Pitching nutrition while challenging junk food

Written by – Sujata Shirke
Translated by – Rucha Satoor

Shahapur, Vasind, District – Thane

Shahapur predominantly inhabited by Adivasi population is a Taluka in Thane district of Maharashtra. In Shahapur’s Vasind, area the Poshan Pakhwada was celebrated as part of the Poshan Abhiyan – the ambitious scheme of the Indian government aimed at tackling the menace of malnourishment in the country.

Launched in 2018, Poshan Abhiyan aims to provide an opportunity for making nutrition aspirational to the families and communities. Core pillars of Abhiyan rest on the capacity development of all the functionaries at all levels through convergence. The Poshan Pakhwada which is an important part of the Abhiyan, is driven by the Anganwadi Workers who are the frontline crusaders engaged in eliminating malnutrition among women and children.

About 25 Anganwadi had gathered at the Anganwadis in Maharashtra. Along with them there stood adolescent girls, their parents and pregnant mothers. Little children loitered around. Approximately 80 community members had gathered to celebrate the fortnight for nutrition. Most importantly, Child Development Project Officer (CDPO) Vivek Chowdhary, Swasth Bharat Prerak Sufiyan Amin and Headmaster of the local Zila Parishad School were also present As part of this fortnightly celebration, the village organized an Awareness Rally. Along with demonstrations about healthy cooking, Anganwadi Sevikas reaffirmed good handwashing practices. They also talked with pregnant mothers about breastfeeding and complementary feeding. Overall, it was an impressive show and we were delighted to be a part of it.

We had the chance to conduct group discussions with certain attendees of the programme. For example, 12 adolescent girls who were either studying in school or college had gathered around us. We broached the subject of diversity in nutrition that they consume. That’s when we realized that Chinese was a clear favorite among these girls. Most of them preferred Potato over any other vegetable. One girl in the group admitted that she only eats potatoes and avoid eating any other vegetable at all. Keeping this local context in mind, Anganwadi Sevikas discussed with them the concept of balanced diets. Along with it, we also interacted with them about what Nutrition means to them. When it comes to nutrition, it’s often important to find the sweet spot between healthy and tasty. Anganwadi Tai spoke to them about making local food interesting – Thalipeeth Pizzas, Sprouts Bhel, Chapati Rolls were some alternative ideas that came up.

Challenges :

Anganwadi Tais for a long time were wondering how one ensured more male involvement in these times. It was heartening to know that these days, Adiwasi men take up responsibilities of child rearing. In other parts of the area, as families are moving towards a nuclear family structure, male involvement is increasingly becoming the need of the hour. Anganwadi Tais are trying to reformulate how men can be more active parents as opposed to just helpers.

Amongst adolescent girls, pitching nutrition while challenging junk food was a challenge. It was also a challenge to collectivize young girls and boys, for truly addressing their nutritional needs.