CHENNAI: Shraddha Lakshmipathy is a 20-year-old college student. Ravi Subbaiah is a 36-year-old IT employee. Priya Gautham is a 27-year-old engineer working with a construction company. They live in different parts of the city and are strangers to each other, but what keeps them connected are food delivery apps.
“I spend most of the allowance I get from my parents on food. The hostel food is pathetic. The sambar is watery and the vegetables are always undercooked. I’d much rather eat chaat from outside or get a kathi roll or just order in some sambar rice. These are generally the cheapest options available and make for a more hearty meal than what is served in the canteen. My parents fret because I am eating outside a lot but I don’t know what to tell them beyond this — that I am taking care of my health and eating healthy as much as I can,” says Shraddha Suresh.
Food delivery apps have replaced the humble ‘tiffin’ box. Dal, rice and vegetables have made way for pizzas, burgers, pastas, rolls, subs, sandwiches, rich curries and breads.
Comfort food a click away
For Mary Lama from Nagaland, who grew up eating dried pork, galho (a version of khichdi) and steamed fish in bamboo, food delivery apps offer the unparalleled convenience of finding ‘home food’. “I’ve been in college for two years now and these apps have been my saviour. Being someone from the North East, adjusting to the food in the college canteen has been a huge challenge. For one, there is barely ever any non-vegetarian food served, which is a big problem because back at home we are used to eating some form of non-veg twice a day.
Now Chennai has a lot of dining options for good North-Eastern cuisine and the best part is that I don’t even need to step out of college because these apps have made it so convenient that I order my lunch as soon as I complete my last class and it reaches me in 30 or 40 minutes,” she says.
Matter of convenience
In 2018, investment bank UBS’s 82-page report titled Is the Kitchen Dead? forecast delivery sales could rise an annual average of more than 20 per cent to $365 billion worldwide by 2030, from $35 billion. “There could be a scenario where, by 2030 most meals currently cooked at home are instead ordered online and delivered from either restaurants or central kitchens,” the report said.
No wonder then that working professionals like Priya Gautam, who are starved for time are showing an appetite for doorstep food delivery.
“I work in a small company and there is no canteen. My work involves being in office till the wee hours sometimes. Going home after that and cooking sounds romantic but is not feasible. I try cooking on my day off but I’d much rather just lay in bed the whole day than drag myself to the kitchen and cook. Ordering in is a practical option and saves time. And now there is always some discount or the other so I don’t even feel that guilty to keep ordering. In fact, I am sure it’s all part of the ploy to get us heavily dependent on these apps because of their convenience.”
Spoilt for choice
For IT employee Ravi Subbaiah, these apps provide a wholesome alternative to his oily canteen food. “I know most people make the wrong choices and order the worst things on these apps, but it has come as a godsend for me because I am a health-conscious person and I make it a point to order the right food. My canteen only has the worst kind of snacks and meals, but it is also drenched in oil, full of salt and masala. So I order in a salad sometimes, a grilled or roast chicken other times. The availability of options like clear soups keeps me going. When I return after office, I just eat something light. This routine has been working well for me,” says Subbaiah.
But it were these choices that cost Nandita Menon, an architect, many extra kilos of body weight. “This was my first time away from home and I didn’t realise between trying to keep up with work and home, that I was putting on so much weight. Initially, I used to cook but slowly my motivation faded and ordering in seemed so easy that I didn’t even question it. I didn’t realise that I was eating rich food every day coupled with no exercise. This was a death trap,” she says.
The realisation was enough for Menon to uninstall the app and switch to a healthy diet of fruits and vegetables, which “has been making a difference.”
Nutritionists and dieticians warn that eating out should not be a daily affair but rather restricted to being a treat once in a while. “Anything that comes too easy should be viewed with suspicion,” shares a nutritionist working at a leading hospital in the city. While these apps are constantly enticing customers with offers, they are essentially delivering bad health on a platter.
“The food that one generally gets from outside is very high in sodium, spices and oil. All of these should be avoided like the plague. I recognise that there are healthy options available too but they are too few and generally, it is the most unhealthy things that are the cheapest, so, often they become bestsellers on these apps. It is true that our fast-paced lives don’t give us the luxury of cooking every day. But, it is advisable to meet a nutritionist or dietician for a consultation to regulate your diet using the options available to you, without making huge lifestyle changes,” says the nutritionist.