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‘We are all increasingly becoming aware of unseen health hazards’

NOT SO LONG AGO, Kerala woke up to uncomfortable truths. Food was not just food. Food was poison. There were increasing levels of pesticides in the fresh produce trucked into the state, ammonia in fish, antibiotic residue in poultry and the quality of red meat was dodgy. Media outlets turned their guns on the government of the day and said “Do something!” While the government scratched its head, a wit summed up the conundrum in two lines: “Every panchayat in Kerala has at least one lab to test what comes out of the human body. How many labs are there to test what goes in?”


This issue of your favourite newsweekly uncovers the fertility slide in India. The chemicals that are causing it are in our kitchens, bathroom closets and cosmetics shelves. I know, I know. The country is bursting at the seams, so why worry about a drop in fertility? Thanks to the chemicals that are causing it, a drop in sperm count could hint at much more than fewer babies. And, not to forget the many women who have been suffering privately over hormonal worries. A virus has brought us to our knees and we are all increasingly becoming aware of unseen health hazards. These chemicals are just as unseen and omnipresent. They are a risk to yourself, and one that you can pass on to your children, both born and unborn. Hence, the cover story.


There is an interesting study from Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu, in the cover story. Something as simple as eating hot idli sambar packed in takeaway polythene bags can pose a risk to your hormonal balance. The 2016 study looked at samples of hot sambar and hot tea packed in plastic bags. Phthalate leachates were found in sambar; none were found in the tea. The study proved that the chemical is highly soluble in oily food.


I grew up in a house where the kitchen was as much the centre of the home as my father’s study. My mother’s relationship with food was both emotional and rational. My relationship with food, any food, comes from her—and her father, who was a doctor and an excellent cook. When my elder son, Amit, turned into a fine cook overnight, my only regret was that his grandmother and great-grandfather were not there to see it. So, to even consider food turning into my enemy is something I cannot even begin to understand. So also, with water. So also, with air.


Around seven years ago, two of my young staffers went to meet the Deshpandes of Solapur, Sumangala and Arun. They were there to see first-hand the alternative lifestyle and water-saving practices the couple had pioneered in rural Maharashtra. The young guys spent three days with them, sleeping in an outhouse, and were deeply moved by the two elderly Punekars who had moved into a village to live life on their own terms. While they were leaving, the boys bent to touch the couple’s feet. But Arun shooed them away.


“Why do you want to touch our feet?” he snapped.


“For blessings,” the young men told him.


Arun softened and said, “As an elder I am supposed to leave you good air to breathe, clean water to drink and good food to eat. I am unable to do any of that. What good is any other blessing?”


Stay safe, dear reader. THE WEEK holds you dear, as you do us.