like most their age, try their best to avoid home-cooked ‘traditional’ food. 

Sapna says, “They want to have something new every day and crib when I give them ‘regular’ home-cooked food. It’s very difficult to keep up with their demands especially because I am aware of the harm caused by processed food and the chemicals and colours used while preparing such food.”

Like every worried mother, Sapna too tries to prepare her children’s food of choice at home. “There’s no nutrition in packaged food which is why I put in efforts to prepare what they like at home. In fact, my youngest is allergic to chilli and develops hives when consumed. I can control the ingredients I use for the food cooked at home but can’t control what goes into the making of processed foods.”

Mumbai Deputy Commissioner of Police (Traffic-South) Pradnya Jedge, being a working mother, faces many challenges in raising her five-year-old daughter Siya. “I make sure she eats the right things as it’s very important to eat nutritious food in this age. I also make sure she stays away from a mobile phone or television while eating and concentrates fully on the food. The importance of inculcating healthy eating habits at a young age cannot be emphasised enough and as a parent it’s my responsibility to ensure this.”


The Food Report January 2023 (Maharashtra) is generated as part of DraftCraft International's The Public Health Project. Media-legal think tank DraftCraft International's team of researchers travelled through Maharashtra, in rural and urban zones of key districts, to evaluate eating habits of locals, availability of freshly-prepared food and freshly-procured natural produce, raw materials and ingredients used in cooking, awareness about food additives, flavours, colours and the adverse reactions they cause, knowledge about 'good' food, the law, etc. 

The team held interactive talks and discussions with a cross-section of stakeholders, spread across rural and urban zones, which included residents, local leaders, social workers, educators, industry players, food vendors and street-food stall-owners. 

DraftCraft International is grateful to the enthusiastic stakeholders who actively participated in the talks and informative sessions. The efforts were truly productive and have encouraged the team to further this initiative in other parts of India.

The hard work of DraftCraft International’s team of dedicated researchers who travelled extensively across Maharashtra to raise awareness on the issue and collate crucial data for the report has been commendable. The researchers exhibited immense dedication and approached the stakeholders with an open mind to be able to accurately identify the issues.

Food is a source of nutrition. The food industry, however, is facing a crisis where it has to strike a balance between demand and quality. And, that is difficult. There are new challenges that face the industry today. 

Harmful chemicals are being added to ‘food’ to make it last longer to enhance shelf-life, taste better or taste like a natural substance to be able to compete with ‘natural’ products. Why, food is being produced synthetically in bulk to meet a surge in demands. The adverse effects are visible in the dismal deterioration of public health. If not addressed appropriately, and in time, the crisis will soon go out of control. 

This report is the first of many that will cover important, often untouched, aspects of food and its impact on public health. This report is only indicative and not conclusive and is a work in motion.

We would like to extend gratitude to the legislators, councillors, gram panchayat members, food industry players, food vendors and residents for their active cooperation and support.

Editor-In-Chief: Gajanan Khergamker
The Food Report Editor: Manu Shrivastava
Researchers: Vaishali Sawant, Anushka Singh, Ruchi Verma, Nandini Rao and Rutuja
Media Partner: The Draft (
Law Partner: The Chamber Practice (

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The Food Report | January 2023 | All Rights Reserved | DraftCraft International

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