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Sustenance of Ethnic Foods-Its Legal Rights and Ecological Importance

Food Security is an important ecological concept. Basically, Food Web represents feeding relationships within a community. Many women , men and children affected by chronic under nourishment, suffer from what the UN food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) calls 'extreme hunger'.

This means that their daily ratio of calories is well below the minimum necessary for survival .Many people die on a daily basis from Starvation, Malnutrition also called the 'hidden hunger', refers to inadequate intake of calories, proteins or nutrients. Thus, malnutrition necessarily encompasses undernourishment, however it stretches beyond the latter since it might be that a person receives enough calories but not enough nutrients.

Therefore, this article majorly enunciates the importance of ethnic foods, their rights as legal rights, human rights and clearly defined rights. Further it speaks about the laws governing the food Industry and the Government's Initiatives. Finally it elucidates the issues of malnutrition and Starvation , challenges in achieving Food Security globally.

The world has the capacity to produce enough food to feel everyone adequately. Yet despite progress made over the past two decades, about million people in the world or just over one in every nine human beings, still suffer from hunger on a daily basis. The global agencies report that over three lakh children die every year in India because of hunger, whereas 38 percent below the age of five are stunted.

The sustainable development goal to " End hunger, achieve food Security and improved nutrition and Promote Sustainable agriculture" recognizes the inter linkages among supporting sustainable agriculture, empowering small farmers, promoting gender equality, ending rural Poverty, ensuring healthy lifestyles tackling climate change and other issues addressed within the set of 17 sustainable development goals in the 2030 sustainable agenda.

Adequate nutrition during the critical 1000 days from beginning of pregnancy through a child's second birthday merits a particular focus. The scaling up nutrition movement incorporated strategies that link nutrition to agriculture, clean water, sanitation, education, employment, social protection, health care and support for resilience.

Thus eradicating Poverty and hunger are integrally linked to boosting food production ,agricultural productivity and rural incomes. Sustainable agricultural practices and food systems including both Production and consumption must be pursued from a holistic and integrated perspective.

Right To Food:

Everyone has the right to food. The right to food is essential for a dignified life and is vital for the realisation of many other rights, such as the rights to health and life. Food is important not just for survival , but also for the full development of one's physical and mental capabilities.

Development At The State, National And International Levels

The state funded community kitchen is not a new concept in the country. Tamil Nadu's Amma Unavagam had become a roaring success by involving peers in self-help groups , employing the poor to serve hygienic food to eradicate the growing problem of hunger on the streets.

Other examples are Rajasthan's Annapurna Rasoi, Indira Canteens in Karnataka,Delhi's Aam Aadmi Canteen, Anna Canteen in Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand Mukhyamantri Dal Bhat and Odisha's Ahaar centre were combating starvation and malnutrition crisis and serve meals at subsidised rates in hygienic conditions.

Various Schemes run by government to address the problem of hunger are futile in as much as there are eligible persons who have not been issued cards requisite to avail subsidies and benefits and then there is a segment of persons who are homeless and outside the grid of these schemes for the mere reasons that they do not possess a roof on their head. Public Distribution System(PDS) in India which accounts for distribution of wheat and rice only does not account for Proteins and other components of a well-balanced diet, in turn leads to malnutrition.

Development of Right to Food at National Level:
The honourable Supreme Court has in a plethora of cases held that right to food comes within the purview of right to life and is a basic component to right to life. Issues pertaining to malnutrition and starvation deaths, emerging from inadequate nutrition and hunger crisis breach the fundamental right to food and are violative of Articles 14,21,38,39,47,51 ( C ) of the Constitution of India.

In Shantistar Builders v Narayan Khimala Totame (1990), it was held that right to life is guaranteed in any civilised society. That would take within its sweep the right to food.

The Supreme court in the case of Maneka Gandhi v Union of India,1978 stated that Right to Life enshrined under Article 21 means something more than animal instinct and includes the right to live with human dignity, it would include all aspects which would make life meaningful ,complete and living.

The Supreme Court in Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation v Nawab khan Gulab Khan 1997,reminded the starving persons in the country and further held that the nation state should promote socio-economic Justice and fulfil the basic human needs.

In the People's Union for civil liberties v Union of India (2013) commonly known as the 'Right to Food Case' , the Supreme Court directed all the States and Union Territories, to introduce Mid-day meals for all children between the age of 6 to 14. This Petition however sought implementation of a scheme providing cooked food to all persons.

The Present government's schemes to eradicate hunger suffer on account of ineffective implementation and the proposed community kitchens, managed with funding from the state as well as funds from corporate social responsibility of the companies Act,2013 by a public-Private partnership ,may be implemented to complement the existing schemes.

Development Of Right To Food At The International Level:

As per Statistics of the United Nations World Food Programme, World Health Organisation (WHO), Global database on child growth and malnutrition, UN Food and Agriculture, an estimated 7000 Persons including Children die of hunger and malnutrition every day, and an estimated 25 lakh persons, including children die of hunger, annually.

In many other Countries there are concepts of soup kitchen, meal centre, food kitchen or community kitchen, where food is offered to the hungry usually for free or sometimes at a below -market price. In the interest of Justice and for entitlement of nutritious food, which has been held as a basic fundamental and human right in both national and International law alike.

The establishment of community kitchens may be directed as an added mechanism for provision of nutritious food with the Intent of holistically combating eradication of hunger, malnutrition and starvation in the country and diseases, illnesses and deaths resulting thereof.

The right to food is a human right. It protects the right of all human beings to live in dignity, free from hunger ,food insecurity and malnutrition. The right to food is not about charity, but about ensuring that all people have the capacity to feed themselves in dignity. The right to food is Protected under International human rights and humanitarian law and the correlative state obligations are well -established under International law.

The right to food is recognised in Article 25 of the Universal declaration on Human rights and Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic ,Social and Cultural rights (ICESCR) as well as a plethora of other instruments. Noteworthy is also the recognition of the right to food in numerous national constitutions.

The right to Food is clearly defined � As authoritatively defined by the Committee on Economic, Social & cultural Rights (Committee on ESCR) in its general comment 12 of 1999) ; the right to adequate food is realized when every man, woman and child ,alone and in community with others, has physical and economic access at all times to adequate food or means for its procurement.(para.6)

Sustainability Of Ethnic Foods:

Every Community has a distinct dietary culture that symbolizes its heritage and socio-cultural aspects of its ethnicity. Food Prepared by different ethnic groups of people is unique and distinct due to the differences in geographical location, environmental factors, food preferences and availability of plant or animal sources.

Customary beliefs, food rules and laws, religions and social groupings are some of the characteristics contributing to the description of a culture, while ethnicity is the affiliation with a race, people or cultural group. Some ethnic foods have been mentioned in holy books such as the Bible, the Quran, and the Bhagavad Gita, as well as in Buddhist texts/Scriptures. As a result, most of the ethnic foods are influenced by religion and taboo.

Buddhist Foods:

Orthodox Buddhists may avoid eating meat and fish out of respect for life. However, non-vegetarian foods are not strictly forbidden. According to the Buddhist religious dietary code, if animal flesh is eaten, the animal should be killed by non-Buddhists. Buddhists usually eat together at home with their family .Fish eating is uncommon among the Tibetan Buddhists, because they worship fish for longevity and Prosperity.

Christian Foods:

Certain food is symbolically used at the Eucharist, or Communion ,by Christians. A wafer or bread is placed on the tongue to represent the body of Jesus, and wine is drunk symbolizing his blood. In fact, the symbolic drinking of wine as a representation of the blood of Christ clearly was a significant departure from the strong avoidance of blood proscribed in the Jewish dietary laws.

Paska is a special Easter bread that is prominent in Eastern Orthodox church Celebrations. Paska is a sweet, yeast-leavened bread quite different from the unleavened matzo eaten during the Jewish Passover that symbolizes the exodus from Egypt.

Muslim Foods:

Like Kosher, Consumption of food is governed by the strict dietary laws for Muslims. The following foods are prohibited, Wine meat, the flesh of dead animals, blood in any form, food previously offered to Gods and alcohol and any intoxicant. According to the dietary laws, Muslim foods are prepared without any alcoholic beverages. During Ramadan, a month-long fasting, family members, friends and relatives share common meals after Sunset.

Hindu Foods:

In the Bhagavad Gita , which is the Sacred book of Hindus, foods are classified into three different types namely Satvika, raajasika and taamasika ,based on the property ,quality and sanctity respectively.

The Sattvika food signifies Prosperity, longevity, intelligence, strength, health and happiness. This food type includes fruits, vegetables, legumes, cereals ,sweets.

The Raajasika food signifies activity, passion and restlessness which includes hot, sour, spicy and salty foods. The taamasika food is intoxicating and unhealthy which generally causes dullness and inertia.

The Hindu foods follow the concept of Purity and Pollution which determines interpersonal and intercaste relationships. Fish is more acceptable than other animal flesh foods. These are the religious ethnic foods that depicts the traditions, skills and cultures accordingly.

Ethnic foods have social importance for celebrations, especially during festivals and social occasions.

Issues Of Malnutrition And Starvation:

Article 39(a) of the Constitution, enunciated as one of the directive principles, fundamental in the governance of the country, requires the state to direct its policies towards securing that all its citizens have the right to an adequate means of livelihood, while Article 47 spells out the duty of the state to raise the level of nutrition and standard of living of its people as a primary responsibility.

The constitution thus makes the right to food a guaranteed fundamental right which is enforceable by virtue of the Constitutional remedy provided under Article 32 od the constitution .

The acute problem of malnutrition and starvation deaths that continue to take place in India in violation of the right to Food and inspite of various food Security schemes introduced by the government.

Government's Initiatives & Challenges In Achieving Food Security Globally:

The government is running various schemes for combating hunger and malnutrition such as:
  1. The Public Distribution System (PDS)
  2. Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY)
  3. The national Programme of Nutritional Support to Primary Education also known as ' Mid -day Meal Scheme'.
  4. The Integrate child development Services (ICDS)
  5. Annapurna Scheme
  6. The National Old Age Pension Scheme (NOAPS)
  7. The national Maternity Benefit Scheme (NMBS)
  8. The National Family Benefit Scheme (NFBS)
Furthermore, the Parliament of India enacted the National Food Security Act causing a paradigm shift in the approach food security form welfare to rights based approach. Hence, both the state & central government in the country have launched a range of promotional, preventive and protective social measures to tackle deprivation, food insecurity and poverty alleviation.

Various countries have framed numerous legislations regarding food Security such legislations in practice mismatches with International definitions.

Green Revolution:
While Green revolution approach achieved dramatic increases in rice and wheat production in some parts of the country, it left a devastating environmental impact on the society.

Public Distribution flaws:
The 1980s and 1990s saw an increasing acknowledgement that India's focus on increasing food supplies was falling short of actually ameliorating hunger.

There are pitfalls of National food Security Act that suffers from serious lacunae in its drafting which severely undermine its stated objective of giving legal form to the right to food in India .

Conclusion & Suggestions:
The broad environment that encompasses food systems and their production and consumption components has changed considerably in recent years. New forms of investment are flowing into food & agriculture systems and new patterns of food systems governance are emerging.

The environment for food and agricultural production is increasingly challenging -particularly for small holders due to natural resource degradation, more frequent and severe weather events, globalization ,urbanization and market concentration .

Higher and more volatile food prices have slowed or even reversed progress in reducing food insecurity in many countries, highlighting the fragility of the global food system. Food Prices are likely to remain relatively high and Price volatility is expected to become more common in the future.

It is noteworthy that inspite of the existence of a plethora of schemes aimed at eradicating Hunger, Malnutrition ,Starvation deaths, and allied Issues, the country is still grappling with the said problems on a large scale, leaving scope for newer radical solutions to combat the same.

  1. Kwon DY. What is Ethnic Food? Journal of Ehtnic Foods 2015 ; 2:1 ( Editorial)
  2. McWilliams M. Food around the world: A cultural Perspective ; New Delhi ;Pearson Education 2007.
  3. Hinnells JR- A new handbook of living Religions- London : Penguin ,1997
  4. Hamamo M.Shoyu ; Food Culture, 2001 3:4-6
  5. Kilara A and Iya KK Food Practices of the Hindu Food Technol 1992; 46: 94-104
  6. Prakash O. Economy and Food in Ancient India, Part II- Food; Delhi � Bharatiya Vidya Prakashan ,1987
Written By: A.J.E.Shiny

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