Cheering for the Punjab Food Authority
WHO would have thought that something as unromantic as a government department with a name as unexciting as the Punjab Food Authority would overnight become the new hot sensation for the hero-worship starved people of Pakistan. But ever since Ayesha Mumtaz, director operations Punjab Food Authority (PFA), started conducting raids on the eateries of Lahore, this is precisely what has happened. As images of rotten vegeta- bles, unhygienic kitchens and filthy storage spaces appear on media, accompanied by official PFA statements declaring war on contaminated food, Lahore suddenly wakes up to the arrival of a new messiah - and the most exciting thing is that this time the messiah is a woman.
Ayesha Mumtaz, has become an overnight hit for Lahoris as her name is now being used by all and sundry to instil the fear of God in the hearts of all those who cook, bake, steam, braise or broil for profit. Be it restaurant owners, waiters, managers, or staff at public eateries, all you have to do is threaten them with 'a call to the food department' and the reward is instantaneous.
So let's celebrate this while it lasts, because when was the last time anyone was ever scared of anything pertaining to a government department and the process of accountability? The complaint could be as big as a case of food poisoning inflicted on a family of 39, and as small as a tiny bug smeared on top of a sealed water bottle. All one has to do is talk to the managers and explain to them one's newly found rights as a food consumer in the province of Punjab. And one of those rights is the right to make a call to the PFA hotline. Not only would one get an unconditional apology and a scurrying line of managers waiting to note down one's concerns, but there would be complimentary follow-up options and promises of instant rectification. And why not? According to official figures, so far 5,500 eating places have been raided by the Punjab Food Authority at its own initiative, out of which 250 have been sealed and 2,500 have been served notices. This is definitely bad for the businesses, their reputation built over years, and future prospects in an extremely competitive industry. The heartening part is that places sealed or fined are not restricted to small-time food joints but include big giants of fast food, five-star hotels, some very popular restaurants and quite a few posh eateries. The geographical distribution of these raids is also widespread and not restricted to any one area. What this says about our food standards is another debate, but this space is dedicated to the good work done by Ms Mumtaz and her team. I consider it very important to highlight this wonderful work by Ayesha Mumtaz not only because of the genderbased affinity I feel with her and the consequent recognition of the challenges of her job, but also because this work is very significant for the preservation of Lahore's cultural identity. Lahoris have an inseparable connection with food and hospitality. Eating out not only serves as a means of entertainment but is largely part of the city's ethos. Protecting our eateries as cultural places is part of preserving our communal identity. In this context the fight against contaminated food is a very significant movement and this movement shouldn't stop here. We need to give credit where credit is due and do it with an open heart. According to official statements CM Punjab has already taken personal interest in furthering the cause of food safety by calling for standard operating procedures to grade eating places according to food safety indicators.