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Campaign against Chak Chok ( Junk foods)

Updated: Nov 25, 2022

written by Alex Jensen & Kunzang Deachen

A 2012 research paper in the journal PLoS Medicine titled ‘Manufacturing Epidemics’ bluntly concluded that, “… transnational corporations that manufacture and market unhealthy food and beverage commodities, including Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Cadbury-Schweppes, are among the leading vectors for the global spread of Non-Communicable Disease risks. Increasingly, they target developing countries' markets as a major area for expansion.” This stark reality has been confirmed by countless other studies, regularly finding significant causal links between increased junk food consumption – especially soft drinks – and global epidemics of overweight, obesity (including childhood obesity), diabetes, heart disease, and cancers, to name but a few of the worst.

Lamentably, these corporations have been spectacularly successful in their profit-driven quest to hook the world on junk food. The global sale of packaged foods swelled to some USD$2.8 trillion by 2020 and is estimated to balloon to USD$3.4 trillion by 2027. Soda (soft drink) sales have exploded globally, reaching USD$995 billion by 2002, and anticipated to grow to USD$1.4 trillion by 2027. Much of this growth is expected to be driven by ‘developing markets'. These trends have only accelerated in the decade since.

In India, the year 2021 saw Coca Cola have its highest growth ever, selling 1 billion drinks in a single quarter. Unfortunately, but not coincidentally, India is becoming the epicenter of disease related to diet. According to another study, India is predicted to have more than 27 million obese children, representing one in 10 children globally, by 2030.

But what is the right name for these diseases? Various attempts found in the research include “lifestyle diseases”, aforementioned “Non-Communicable Diseases”, and “diet-related diseases”. Others have included “diseases of affluence”, or “diseases of the Western diet.” Given that all of the research is converging on the incontrovertible conclusion that the global spread of highly-processed, refined, packaged foods and beverages – that is, “junk food” – it would not be inaccurate to call them “junk food diseases”, but that would also fall a bit short, since this junk food is spreading globally and infecting every population in the world not by accident, but by design. The Manufacturing Epidemics study correctly identifies the real vectors for this crisis, namely “transnational corporations that manufacture and market unhealthy food and beverage commodities.” So, another name could be “diseases of corporate power” or “junk food corporation-caused diseases”. But how are these corporations able to spread their disease-causing junk foods to every corner of the world? Through free trade regimes, elimination of local regulations, consolidation of market power driving out local alternatives, and the like. In a word: globalization. Indeed, a startling finding reported deep within the Manufacturing Epidemics study found that free trade agreements by low- and middle-income countries with the United States – home of some of the biggest vectors like Coca-Cola and PepsiCo – is associated with a 63 percent higher level of soft drink consumption per capita.

Terms like “diet-related diseases” are incomplete at best, because they divert attention and awareness from what forces are driving dietary decisions, options, and shifts. In this respect they are unhelpful as well, to the extent that they implicitly ascribe responsibility for this global crisis to individual consumers now living within junk-food-saturated environments, bombarded by highly researched junk food marketing (corporations spent over USD$1 billion in 2018 in the US alone advertising sugary drinks and energy drinks), and hooked on the stuff through the most sophisticated food and neuro-psychological science designed to addict. Lifestyle and dietary choices by individuals are important, but they are profoundly shaped by powerful structural forces. So, perhaps the most accurate name for what we are talking about should be, “diseases of corporate globalization”.

While the health effects of this phenomenon are paramount, they are not the only harms. The corporate globalization of junk foods and beverages is also a major component of the global plastic waste crisis. In India, 5.6 million tonnes of plastic waste are generated every year, and of this, nearly 43% comes from packaging, the majority of which is single use material. In the 2020 plastic brand waste audit conducted by the Break Free from Plastic movement in countries around the world, Coca-Cola was ranked the world’s No 1 plastic polluter, followed by PepsiCo and Nestlé. Indeed, Coca-Cola produces 3 million tons of plastic packaging a year – equivalent to 200,000 bottles a minute (108 billion per year, more than a fifth of the world’s PET bottle output of about 500bn bottles a year.) Much of this plastic waste is burned, contributing significantly to global toxic air pollution and to climate change. Another study found that “the emissions from burning Coca-Cola's plastic in just six countries (the Philippines, India, China, Nigeria, Brazil and Mexico) equate to as much as three-quarters of the company's global transport and distribution emissions”, or 4.6 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent – equivalent to the emissions from 2 million cars.

There are also environmental impacts from corporate junk food hidden to most end consumers. In India, for example, Coca-Cola runs 58 bottling facilities, each of which produces roughly 860,000 bottles per day, and producing one 0.5-liter bottle of Coke has a water footprint of 150 to 300 liters (the majority of this is from supply chain ingredients like water-intensive sugar cane).

So a gargantuan quantity of global plastic waste is being generated, and unimaginable quantities of fresh water being depleted by corporations to produce commodities that are causing a global epidemic of serious diseases. Junk food is far from “cheap”.

Unfortunately, while Ladakh may be geographically distant from the factories and corporate board rooms where junk food and plastic packaging originates, courtesy fossil fuels and global infrastructure it is not distant from the epidemic of corporate globalization. In Ladakh as in the rest of India, junk food and beverages are ubiquitous and their consumption is increasing, and thus the same diseases are spreading at an alarming rate, as is the accumulation of unmanageable plastic waste all across the region. The flip side of this is the erosion of the local food economy and the nutritious, traditional dishes that sustained the culture for centuries. In a vicious cycle, this in turn is connected to the diminishment of local agriculture and the rapid decline of the villages.

It is within this broader analysis and understanding that Local Futures, in collaboration with socially- and environmentally-concerned Dr. Nordan Odzer, have launched a campaign against junk food titled Chak Chok. The impetus for this campaign came from a powerful presentation on the same issue delivered by Dr Odzer at the Nas Festival, organised in September 2022 by a coalition of organisations – Local Futures, Kalpavriksh (Pune), Snow Leopard Conservancy, and Ladakh Arts and Media Organisation – as part of a series of food-related gatherings comprising Vikalp Sangam (Alternatives Confluence) an India-wide process of networking and strengthening movements in the country towards social and ecological alternatives.

Chak Chok, which translates to “rubbish” or “unwanted”, is the name of the provocative campaign that aims to draw attention to the fact that Ladakhis are increasingly developing diseases like diabetes, hypertension, and cancer, primarily due to their consumption of fast food and sugary beverages pedaled by corporations. The campaign is advocating that all junk food and related products be eliminated from Ladakhi kitchens and dietary habits.

We did a series of interaction sessions at different schools with hundreds of students and their teachers, where Dr Odzer discussed the links between increasing junk food consumption and the growth in cancer, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, depression, and lower IQ in children – among other ill effects – in Ladakh and also explained some of the main reasons it is happening, including:

1. We are not consuming locally grown food as we use to do before, and we are prioritizing packed/junk food over local food and ingredients.

2. Lifestyle changes: We are not as physically active as we used to be.

3. Psychological shift: Earning money has become priority over mental health. Life has become very stressful in the process of earning lot of money to ultimately spent it on things which is not helpful for us.

He mentioned specifications of harmful effects of junk food from taste aspect, excess sugar, salt, oil, and refined flours. His speech included the harmful effects of excess sugar in soft drinks and also explained the effects of phosphoric acid which ultimately softens our bones. Harmful refined oils like palm oil are mixed in other oil as it’s cheaper. These refined oils are also mixed with hydrogen to saturate food items which acts as preservatives. Chronic diseases are caused due to this. Excess intake of salt is harmful for the internal layer in our stomach, which can cause cancer. Fine flours/Maida, makes the food presentable, easy to cook with. However, it is harmful in many ways, one of which is that it is extremely bad for digestion. He also mentioned about pesticides that are used in imported vegetables and fruit production, due to which a lot of people suffer from brain cancer – an issue which is seriously impacting people in places like Kashmir and Punjab. Finally, he talked about the harmful health and social effects of alcohol that is not locally produced.

Spalzes Angmo explained the ill effects of plastics and other waste that gets generated because of the increasing domination by the junk food economy. There is no proper waste management in Ladakh, so waste including plastic packaging is usually burned, or thrown away from our sight. When plastics are burned, harmful emissions enter the air which eventually goes inside our body, and the emissions also contribute to climate change. When the plastic waste is thrown, it enters water and fields by various means, which harms the land, animals and agriculture.

For a successful livelihood we should have clean air, water, land and currently our lifestyle – influenced by corporate globalization – is harming all of them.

Singee explained about the economic and cultural aspects of the junk food transition. On one level, the loss of our own locally farmed food is severing our ties to our own land and history, tremendously diminishing our ability to connect with and thus care about nature.

Thirty years back we were self-sufficient, and our grandparents and ancestors taught us how-to live-in harmony with nature. We lived in a community and were dependent on each other for all the activities in villages, we didn't have to pay/hire people as much. The entry of the PDS [Public Distribution System] and the general exposure of Ladakh to the global economy and big food corporations a few decades ago quickly started to change our lifestyle and food systems away from our ancient agrarian self-reliance and mutual aid. These processes have caused us to leave our agricultural lands and farming, as it requires hard work. Increasingly, agricultural land is used to build houses and hotels which are empty mostly, and this land conversion represents one of the biggest threats to long-term food sovereignty of Ladakh. Monetary expenditures on imported junk foods are not circulated in Ladakh, and most of it flows out of the region into the coffers of the food corporations. Singge also focused on the spiritual occasions when we used to offer items from home for traditional ceremonies but now we only offer packaged junk foods as its easy and convenient – in the short term – to buy and offer them.

The campaign also focuses on the importance of strengthening the local economy that is only possible when we have unity in ourselves towards the same goal that is production and consumption of local food. We should come together at small scale at village level to exchange skills and knowledge. Harmony amongst the people can be the solution to start somewhere to find local alternatives.

As for alternatives, the answer proposed was quite obvious, but also with major implications for regenerating the local economy, culture and ecology: Producing and consuming our own food once again, whether it’s vegetables, fruits, food grains, or beverages.

In conclusion: since junk food is harming our health, environment and economy, we can also address and find positive solutions to all of these problems simultaneously by banning junk food from our diets, kitchens, shops and lives, and reclaiming our local, nourishing food traditions and economy.

Please contact Local Futures Ladakh (, if you want our team to visit your school, neighborhood, village or any other location for the campaign.

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