Back home in the US, I work at one of Greenville’s local juice shops. A whole slew of customers walk through our doors everyday; some come in to check out the newest trend in the restaurant scene while most come in because they are health conscious consumers looking for the rare fresh healthy meal. Although healthy eating is on the rise in the US and my generation (the millennials) are opting for food that is more natural, it does not seem to be the norm among the greater population as it is expensive and not always available to the masses.
In India I have not quite experienced the healthy eating my body needs. Since this is a traveling program we do not have our own kitchens; we move around every ten days or so and eat most meals at restaurants. Because of this I am not able to purchase and consume fresh produce, but I get to see it everyday. Being a foreigner also does not help, since my stomach is not used to the bacterias here, eating produce that has not been properly washed could make me very sick to say the least. Everywhere I go there are juice shops and produce stands that tempt me. I can’t turn a corner or take a rickshaw ride without seeing at least one.
While working in Hyderabad with a group called Hyderabad Urban Labs (HUL), I was able to do some public health research. My group focused on quality of life, looking specifically at access people had to drinking water, fresh food, medical resources, and walkability of an area. In the one neighborhood that my group looked at, we counted over thirty produce stands. I am unsure of the neighborhood’s socioeconomic status, but from the looks of the area, it was easy to assume that we were not in the wealthy part of the city. Back in the US, access to fresh food in the less wealthy areas is unheard of; fresh produce is expensive and unaffordable for most people. In fact, many of the poorer areas of lower socioeconomic status are places that we call food deserts. Food deserts as defined by the USDA are, “parts of the country vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods, usually found in impoverished areas. This is largely due to a lack of grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and healthy food providers.”
Here, in India, it does not seem to be that way. Walking through the First Lancer Neighborhood I saw places where you could get fresh fruit, veggies, meat, and grains. All of the key components of one’s diet, according to the US measure My Plate, could be met. People are very connected with their food. I have yet to enter a grocery store were they sell meat. Instead, everyone goes to their local butcher shop. Grains are also purchased at local convenience stores, although their source is not as clear. This is so far from the large corporate food system of the US where you walk into a grocery store and purchase food from all over the world, never knowing how far it has traveled to reach your plate.
On our last Tuesday in Hyderabad, Anant Maringanti, the founder of HUL, showed me just how connected Indian’s can be to their food source. That night, he took me back to the neighborhood I had been researching to see what is known as ‘Tuesday Market.’ This market held every Tuesday is where people from the area pick up the majority of their produce for the week. It closely resembles the farmers market I used to work every Saturday at home where fruit and veggies stands stretch as far as the eye can see.
Although these vendors are not the farmers who grow the food, providing access to fresh produce is their career. On any day of the week you can find these vendors selling their goods at markets in different neighborhoods. Markets like ‘Tuesday Market’ make fresh food available to the majority of India’s populations as the goods available for sale can be bought at an affordable price. Unlike the US, India is not a place where healthy fresh eating is a right reserved for the wealthy. Yes, with a bigger budget you may be able to buy food that is organic or sold in a more hygienic location, but produce is not exclusive to these places.
For me, India has been refreshing in this sense. Every time I see a fruit stand or a juice store I cannot help but smile. Knowing that people from all walks of life have access to healthy food in India gives me hopes that one day this too will be true in the US.