For centuries ‘pao’ has been an essential food item on the dining table of Goans. Goans are virtually addicted to it and cannot do without it, be it breakfast, lunch or dinner. But in recent years the taste and texture of pao have changed, thanks to the new class of bakers giving up the traditional method of baking and using cheaper and faster baking materials. For example, traditional bakers used toddy for fermentation, which has been replaced with yeast (baking powder). Traditional Goan bakers have been leasing out their bakeries to entrepreneurs from other states, and they do not make the pao the traditional way in order to cut costs and maximize production.
Though the state has around 600 bakeries operating legally, only 25 of them are believed to be making pao using the traditional method. Younger generations of most traditional bakers have switched to other professions. A number of traditional bakers have migrated out of the state for better prospects as they found operating their bakery difficult. Bakery is labour-intensive; besides, it does not give as much profit as other businesses do. The increasing number of non-Goans leasing in the bakeries too find it difficult to find manpower with appropriate skills and expertise in bread making. No wonder, the pao sold in the state is often found improperly baked. Among the reasons for improper baking are short-cut methods to produce the largest number of pao in the shortest possible time in order to be ready for sale to customers in the morning and afternoon. Not only have the taste and texture of the bread changed over the years but also its ‘best before’ time. The pao in the olden days used to last for four days under room temperature, but today’s bread does not last even for a day without losing its flavour.
These are issues of quality that the State Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) do not check. Taste and texture are not examined and remarked upon by FDA, which has only bothered to find whether hygiene is maintained in baking. And it has found nothing wrong about the hygiene maintained. However, it is the people who are the best inspectors and doctors of pao, even if FDA conducts its tests in a blinkered fashion. However, the poor consumers cannot do anything about it but consume good or bad pao as it is a staple food for them. Consumers have complained of foreign materials in pao. As there is no government organisation to help people in this regard, it is time for the consumers to organize themselves and refuse to buy pao of bakers who do not use the traditional method. The government should give special incentives to those using the traditional method of pao making. The traditional method has to be revived in the interest of consumers. The traditional knowledge exists: all that needs to be done by the state government is to make the bakers use traditional baking materials and methods. If it requires helping bakers and workers with some training the government must organize that.
And although FDA claims the bakeries do maintain hygiene they need to look at a larger sample, because there is no dearth of complaints from grassroots that bakers do not always adhere to the cleanliness and hygiene as breads manufactured by them are for mass consumption. Any lapses on FDA part could cause consumers health problems. There are more than 25,000 establishments in the state, including 600 bakeries that come under the purview of FDA. It has not been physically impossible for FDA officials to carry out checks on each and every establishment making food items. FDA is understaffed and therefore, random checking of the food establishments is what they can do at best. However, pao being an essential food item on the dining table of Goans, it is necessary that the FDA make quality checks of bakeries more extensively and more frequently. The state authorities have recently come out with a plan to put a system of effective and efficient quality checks in place in the bakeries. It has also been proposed to register the bicycles used by pao vendors with local bodies with proper display of the registration number and name of the bakery so as to enable the consumers to identify them. Given the fact that pao makers had sought increase in prices on the ground that the bread would be of specific weight but not fulfilled their promise, there is need for constant and effective check on bakeries to ensure that the product is of standard and adequate weight as well as quality.