There is no love sincerer than the love of food ― George Bernard Shaw in ‘Man and Superman’
A senior sub editor at the editorial had grown chillies in his home garden. One fine day he found that the leaves of the plants had caught a worm disease.
This gentleman who is from Bandaragama in the Kalutara district went and met the government-appointed agriculture officer in the area. The officer asked him to pour the water of the first wash of Masoor dhal (or Mysore dhal/ lentils) over the plants. He said after a couple of days the plants would be back to normal.
A bemused sub editor went home and did exactly that. True to the word of the agriculture officer two days later the plants were free of the disease.
While he was happy to get over one problem, the sub editor who consumes Masoor dhal almost daily started worrying about his own health. “If that’s the effect that Masoor dhal had on worms after one round of washed water, what most the lentils themselves be doing to me who consumes them daily?” he wondered.
That of course is a good question.
We live in a country where there’s hardly any monitoring of the food stocks reaching our shores. Authorities only act on complaints. If the food looks rotten or when there are complaints of obvious side effects as burning sensations in mouth after consuming a low quality imported rice variety, the authorities attend to the matter.
With lentils not giving away any such signs or symptoms a consumer is obviously clueless about the damage its chemical preservatives can have on one’s body. Other than destroying all beneficial stomach bacteria that help the digestive process the preservatives must be causing some irreparable damage to the system.
Being a food variety taken at least once a day by almost all Sri Lankans the hygienic standards of Masoor dhal, it goes without saying, is something that definitely deserves more attention. It’s no wonder this country of late has seen a phenomenal rise in the number of cases of acute gastritis and digestive system related conditions.
The amount of Masoor dhal consumption by Sri Lankans can be gauged by the fact that despite being a relatively smaller country, Sri Lanka along with Bangladesh, Egypt, Colombia, France, Italy and Spain form the biggest importers of Masoor dhal in the world today.
Canada, India, Turkey and the United States are among the top producers of this variety of dhal which is scientifically known as Lens culinaris. Due to its rich fibre and protein content Masoor dhal is commonly used in most parts of the world in their cuisine.
There’s a misconception among many Sri Lankans that Masoor dhal which is mispronounced as Mysore dhal by almost all here, is grown in Mysore in the Southern Indian state of Karnataka. Interestingly Southern and Western Indian states are among the few regions where Masoor dhal is not grown. It is mainly produced in the Northern and Eastern states and
This also explains why there’s a need to add a lot of preservatives. It certainly is a long journey the lentils take from the producers’ land to the Southern or Western Indian ports and from there to Colombo port and to wholesale shops and then to the retailer. Given the standard of the Indian transport system and delays at ports there and also here this may often take a couple of months. As to what kind of chemical preservatives are used in the process one never knows.
It’s high time the Sri Lankan health authorities got their act together and investigated into this. It is likely to solve the mysteries around the so many digestive system-related diseases among the public.