In the 2010 Seattle conference we held a debate on the question: “Should the ICDS serve packaged food?” Volunteers broke up into small groups and tried to argue for and against this proposition. Afterwards one person came forward to argue in favour and another to argue against in a debate before the entire group.
Two points are worth mentioning from this exercise
– People found it very difficult to find any points in favour of procuring and serving packaged foods through the ICDS.
– After the session, one person came to me, as the facilitator of the session, and complained that the entire session was a waste of time because it was simply a “no-brainer” that the government should provide food grains or freshly cooked food and not processed and packaged foods through its welfare programs.
All the same, Amartya Sen, Jean Dreze and many others others have spoken out publicly against the proposal.
Yet this no-brainer proposal continues to come before the Ministry of Child Welfare and several states have in fact introduced packaged foods through the ICDS. The packaged food industry markets and lobbies for their product very aggressively. Using the same tactics that worked fifty years ago in the US, the industry first persuades people to think about nutrients rather than foods, and then prints nutrient information on their labels and advertisements. Unlabelled and unadvertised food does not boast such nutrient information and may come up with lower numbers even if someone calculated specific nutrients. But there is a world of difference between nutrients occurring as part of food and nutrients added in a factory.