If you’ve been in India over the last week, you would have to have been living in a cave to have avoided any news about Nestle’s iconic brand of instant noodles- Maggi- being caught in a maelstrom of controversy. Tests conducted on packs (especially the tastemaker) indicated high levels of lead and MSG.
Maggi first burst into the scene in the early 80s. It promised kids and adults a tasty appealing tiffin/ evening snack that could be prepared in *hold your breath* 2 minutes. Now in the age of microwaves and take outs this might not sound like a big deal. But we’re talking early eighties in India when tiffins normally consisted idlies, dosas, upmas or the like that took definitely more than 2 minutes and where even in the “big cities” like Madras you could hardly find a restaurant that was open past 8.30pm. For millions of Indians like me it was the start of a grand love affair.
Maggi tasted like nothing we had known before then. Understand that we still had not yet very strict regulations- it was those grand old days when we liberally sprinkled Ajinomoto in our Indian version of Chinese noodles. Maggi probably had a lot of MSG in their aptly named tastemaker. But we didn’t care because it tasted good. When Maggi was first introduced it used to be a treat for Sunday afternoons- maybe once in a month or two. Traditional tiffins still ruled the roost. Finding Maggi on the table was a joy and delight- I always licked the bowl empty- a practice I continue to this day.
Maggi is more than just a convenient snack- for me it was always comfort food. I remember my trip to Ladakh in 2011. The place only really had 2 decent options to offer for most travellers on the road- Dal Chawal (Rice & Lentils) and Maggi. Even when trapped for over 24 hours near Rohtang Pass- I still relished the sight of brisk mobile vendors serving up maggi and hot tea. Because the altitude made the rice option very unappealing I literally lived on Maggi for most of the trip. I came back from that trip with my faith reaffirmed.
I always doubted Maggi’s health claims. Human experience tells us that nothing that tastes that good can be completely good- like trans-fat in delicious tasting junk food. So I hardly paid any attention to Maggi’s health claims about containing calcium and vitamins or whatever else. I never really believed the tastemaker didn’t have MSG. I agree the lead was a bit of a surprise but not a shock. After all we live in an age when apples get coated with wax, when watermelons get injected with coloured liquid chemicals, when I can’t bite into a ripe mango without getting an allergic reaction because of the amount of chemical fertilisers and preservatives that have been pumped into it. At least maggi never gave me an allergic reaction- never even an indigestion.
Maggi came in handy even in my travels. Everytime I travelled to a place where vegetarian food was going to be inaccessible or expensive I’ve taken Maggi with me. On a very hungry evening after a 3 hour walk I found myself cooking two packs of Maggi in my apart’ hotel in Dubai. I’ve even surprised my friends from outside India about how good instant noodles can taste. Maggi was truly a class apart.
So it is truly a sad day that I have to watch Maggi taken out from the racks. I’m not saying food products that contain harmful substances should be in the market. But now that Maggi has been taken out can we say that all the other things that sit on the racks are free of lead or MSG or any other bad chemicals? What about tobacco? Have we effectively prevented adults from smoking around children or even other adults? What about the pollution in our cities? The air quality in Delhi has been the subject of discussion for months. And what about water quality? I think it’s time we started seriously into a lot more health hazards that face us.
And parents should, if they are so concerned about the welfare of their children, look more carefully into what they are feeding them. The job of any marketing function in a company is to make a product look good- whether it’s instant noodles, cigarettes or alcohol or anything else. So believing a company blindly just because they made random health assertions is not the most intelligent thing to do. Look more carefully at what you are buying. Do some research- we have a lot more choices today than 10 years ago.
Whatever said and done- Maggi leaves a huge gap- not just in retail shelves but also in the hearts of people like me. I hope that Nestle lives up to its promise and brings it back soon.