The Indigestible Food (Eating Competition)

March 7, 2013 at 9:15 PMMar (Activism, Media, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

While travelling on Facebook this evening eyes fell on a status update by a food certifying team named The 3 Hungry Men. It was regarding them hosting a competition at the annual fest of National Institute of Technology Karnataka, Surathkal. The status update read thus:

death by foodThe 3 Hungry Men will be organizing a MEGA FOOD EATING COMPETITION called –  “DEATH BY FOOD” – Hogathon 

Incident 2013 NITK Surathkal on 16th & 17th of March where over 5000 Students all over INDIA will be Witnessing the HUNGRIEST PEOPLE OF INDIA ! 

Just for clarification when checked the website of Incident 2013 and found them having advertised about it in their website as: “This INCIDENT we are calling on to all those foodies. Forget those low-carb diets and develop into having some frivolous fun and frolic.

This competition is nothing but vulgar, to say the least, especially in a country like ours where hunger is the living reality of millions, where every second child born is malnourished as reported by the 2010 global hunger index.

In a country like ours where ‘deaths without food’ is a day to day reality, holding a competition of food eating and calling it ‘death by food’ is, as cliched as it might sound, an insult to the actual hungry people or to be more specific the actual ‘hungriest people of India’.

It is disturbing to note that the participants are being referred to as the “hungriest people of India” to mean those who can consume the most is the hungriest. This redefinition of hungry is a step further in making the already invisible hungry non-existent in the consciousness of the people.

In his fortnightly column titled Barefoot (in The Hindu) the Gandhi of our times Harsh Mander did a series of articles on hunger. One can never forget the stories of mothers training their kids to live with hunger, how to sleep hungry, mothers dipping their fingers in tobacco or some other intoxicant and keeping it in the child’s mouth when the child cries out of hunger and thus putting the child to sleep forcibly when hungry, or beating their kids until they sleep when they cry out of hunger, of women searching for undigested grain in the dung and burrowing in the stores of field rats.Harsh Mander’s team researching on hunger also came across a women from the Dalit Madiga caste in Andhra Pradesh who died of hunger. When she died the greatest regret of her son was that he couldn’t follow the custom of their caste i.e. to tie some grains of rice to the edge of the saree of a women who dies before she is buried in an unmarked grave. His mother was buried as she had lived- without a handful of rice.

Amidst such harsh and cruel realities how can a competition of food eating be held or even be conceived as an idea? When millions go to sleep hungry every night in our country how right would it be to have competition over eating and considering the competitors as the hungriest? It is indigestible. Harsh Mander in his recent book Ash In The Belly rightly writes, “India’s surging middle class is often dismissive when reminded that it coexists with a much larger population with stagnant or falling living standards and millions who struggle daily to feed their families and themselves.”

The battle against hunger needs an atmosphere of empathy. These vulgar competitions will, if not anything, move us further away from sensitivities and sensibilities including empathy and will weaken the battle against hunger by making the real hungry invisible and non-existent in the collective consciousness. The battle against hunger demands, apart from fights for a law on food security, protest against such vulgar competitions called ‘death by food’ for deaths without food stares at us.

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2 Comments

  1. uglywords said,

    I commented on their post on Facebook, and the 3 Hungry Men assure us that the competition will be held with no food wastage or irresponsibility with food, which was my biggest concern.

    But I have to disagree with you on one level. To boycott such events because they’re ‘insensitive’ and ‘insensible’ reduces these problems to matters of sensitivity and sensibility, and I don’t believe that contributes in any meaningful way to the problem of hunger in India. Yes, people need to be more sensitised to the issue, but can sensitivity be drummed into someone’s conscience the way ‘charity’ often is? That only creates something worse – the pseudo-altruism of today’s wealthy. If you’re going to protest food competitions, the argument may well come back to us saying we don’t sacrifice our daily meals, we’re hardly the ones suffering in hunger to protest against gluttony, so it’d be hypocritical.

    I’d rather fight for more concrete reforms with regards to the PDS and financial assistance for farmers and rural populations instead. And for restaurants – particularly in urban areas – to hand over leftovers to the deprived, or for hospitals and school kitchens and college canteens to make subsidised meals available to the poorest of the poor. Rather than prevent such events – which have little impact on those who are really hungry – it would be much more productive to focus on opening up opportunities for the hungry to be fed,

    • crazymindseye said,

      Pallavi, boycotting is not a ‘solution’ that I am offering.

      I believe that a strong law on food security is required. I avoided, in this post, to speak of the food security bill and issues I have even with the idea of ‘charity’ because I did not want to it to eclipse my voice against this event in particular.

      ‘Charity,’ I believe is good but lacks political imagination. It is in that light that I believe we need a law on food security. I quote Harsh Mander, again, from his book Ash In The Belly, speaking on food security bill: “It is often said that one decision can sometimes change the course of history. This is indeed one such decision. For people who have for centuries been condemned to live with the hopeless suffering of hunger, a comprehensive food security bill- which creates detailed obligations for governments to secure food and nutrition for people who live most with want and deprivation- can indeed alter the destinies of the most wretched of our earth. Without such obligatory State action, their lives, would remain frozen in time as the rest of us race ahead.”

      I am not reducing this into an issue of ‘sensitivity’ and ‘sensibility’ but am just stressing on the note that Harsh Mander keeps repeating that love and sympathy are essential for democracy, which I strongly believe in. In that light sensitivity and sensibility are not an end in themselves but tools of a more humane politics that dreams of a horizontal world.

      Even if such events promise to not waste food, I think they are vulgar in their conception itself for they seem to keep aside the harsh reality of hunger aside and see food as an item for fun. I am not saying having fun is a crime. It is good. But having fun with that which is the need of millions of which millions are deprived, is being indifferent to that harsh reality itself. As the noble laureate Elie Wiesel said, “The opposite of love is not hate but indifference.” Such events are a reflection of indifference. One might argue saying, “There is so much of displacement happening because of the power plants, so do you mean we stop consuming electricity?” Ideally we should be conceiving of ways of living with minimum electricity but as one cannot easily do away without electricity being aware of the ‘power politics’ becomes necessary though more is required as usage of electricity is unavoidable. But in the case of food competitions, it is avoidable. Fun can come in other ways too. We need not take resort in such ideas of fun which, at their heart, seem to ignore the fact that their play item is the need of millions.

      I am not sure if I am articulating my views properly. Forgive me if I am failing in it but I guess you are getting what I say.

      PS: I was planning to discuss the issue of battle against hunger and food security bill in a separate post where I wanted to discuss Harsh Sir’s book hence avoided bringing it in this post and restricted myself to my protest against this and similar events.

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