Raajeev's Corner - 2019

To Eat or Not to Eat

By Raajeev Aggerwhil

It is ironic that the richest country in the world has the poorest eating habits. As an Indian-American immigrant, I am concerned about the kind of food my children eat. Although my wife and I try to feed them healthier, they have gotten addicted to processed American junk food. My wife made organic spaghetti sauce from scratch. My son said, “Mom, it is almost perfect. All it needs is a pinch of MSG, Glycerol Abeitate and some other ingredients that I can't pronounce."

It is especially hard when we have to travel because the choices are limited. We are constantly bombarded with slick slogans from advertisers. While traveling a few years back, I saw this new advertisement from Cinnabon: “Choose your obsession." Have you seen the amount of sugar they have in Cinnabon? The slogan should have been, "Choose your diabetes. Type A or Type B."

My children are not too fond of Indian food and they use their dislike of select dishes to make jokes. My son Neil was standing in the backyard and two deer were staring at him. Suddenly, Neil did something and the deer ran away. When I asked him what scared the deer off, he smiled and said, “I simply asked them if they wanted to try mom's Aloo Gobi." I think he has made so many jokes on Aloo Gobi that whenever my wife and I are at the grocery store and look at cauliflower, we automatically remember some of his jokes and smile.

When our children were little, we had to work hard to eliminate or at least minimize junk food from our diet. The hardest part was to get rid of soda from our household. It was a big change for them. When my son Vicktor was six, he asked my wife for Coke. When my wife told him that he couldn't have it, he said, “OK. Can I just look at the Coke can?" For the next two years it was embarrassing because whenever he would go to other people's parties, he would gobble up soda like a fish and smile at us. To satisfy his craving, we bought a bottle of Coke and set the rules that he could drink it but with a teaspoon!

As India gets westernized, most of the American fast food chains have made inroads into the country. About a decade back, Yum brands had 72 Kentucky Fried Chicken establishments in India. They planned a total of 1,000 locations in the next few years. That would generate $1 billion in revenue and help with the population control by pursuing five million more heart attacks.

In my stand-up, I often joke that there is an Indian guru who has been encouraging Indians to stop eating at fast food restaurants and eliminating soda from their diet. He even said that Indians would be better off using Coke and Pepsi as toilet cleaner. His campaign was mildly successful. Had mainstream publications in the US picked up his stories, Baba Ramdev would have been put on the FBI's most wanted list.

It is amazing how much money and planning goes into the campaigns for the fast food commercials. I had to turn down an audition for McDonald's because I was supposed to eat beef in the commercial. I don't even eat meat. I thought, what if I just ate a tofu burger? Then I realized that would be considered deceptive advertising and we couldn't have that in America!

The only way to fight the seductive advertisements from the fast food industry is making a conscious effort to eat healthy. Indian food is not necessarily the answer. After moving to Los Angeles from Boston, we started eating healthier, relying less on processed food. We switched to Subway and Chipotle. We included smoothies and salads in our diet. We switched primarily to organic because I am a traditionalist and skeptical of GMO food. I don't want to have six fingers in my hand in the future! Also, as a vegetarian, I find it repulsive that my vegetables would have an insect gene in it. If I am making popcorn, I don't want a butterfly to pop out of the corn kernels!

I tried to look at scientific research but they offer contrary results. Once eggs and ghee were bad for us because of high cholesterol. Now they are good for us because of the benefits to the brain. The barrage of contradictory data is confusing and as a consumer it is hard to tell who is sponsoring what research. I doubt a scientific paper sponsored by the Burger King Institute for Cardiovascular Disease would be truly unbiased. I have concluded that the only thing all the scientific journals agree on is that water is good for us. That is followed by organic green leafy vegetables. For everything else, there is only one way to sift through contradictory data – use common sense, eat everything in moderation and exercise regularly. My own addition to that rule is never eat anything you can't pronounce. But when my kids pretend they can't pronounce the Indian foods my wife prepares, I let the rule slide.


Los Angeles-based comedian Raajeev Aggerwhil has starred in Nickelodeon's TV show 100 Things to Do Before High School and also acted in the film based on the television series. See his videos on YouTube.