Saturday, June 6, 2015

Maggi Noodles and Other Stories

Of late, Maggi and its parent company, Nestle, have been embroiled in a major controversy regarding the high Lead and MSG content in the noodles. This post is an attempt to critique the popular rhetoric on the issue.

And drive traffic on my blog by writing about this trending topic.

‘Tu Maggi nahi khata na?’, enquired my frantic mom over our usual 2-minute daily phone call last night. When you mom calls you and asks whether you consume something presumably bad for your health, it’s not news. But when that something is not chicken-on-a-Tuesday or alcohol or beef (on-any-fuckin’-day), then it is definitely a cause of concern. Now I don’t eat Maggi for multiple reasons which include, but are not restricted to (1) taking the tastemaker out of the sachet is as difficult as back-to-back ejaculations, and (2) 2-minutes is how long you last the first time, and DEFINITELY not how long cooking Maggi lasts every time. Now that I've spoiled your memory of Maggi with sexual innuendos, let’s look at some of my genuine concerns. One, I do not know how much 225 ml of water is. Whatever quantity I take is either way less or way more. Two, I know the packaging says that the image that it carries is only indicative and the actual preparation may differ, but it doesn't say by how much. In my case, it’s usually between 99.9% to 100.1%. Three, they never mention, in minutes, the ratio of the time and effort to cook to the time and effort to wash the kettle, which as per my experience is anything between 1:1000000 to 1:100000000, or as Nestle would like to put it 2:2000000 to 2:200000000. 

Having said all this, I do have a point to make here. What has happened to Maggi is absolutely unfair, unjust and a lot more un-things. For long, the people of this land have been mean to other people of this land. But who thought that privilege would be extended to inanimate objects? Now I know that Nestle brand-mangers would kill me for labeling their beloved brand as ‘inanimate’ and an ‘object’, but I still take the liberty purely on my resolute belief that there’s definitely something wrong if they’re reading this blog right now as against salvaging whatever anti-flammables they can to put out this fire. It’s true that it takes years and years of labour (artistic and donkey-like) and insights (original and plagiarized) to build and cultivate a brand (unless, of course, you are merely importing a foreign brand in which case you just need donkey-like labour and plagiarized insights). Scandalizing and marginalizing such a brand undoes all the effort all these people have put in. Think about the Nestle salesmen who go from store to store booking orders and the Sales Officers who go from Distributor to Distributor having chai… Yes, brands are inanimate, but the people behind them aren’t. With the huge dip in sales, a lot of salesmen will not earn their incentives this month; incentives that form a major chunk of their take home salary. And with Maggi contributing almost 50% of the Nestle portfolio, the small distributors will suffer grave losses with many going out of business by the time the brand is back on the shelves. Yes, a ban on Maggi is definitely a shock for its loyal customer base and a setback for the Brand Managers, but for some, it’s an absolute catastrophe.

And now, let’s get some facts straight. It’s a rather well-known fact in the industry that Nestle is a pioneer and world leader in terms of food safety and compliance. In fact, other companies look up to the amazing standards of food quality that their Swiss competitor has. It is also a well-known fact that our friends in need at FSSAI are not friends in deed, at least for all food companies. There have been multiple reports of its officials deliberately causing delays in new product launches, arbitrarily changing laws to stall projects and imposing random fines (the tune of which defies logic and mathematics). In fact, a lot of Food companies are known to get FSSAI approvals quicker than others for almost all their brands, while some others with relatively smaller purses have to stand in queue for years.

Then there’s the question of the alleged state of the art laboratories in which the food samples are tested by FSSAI. I doubt what fraction of the dangerous chemicals are in the packet and what fraction get included during the testing process. Hi-fives if you’re imaging your highschool chemistry lab, albeit with all the equipment a hundred-year old, or if you went to a government school as I did, in which case the thought process is the same minus the going-back-100-years part.

Finally, if 12 different laboratories test products from the same batch manufactured at the same plant under the same standard operating procedures, and if 9 of the 12 label the product as unsafe and 3 label it safe, there’s nothing conclusive for or against the product. The only thing I know for sure is that not all the laboratories are right, which is as much a question mark on the laboratories as it is on the product being tested.

Next, a word on our beloved media. This morning, I came across this in today’s Times of India. A similar report appeared on business-standard here. The correspondents from both the stories tried to contact the officials of the concerned companies: Heinz and Kellogg, in this case, only the correspondent from Business Standard could elicit a response. So either the ToI journalist doesn’t have enough contacts (which means he’s a bad journalist) or despite having a contact he can’t get a response (which also means he’s a bad journalist). Sweeping statements such as ‘there was no response from the company’ and ‘all our emails went unanswered’ portray the company as callous and insensitive, which, as the other report proves, is clearly not the case.  The ToI correspondent, clearly, has no idea that the Kellogg brand in question hasn’t even been launched (its approval has been held up for some months now). The report from Business Standard is more informative and hence, more balanced. Unfortunately, apart from first year B-School students, no one reads the Business Standard.

Finally, a message for us third-world Indians who believe that these rascal MNC food companies adhere to different (and lower) food safety standards of manufacturing in India as against abroad. Last year, we went (on inspection) to the sole plant of a leading cereal maker. This is what they made us wear before entering the plant:

And this is how we usually look.

Clearly, a lot more hygienic.

Every worker on the shop floor was dressed in a similar way.
Although not as smartly as Ranbir Kapoor in ‘Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani’ while making laddoos at the nearby halwai as shown below, but I hope you get the point.


All said and done, I believe it’s never too late to make amends. I will now head straight to the nearest kirana shop to purchase my packet of Maggi and then to the nearby laboratory to borrow a borosil beaker.
Let’s try with exactly 225 ml this time.

P.S: As much as I want to, the post has not been sponsored by any food company. One of them pays my salary, and that’s that.   

P.P.S: Keyboards don't have the stylized é key, so please, can't we just call it Nestle and not Nestlé?