The Flesh Eaters of India
BY: ARVIND KALA
Oct 26, INDIA (TIMES OF INDIA) — Though largely unnoticed, a historic dietary shift is taking hold in India. Non-vegetarian
Indians are eating eggs, chicken, and meat more often and in
greater amounts. And a vast number of vegetarians - 20% of
India's population, according to the authoritative Peoples of India - have begun to try out flesh foods outside home.
Hard data and anecdotal evidence bear out this dietary shift.
India's per capita consumption of poultry meat has doubled in
the last five years. Though urban areas eat three-quarters of
India's poultry meat, the consumption of egg, fish, and meat has also gone up in rural homes, reports the National Sample
This dietary change isn't surprising because global trends show that increa-sed meat-eating accompanies rising incomes. For India, however, it's an irreversible moment in its history. Home to over 90% of the world's Hindus, Hinduism is the world's only major religion with a streak of vegetarianism. But globalisation is changing that, as Indian food habits move in tune with a meat-eating world.
India's per capita consumption of meat is still tiny at 5.2 kg per annum. The average Pakistani, Chinese and American eats two times, 10 times and 23 times more meat, respectively, than an Indian. The Hindu unease over flesh food has fallen for three reasons.
First, the falling price of eggs and poultry meat thanks to
spiralling production; second, the seductiveness of inexpensive tandoori chicken available at every street corner; and third, the overseas travel of some four million Indians every year. When they go abroad and find everybody eating meat and vegetarian food hard to find, they can't help but be influenced.
The cheapest meats will sell the most in a poor country. This is entirely true of India. Despite BJP propaganda, hard data
suggests that Indians have little aversion to eating beef
(available only in West Bengal and Kerala) and buffalo meat.
These two meats sell nearly twice as much as chicken because their cost is half.
And chicken sells four times as much as goat meat because it's much cheaper by Rs 40 a kg in Delhi. It's all a question of
money. Pig meat, for instance, is widely regarded by traditional Hindus as unclean. But it sells much more than goat meat, thanks to its lower cost. A person's wallet decides his meat
A non-vegetarian Muslim Bangladeshi eats less meat per capita
than a partly vegetarian Indian because Bangladeshis are
poorer. Despite a trend towards increased meat-eating, India
has more vegetarians than the whole world put together. A few
decades can't wipe out centuries of tradition. Meat-eating (and
even egg-eating) in India is full of idiosyncrasies.
Strict vegetarians will eat a cake with egg in it but will recoil from
a fried egg. Experimenting vegetarians will eat a meat kebab or
mutton curry but not a meat piece. Lakhs of north Indians will eat
mutton but not fish or buffalo meat. More men than women eat
meat. People don't eat meat on religious days and when they
Meat sales fall on Tuesdays, a Hindu holy day. Many Hindu
pilgrim towns don't permit the sale of meat and even eggs.
Widespread vegetarian eccentricities make it impossible to
estimate the number of vegetarian households in India. The
National Sample Survey puts the percentageat a questionable
42. But it's the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organisation
which best describes India's dietary shift to meat.
"Strict vegetarians are becoming less strict", it says.
Globalisation, however, irons out crinkles in human behaviour.
Globalisation plus the need of the stomach has even eroded
India's taboo against eating beef and buffalo meat. Twenty years
ago, beef and buffalo meat accounted for 3% of India's meat
production. Today, they account for 50%.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that it's only the upper castes
estimated at 16% of India's population in the 1931 census which avoid buffalo meat. Other castes have no such reservations. They have the numbers.