India & The Onion Issue

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This year has seen a particular rise in food-related issues in Asia. Cabbage prices have run sky-high, threatening the easy distribution of Korea’s national pickle, kimchi. Flooding in Pakistan has created conditions so dire that wiped-out infrastructure and decimated fields have resulted in a national debilitating food crisis. Now, India is experiencing its share of food crisis problems, which is targeting one specific staple: the onion. The crisis over onions, which have doubled in price in the last month, has been serious enough to be covered in pun-filled stories by both Al Jazeera and the BBC, among others. both Stories reflected on the source of the crisis and whether it could have been avoided.

Sources are claiming that the price increase in onions has resulted from heavy rains,which have curtailed the onion crop. Due to the lack of onions, not only have they themselves doubled in price, but dishes featuring onions (read most Indian dishes) have also increased in price, much to the chagrin of Indian consumers.

Soutik Biswas, blogger for the BBC reflects on the importance of the onion for Indian cuisine: “Onion is a vegetable that no Indian kitchen can do without. It is also the most egalitarian of vegetables. A poor peasant or worker’s sparse meal is incomplete without a bite of the pungent bulb. The onion is pureed, sauteed and garnished in the rich man’s feast as well. It also occupies a unique culinary space in Indian cooking.”

The onion crisis holds both political significance in India, but also shows us how the steep rise in certain foods (Americans can look to corn or the potato for a helpful comparison) can shake a national identity and send waves of panic through its people. Many Indians are wondering how to cope without the onion and the Indian government is taking many measures to try to conserve onions and import more to satiate the appetites of the Indian people. While we can be thankful that this problem does not rival that of Pakistan’s post-flood food crisis, the importance of onions in the Indian diet makes the price increase very significant.

Food crisis unfortunately took on many faces in 2010 and we can only hope for better days in 2011, lest more Indians shed tears for the lack of onions.

Got any thoughts on the Onionoclypse of 2010? Feel free to leave them below! Don’t forget to tweet at us @barakatinc!

-Elizabeth Peyton

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