Home >Politics >Policy >Ram Vilas Paswan’s proposed food portion fix throws restaurants into a tizzy

Mumbai: Inspired perhaps by the best diets in the world, the government has decided that the secret sauce for preventing wastage of food is portion control and will soon define portion sizes for food served in hotels and restaurants, consumer affairs and food minister Ram Vilas Paswan said, the Hindustan Times reported on Tuesday.

The ministry plans to call a meeting of representatives from the food industry and take their assistance in defining portion sizes before implementing the plan that was inspired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s comments against food wastage in his Mann Ki Baat talk on 9 April, Paswan added.

To be sure, the plan, as currently envisaged, doesn’t mean restricting how much a person will eat, as reported by a few websites and on social media, but simply defining portion sizes. “If a person eats two idlis, why serve four?" Paswan was reported as asking. It is also likely that the definition will include either size or weight.

India will become perhaps the first country in the world to define portion sizes in restaurants, although many countries, including India, have such norms for packaged and processed foods. In the early 2010s, New York State tried to prescribe and restrict portion sizes for aerated soft drinks served at restaurants because then mayor Michael Bloomberg was worried people were consuming too much sugar, but the plan had to be eventually abandoned.

Restaurant owners appreciated the move’s sentiment but said it was difficult to implement.

“Although the thought behind this concept is noble and we appreciate it, but to implement this idea is highly impractical," Dilip Datwani, president of the Hotel and Restaurant Association Western India, said. “If the suggested move does come into effect, the pricing would most certainly be affected, making eating out more expensive for the consumer," he added.

Restaurants may also have to change the way they prepare food in their kitchens.

“Although the move is a good one to prevent wastage, standardization (of portions) will be very difficult," Rajesh Mohta, director and chief financial officer of Speciality Restaurants said. “Restaurants already weigh ingredients keeping recipes in mind. Our food is made in kitchens by people, by chefs." Unlike automated food preparation, a restaurant’s operations would find it hard to churn out standard food portions, Mohta said.

Some restaurants sell items whose large portion size is their USP. For instance, coffee chain Coffee by Di Bella sells milkshakes called Freakshakes that are loaded with calorie-rich ingredients.

“Everyone has their own speciality that the customers come for," Rahul Leekha, Coffee by Di Bella’s India head, said. “The government cannot demand that this particular portion is the portion to sell. If we start doing that, the place loses its novelty."

Like Mohta, Leekha said that it will be difficult to change recipes that are designed and standardized over time. “We are an international brand that follows recipes given to us (by the parent)," he said.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether the portion sizes would be directions or general guidelines.

If Paswan’s suggestions are to be implemented, they would have to encompass several rules and regulations that currently govern how restaurant kitchens function. These include the Standards of Weights and Measures Act, 1976 that makes display of a maximum retail price or MRP mandatory for a product based on its weight and measure.

Datwani added that the government will also have to modify regulations of the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) that apply to restaurants. Restaurants need an FSSAI licence to operate. FSSAI regulates the quality of food served and hygiene level of kitchens, among other things, and prescribes penalties for violations.

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