Student Experience: Establishing the First Food Congress in India

Establishing the First Food Congress in India

India’s food sector reveals stark ironies. 70% of people view food at retailers, green grocers and hawking vendors suspiciously, and yet base 55% of buying decision on recommendations from the shop owner (). Almost all people claim to be frustrated with the disparity between visual cues and quality of fresh produce, yet few make an attempt to switch to newer methods of buying their ingredients. Distinctions between fertilizers and pesticides are rarely understood and yet they are placed in a lumped ‘category’ of hazardous materials. With information failure rampant, India’s food is riddled with issues on safety, sustainability and technology fronts. The problems are supplemented with social conventions toward approaching and buying food- the billions that reside are divided between the opinions of dietitians, doctors, chefs, farmers, experts, retailers and their conscience, and hold little appreciation for environmental sustainability. The divide is amplified due to the lack of communication between the producers and the consumers, with neither refusing to change in a manner that signals the other party to change behavioral patterns. With the WHO convening a Universal Health Coverage in India, it is evident that problems like these are amplifying with every passing day. The need for a platform that promotes fruition through discussion about the issues, emphasizes consumer-side actions, and promotes combined, multi-disciplinary perspectives has always been paramount, and is now taking shape in the small city of Nashik in Maharashtra.

 

Jehan Luth, graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania and Ishaan Chandratreya, a high school student at Fravashi International Academy in Nashik together aspired to make this change, starting with proving the existence of this problem on a large scale. A review of the literature and issue revealed that reality was harsher than the presumption- visits to small-scale farmers around the city revealed a lack of knowledge on issues as fundamental as variety source, fertilizer regulations and pesticide spraying techniques. A consumer side survey confirmed the existence of ironies and answers to questions like ‘Which one of the following fruits do you most often buy overripe?’ were representative of frustration, with replier almost always opting for more than one option. The first step was clear, building a curriculum that could be delivered to the 2.21 million people of Nashik. Hence, Fravashi International Academy ‘The Nashik Food Congress’ was initiated. The platform aimed to curb issues on the fronts of food safety, promote incorporation of food sustainability and widen understanding and perspectives toward food technology.

 

In the span of 4 months, the movement has managed to assimilate panelists from all around the world. Sustainability experts from the USA, and world-leading food technologists have joined hands with some of India’s largest exporting and processing companies via information they provide on the common platform. From international fruit growing consultants and general managers at highly rated hotels to authors on food sustainability for the World Bank and plant pathologists, FIA ‘ The Nashik Food Congress’ has already produced an output- a consumer recommendations pamphlet- and discussed it with over numerous schools of Nashik. Recognizing high school students to be the most powerful medium- previously bringing out a positive change in information campaigns against smoking and disease awareness- the organizing committee members for the congress have worked to build a network of students that can carry information into their communities. Hundreds of thousands of pamphlets have been printed, with students discussing their importance with peers and family members, spreading the world. In the process, the need for the platform has been highlighted even more, with connotations like ‘healthy food talk’ indicating an inherent negligence towards even understanding the entire scale of aims.

 

Large delivery mechanisms, however, are already in the planning phase. A session to take the information developed to every household has been discussed with Nashik’s largest radio stations. Further discussion, facilitated through contact pooling between students, with medical experts and agricultural technologists, is soon to help redefine how India views its food, and help people switch from mere ideas to availability, to quality, economic profitability and environmental health. Considering the success of this initiative, within the next few months, ‘The Nashik Food Congress’ will be scaled to a state level (reaching over a 115 million people in Maharashtra) and in the coming years to evolve into the Indian Food Congress.