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Consumer Citizenship: Fast Food in India

Fast-rising industrial foods produced by multinational corporations have targeted the consumers of all stratus of society. Consumption of such food is a form of consumer citizenship that has diminished the boundaries challenging traditional segregation, dominant upper-class rules, old customs, and choices influenced by economic disparity.

Taking for instance Maggi. Introduced in India in the late 1980s by Nestle, Maggi is an instant noodle brand. In this article, we’ll talk about the success of fast food, instant noodles, packaged food, and soft drinks and how it has helped in bridging the gap between the rich and poor, rural and urban, and upper-class and lower-class people.

Understanding fast food

Fast food has served as a useful device for understanding the transformation in social relations in India. The tale of how these industrial fast food has taken over the snack market is the one to observe for a deep understanding of global capitalism.

These food items have been the most preferred dish for the youth, adults, and even the soldiers standing at the boundaries. One such food item is instant noodles, a key ingredient in a celebrated dish called the “Siachen Omelette”, a dish prepared by soldiers using egg and Maggi.

Elsewhere in India, a scenic lookout on the road to the Himalayan hill resort of Mussoorie, known for decades as ‘Sunset Point’ has been renamed “Maggi Point” because no one goes there to look at the sunset while eating Maggi. There are new habits, and changing lifestyles because if these fast foods. Biscuits and chips have become everyday snacks for people in India.

These processed foods are inexpensive, easily accessible, hygienic, fun, and tasty which makes the target audience its easy prey. The success of these FM-CG could only be achieved in the 1990s when cheap metalized polymer films and other packaging materials became available which ensured superior quality and hygienic products to consumers.

The rise in demand for industrial foods has several aspects linked to it. On one hand, where it highlights the excellent strategy of the MNCs, on the other, it is also seen as a wider concern for replacing Indian goods with foreign products. These fast foods add to the fun and modern element of Indian society but it doesn’t live up to the nutritional aspect.

After liberalization in 1991, access to consumer goods and “the freedom to choose” were open for individuals of all sections and classes which resulted in the expansion of the industrial food market.  It was in the 2000s, the breakthrough point for these brands when in competition with one other, these brands launched their cheap products to take over the food market and to increase their consumer base even in small towns.

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Fast food and nationalism

Before independence, we were known for boycott of foreign products. Significant movements like the Swadeshi movement placed Indian products as the chief products in the Indian markets.

What the Imperial countries and brands did was they searched for underdeveloped countries to sell their products. They let the urge for foreign goods influence the simple living people and their minds. They made a new market potential by selling their products in these markets.

Unlike other foreign products, these processed food items worked on overcoming the potential stigma and have taken steps further in promoting the familiar Indian trope of “unity in diversity” through its ads by big Indian celebrities. The ads portray this food as the favorite dish connecting millions with its taste. Due to its pricing, taste, and fun-to-make process, it has made a wider consumer reach. It also brings the creative side by giving the option to add one’s own ingredients, catalyzing the sale of these food products.

The tougher lane for some companies

It was all good for the industrial food  MNCs until in May 2015 when Nestle faced huge backlash authorities reported that samples of the “Taste maker” flavoring sachet contained MSG and were contaminated by excessive lead which resulted in ban by the Food Safety and Standard Association of India.

However, it was relaunched after 5 months in the Indian market. It was then that the yoga guru Baba Ramdev, who started a fast-growing packaged food, cosmetic, and medicine empire under the Patanjali Ayurved brand in 2006, launched his own natural noodles.

Its return was marked by risks and rivals but it managed its way out to become one of the most popular food items among youth and adults.

Caste, Class, and changing Social practices

Fast foods also left behind the dominant culture of upper-class Hindus and promoted the vanishing of the painful memories of poverty and humiliation linked to customary cuisines. It became the nation’s favorite food overcoming class, caste, and religious hierarchies. It brings the notion of modernity and equality among its consumers.

Another aspect of such foods has been their significance in changing structures within families. It has tried to fill in the generation gap band thereby changing social relations. It has brought a stride of modernity in the form of Consumer citizenship.

The youth sees it as a device that claims their independence, a medium of connection. Poor people are stigmatized by caste, religion, and rural-urban. Processed food is also successful in giving a sense of inclusion to marginalized people as they are consuming the same food which the rich and upper-class people are consuming.

Awantika Pratap
Awantika Pratap
Awantika Pratap is a writing enthusiast with a deep interest in social, gender, digital, and governance fields. She is a sociology graduate from Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi.

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