Last month, the Food, Safety and Standard Authority of India (FSSAI), a regulatory body that's essentially the Indian equivalent of the FDA, issued a strong warning to street vendors. The FSSAI cautioned eatery kiosks against using newspapers to wrap their food.
"Wrapping food in newspapers is an unhealthy practice and the consumption of such food is injurious to health, even if the food has been cooked hygienically," the statement reads. "Printing inks may also contain harmful colours, pigments, binders, additives, and preservatives." The five-tiered statement goes further to explain that the contaminants and pathogens in printing ink pose a particular risk to “old people, teenagers, children and people with compromised vital organs and immune systems," potentially resulting in cancer.
This news has barely made a ripple in the States, which, I’m just spitballing here, could be due to a few factors. For one, I'm guessing that perhaps wrapping food in newspapers isn’t as prevalent in the States as it is in India, where it’s something of a storied practice, particularly in urban areas. Discarded newspapers are more widely available, and thus more easily obtained, by street vendors than other wrapping materials like parchment paper. Eating newspaper-wrapped food is something my Indian parents grew up on. For those on the go, why not grab a snack ensconced in journalism? My non-Indian coworkers have told me that wrapping food in newspaper was certainly common at one point in American history, too, particularly in times of widespread economic hardship, such as the Great Depression. In some families and communities, the practice has stuck, traveling through generations like a worn hand-me-down.
Perhaps you believe it's perfectly okay to wrap food in newspaper. To this, I say the following: Please no. We would all do well by adopting the standards suggested by FSSAI.
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Besides—health implications aside, there's nothing worse than a hot, sweaty pakora that makes the ink on a newspaper runny. Think about it. The day’s latest headlines, impressing themselves on a fried vegetable. The hard work of a Times-Picayune reporter, dissolving into your aloo papdi chaat. What writer—or eater—wants that?
A polite but firm request, then: Please don’t wrap your food in newspapers. Thank you!
Do you wrap your food in newspaper? Let us know in the comments.
Mayukh Sen is a James Beard Award-winning food and culture writer in New York. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the New Yorker, Bon Appetit, and elsewhere. He won a 2018 James Beard Award in Journalism for his profile of Princess Pamela published on Food52.