Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Not so Yummy

Kentucky Fried Chicken is owned, by a company with a distinctively “uncorporate” name – Yum! Brands, complete with the exclamation mark.  This blogger is a vegetarian and therefore has not really sampled its wares. But I am reliably told that its fried chicken, is fairly delicious.  But these days, alas, KFC is not sounding very yummy.
The problem is in China. KFC is everywhere in China. I mean everywhere. Sometimes I wonder if the icon of Americanism in China is not McDonald’s or Coca Cola, but KFC. Every street corner seems to have one.  The Chinese were happily munching or chewing or licking, or whatever you do with fried chicken. All that changed in December of last year. CCTV, that great bastion of broadcasting  and China’s answer to Doordarshan,  aired a program that claimed that local suppliers to KFC had given its chicken excessive amounts of antibiotics.  CCTV is more renowned for informing the world that Xi Jinping had a good night’s sleep rather than do investigative reporting. But, expose, it did. I am not aware of the merits or the details of the case, but you can imagine what happened to the sales of KFC in China. It dropped by a vertiguous 41% in January.
Ouch. KFC has recovered from earlier unfavourable events – SARS and Bird flu, although it was responsible for neither. Apparently, the Chinese can’t be kept away from fried chicken for long. But will it recover from this latest blow ? The Chinese are fed up with food adulteration. Remember baby food adulterated with melamine some 3 years ago.
Yum! Brands , is of course, not just KFC. Its also Pizza Hut and Taco Bell. So the company will ride this crisis. But its exposure to China is massive.  Half its global sales of some $4 bn comes from China. And this is the dilemma of China. The opportunity is massive. But the risks are also high.
This incident also calls into question the issue of safety or desirability of processed foods. Popular perception is that all processed food is bad. Nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact the so called “fresh” product is often the most unsafe.  Just compare tap water with Bisleri. If you knew what the “fresh veggies” went through before they landed in your shop, you might be tempted to turn non vegetarian. If you bought that raw turmeric from the store – well, I will spare you the gory details of what that goes through. Will you buy milk from the milkman if he brought the cow to your doorstep ? The less said about hygiene in the neighbouring  Udipi, the better.
In general, responsible companies that process food take greater care; from the farm gate to the time it is processed. Like for like, processed food is actually safer than “fresh food” – unless you grew it yourself.  But as the KFC incident, or the horsemeat problem in Europe shows,  there can be disastrous lapses there too.  In the quest for profitability – individual or corporate, risks are taken with food; chiefly pesticides in crops and the cocktail of hormones and drugs with animals.
Any takers for retiring to the ancestral village (Sriram – the distance from Eugene to Pattamadai is rather long !) and growing your own stuff in the backyard ?


raghavendra kotla said...

Ok, so I can continue to eat them in Singapore :-), thanks. I don’t know that Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and KFC are from same group. I read all these three have place in the world’s top 10 most valuable fast food chains, MacD being the top one. Btw, Mars Inc who manufactures famous M&Ms and snickers also manufactures pet foods like whiskas (for cats) and pedegre (for dogs) !!! Food for all.

Sriram Khé said...

Hey, yes, we tend to vastly underestimate the remarkably safe and healthy foods that we now eat compared to a few years ago. In fact, in my intro class, I require students to read an article that kind of jolts them to think about a few things ... might as well pass that along, in case anybody is interested:

Funny story ... when we were younger and visiting grandmas during the summer breaks, getting massal-vadai at a local eatery in that village of Pattamadai was one of our faves. My grandmother, who was traditional and didn't care for food prepared at strange places, sneered at us, with comments like "yeah, you find it tasty because all his sweat also gets added into it." She was convinced that it was awfully unhygienic, and I bet she was right, though I am not sure about the sweat itself dripping into the mix ... uggggghhhh, gross, when I visualize it.

BTW, Pattamadai is not in my back-up retirement plan, Ramesh. It is the other grandma's village of Sengottai. Oh, it is so bloody scenic there, with the Western Ghats as the backdrop and green paddy and banana fields ... I have walked lots along the roads leading out of Sengottai towards Puliyarai ... hmmm ....

Ramesh said...

@kotla - The danger in Singapore is not antibiotics but probably Viagra as part of government initiatives to make Singaporeans have more babies !!

Oh yes - its interesting to discover who actually makes some famous brands. Would you associates Pringles with P&G (until recently) or pet food with Nestle or even soaps with Wipro .

@sriam - Oh Sengottai, is it. Pity its so far away from Seramelkudi, my back up retirement plan :)

I have always wondered why home food was rarely considered tasty, while "hotel food" of dubious quality was always delicious. Maybe it was because it was so rare in those days.

gils said...

//I have always wondered why home food was rarely considered tasty, while "hotel food" of dubious quality was always delicious//

lol :D:D antha "special" ingredientsnaala irukumngareengala :D:D adulteration..unhygenic food..genetically modified crap..corruption..ellam kadavul mathiri...ella edathulayum irukum...silaruku kannula paduthu..silaruku ila :d

Ravi Rajagopalan said...

@Ramesh: I don't know where home is anymore. After moving to Mumbai three years ago I never felt so alienated as I do here. Everything about the place jars. If I did want to experience all that a vibrant city has to offer, all I need to do is go back to London. I envy the likes of you and Sriram who have identified the village where you will indulge in lotus-eating apart from "massal-vadai" eating.

Incidentally, in London, you can apply to the Council for what is called an "allotment". This is a plot of land about 20ft by 20ft that you take on long lease for a token rent, which you can only use for growing veggies for your table. I know a number of people who take the time to grow their own stuff. It forces you to eat seasonally, and you really value what you eat. When I was a boy we used to grow our own stuff in our garden and I remember who tasty it all seemed.

Reflections said...

This really sounds scary:-o. Fervently hoping the famous Dubai muncipality is doing its job well...they are already conducting surprise checks on the meatshops in town after the horsemeat scare.

The H is all for ancestral village retirement complete with cows & paddy fields, I'm the one dragging my feet;-P.

Ramesh said...

@Ravi - I know the ambivalence of the Brit. In this, you are probably no different than the sahibs of yester years !!

@Reflections - No horses in Dubai - your ruler is a horse nut :) More power to the H :):)

Sriram Khé said...

In response to Ravi's and Ramesh's comments:
The first couple of videos (from seven years ago) here will give you an idea of the Sengottai landscape ... maybe we can all plan for our retirement there ... not a bad idea, actually ;)


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