There are several excellent passages in Mehul Srivastava’s article for Bloomberg’s Businessweek so I will pick them out by the related academic discipline:
1. “ It had been a year, at least, since Ghanshyam last ate meat, eight months since he was able to catch fish in the nearby river, and six months since he’d had an egg, he told me. Later I showed photos of the meals to Rachita Singh, a nutritionist at the Saket Max Hospital in New Delhi. She estimated they would provide about 1,700 to 1,800 calories a day. Such a diet, heavy in cereals and other carbohydrates, is what most rural Indians eat. In 2010, according to India’s statistics ministry, 64 percent of the calories consumed by rural Indians came from cereals, about 9 percent from oils and fats, and less than 5 percent each from sugar and pulses such as the lentils we ate. Fruit, vegetables, meat, eggs, and fish together made up about 2.5 percent. By all counts—overall calories or nutrients—it’s a poor diet.”
It also sounds like a diet that a slightly crazier First Lady, Mark Bittman or some other renowned researcher of obesity in an epidemiological or biochemical perspective wouldn’t mind forcing on a rich nation (Eat Food, Somewhat Nutritious, Mostly Not.) It should be said that there are populations like the Kitavans (etc) who also subsist on a diet that is nearly completely carbohydrate but they are doing so with yams and other tubers which have nearly all the micronutrients that cereal grains lack and often while trading with other populations for gathered seafood (like micronutrient-rich shellfish.)
2. “ As he grew into his teens and early adulthood, however, the Green Revolution took hold: The fields were sown with hybrid seeds and enriched with chemical fertilizers, enabling the country first to feed itself and later to sell its grain on the global markets”
Speaking about his father, the author narrates a history we should know well–the agricultural revolution fomented by hardier varietals of staple grains and the liberal use of fertilizers. In some respects, going by caloric intake, this revolution has run its course and no longer yields gains in marginal productivity though my personal theory is that eliminating problems in distribution (and the corruption implied) can keep the country self-sufficient for the near term.
3. ”In 2009 two economists, Angus Deaton, at Princeton University, and Jean Drèze, at the G.B. Pant Social Science Institute in Allahabad, just two hours from Auar, wrote a paper arguing that Indians were consuming fewer calories today than in the 1980s because they needed fewer calories. Poor Indians now had bicycles and got sick less often, they said, and that might solve the puzzle that has confounded economists studying Indian nutrition—falling calorie counts at a time of rising real incomes”
Though I can’t find the 60′s era data now, the author presents the figure of 62% of over a billion Indians who live in rural areas and are thus subject to the barbaric vicissitudes of the rural labor market–high temperature, low pay, and chronic illnesses like tuberculosis all made worse by rampant malnutrition.
4. ”My first day in the village, I was taken to the upper-caste basti to meet the village headman, a tall, broad-chested Brahmin named Vinod Upadhyay. I wanted him to know I’d be living in the village and asking questions. He offered me a plastic chair outside his two-story brick house, where a shiny motorcycle stood next to an electric water pump. A servant brought out tea and biscuits. After my first sip, I asked Upadhyay why he wasn’t joining me.
“When I eat with lower castes, it disagrees with my stomach,” he answered nonchalantly.”