Social media has been afloat with images of the Punjab Food Authority making surprise visits at various restaurants and bakeries in Lahore, imposing heavy fines and suspending business licenses because of the unhygienic conditions that the kitchens have been operating in.
They also have an e-complaint form on their website, so you can report places that they might not have checked yet. All in all, an impressive undertaking.
Having spent a large part of my life in Lahore, most of these places are more than familiar to me, and some of them I frequented on quite a regular basis. Every time I would eat from any of these eateries, a small part of me always knew that the food was not coming from the most hygienic of places.
Yet, that never stopped me and hygiene was always secondary.
Of primary importance was the guilt-mixed greasy tastiness of the burgers and chicken rolls, and just the need to eat out – the only real and readily available form of entertainment in this country.
Needless to say, I am not the only one. You would have to travel far and wide to find a resident of Lahore who felt otherwise.
However, one look at the graphic pictures of the conditions inside these restaurants and it makes one think: Is it really worth it?
Things are not likely to be any different in Karachi or Islamabad. Across the country, we all love to dine out, whether it’s at a regular roadside ‘hotel’ or an upscale restaurant. On a less flattering note, across the country, we also suffer from multiple health issues, a massive cause of which is simply our own choice of diet.
Even before that though, Pakistanis need to tackle the issue of food hygiene. The health expenditure of our government stands at 4.7 per cent of the total. To put this into perspective, even a war-torn and economically devastated Afghanistan spends 7.1 per cent of its total expenditure on Food Health and Safety. Not only does this highlight how neglected food health is in Pakistan, it showcases how misguided our preferences are.
It is not rocket science either; cleanliness is a pretty simple concept. Why has it never been implemented, then?
In some cases, the answer would be a lack of awareness. In other cases, it would be indifference. Both the producer and the consumer are to be blamed.
In any case, now that we have finally got a move on, we need to start reforming our attitudes. Fines and suspensions are great (and much-needed, too), but in the long run, this hygiene drive can only be sustained by the will of the people.
Action from the government and bureaucracy typically comes and goes in spurts; starting strong, then losing steam, and eventually dying either a bureaucratic death or death by being rendered obsolete after a political purpose has been served.
These drives can stay around only if the public supports it. And that the public should support it, should not even be a debate. This is, in a very real sense, a matter of our lives and our children’s lives. Be reminded that one outlet in Karachi, where a girl died from food poisoning, is still open and running like it’s nobody’s business.
Let us make it our business. We eat, breathe and sleep food from Khyber to Karachi, but if things keep going the way they are, we will soon find ourselves breathing through a tube in a hospital.
This post originally appeared on Dawn on 30 July, 2015.