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Monday, 28 November 2011

Oil, Sugar and Salt

These were the words that came to mind as I turned on my computer, and I could not resist writing a few words about them before the fleeting thought disappeared for good.

Dear Reader,

As you know, many developing countries and developed countries are facing a problem that is known as "obesity". This perhaps stems from several factors, a few of which I discern as follows:

  1. Fast food restaurants - They often fry their fries and burger patties with dollops of oil and salt. 
  2. Sugar - Plentiful in fizzy drinks, coffee and tea, and other beverages. Also to be found in sweets and other condiments, such as "energy bars" (which people consume despite being fully energized).
  3. Work stress - As economies become more developed, people are employed in high stress jobs, leading to lack of proper living habits and unhealthy eating habits. This leads to a never-ending story of fast food restaurants and wi-fi coffee houses that serve ultra-rich coffee boasting three or four layers of different tastes and textures that will tickle your tongue.
  4. Junk food - Snacks like are often salty and oily, despite their display of "nutritional information" at the back of the packaging.
  5. Physical/Lifestyle factors - People do not exercise either because they do not have the time or the inclination for it, or both. 
Consumerism has been seduced by advertising to the extent that new businesses entering into already competitive markets try to distinguish their products by making them cool and desirable. These businesses engage us by promoting their product as "different", and "desirable". Yet upon further reflection, it seems that their offerings are not always good for the body -- though sometimes, a flustered mind can be soothed by a nice cuppa coffee, and a productive worker needs something to bite on.

The solution may be not to cut these tidbits out but to replace them with healthier offerings. Perhaps housewives and busy executives can do that, but it'd be a tiresome chore to do it day in and day out. Hence companies that produce sweets, condiments, coffee powder, and fast food, should take responsibility by taking a hard look at their recipes. They should innovate healthier offerings by measuring the oil, sugar and salt content of the products. If they can cut down on using oil, sugar and salt, this will mean savings in terms of ingredients. New competitors to the marketplace should also consider producing products with less sugar, oil and salt, effectively creating a new market of trendy yet healthy food.

There's a reason why people miss food like "mom cooked it". Home cooked food is prepared with love and affection and served up piping hot. It's offered in small batches -- unless you have a big family -- and everybody shares. More often than not, home-cooked food is healthy because mothers will consider the balanced diet for their children -- veggies, proteins, and carbs. Left to their own devices, kids and young adults will indulge in whatever they like to eat -- chocolate bars, cookies, fried chicken, and such. It seems that there is no food shortage in developed countries, despite the Malthusian prediction that population growth would outstrip food production capacity. In fact, planet Earth just celebrated her citizen no. 7,000,000,000 very recently.

Here is one business idea -- housewives and mothers should get together to author a book on healthy snacks for children. They could work hand-in-hand with fast food restaurants to revamp the menu offerings with food that mothers will easily approve of. It is a known fact that fast food restaurants now serve people around the clock, and their products are not always healthy. A stamp of endorsement from housewives and mothers for certain menu offerings will assure other mothers and housewives that this or that establishment is worth going to.

You know, for a while, I really enjoyed the Chicken and Beef Foldover offered at McDonalds. Yet it seems to have disappeared... the latest "healthy" offering I see is the Original Chicken McDeluxe, which tries to live up to its healthy image despite a healthy dollop of mayonnaise. In any case, the march towards healthy yet delicious snacks is only one part of the battle. Because food has become affordable (for those earning a reasonable income), there is a danger of over-consumption. People are over-consuming, eating portions that are bigger than their forebears are used to. Perhaps it is the psyche of those who have lived through poverty and wars to justify eating better and bigger portions, to justify it by thinking of the hard times that they have lived through. Nevertheless, rather than eating large portions, they can remember the poor and the suffering, living in countries where food is insufficient.

Here is another idea: perhaps fast food restaurants can offer patrons burgers, and half-a-burger. The price will be the same for both, but should the consumer choose half-a-burger, he can pay the full price (of the burger) and half of it will be donated to the poor and the suffering in developing countries. It will be a win-win for all parties concerned: The restaurant does not undermine its present offerings with cheaper offerings, the consumer can eat more healthily, and the poor people of the world will get their food subsidized or donated.

That's probably a new business model there, and a consultant could probably charge for it, but I'm being generous today and throwing this idea out to the open so that people can look at it and make some changes. :)