Friday, March 21, 2008

Why Is Modern India Vegetarian?

The incident in HCU*, made us wonder about the much larger questions of food and nutrition in India, and how that, in more ways than one, relates in to the religion and caste. It is common knowledge, that Indian cuisine is as diverse as it comes. It is also common knowledge that certain types of food are considered taboo by some and relished by some. How many times have we seen vegetarians look at a meat loaded plate, crinkle their nose, and say, “Erguh! How do you eat that stuff?” How many times have we watched friends eat beef on the sly, because their mothers would “kill them if they found out.” Close home, in campus, when beef was prepared for the participants observing fast for Ramzaan, why was it a hushed up affair?

We are quick to judge some food as bad, unhealthy, and hence, a bad thing. Going by the HCU incident, some food are even considered “contagious”. Dislikes that stem primarily because one is used to a different kind and mode of cooking food, quickly converts into legitimising that dislike in terms of hygiene and health. But have we ever questioned the legitimacy of the standards that we are using to reach these conclusions?

This skewed hierarchy of food is not a result of a recent campaign, but something much simpler, and much more older. “…country can be said to have achieved complete food and nutrition security if each and every person in that country is able to consume a minimum quantum and quality of various ingredients of what I would like to call 'an adequate and balanced diet' on a regular basis,” reads a report ‘Indian Experience on Household Food and Nutritional Security’ by N.P. Nawani. But what constitutes this “balanced diet” is a matter of furious debate.

In India, this balanced diet is measured by the Recommended Dietary Allowance or the RDA, for various age groups, including special groups like infants, nursing mothers and so on. And this measure is not only for nutritional requirements, but also becomes an economic one. Says the Nawani report, “Availability and affordability of such diet, backed by health and educational services in an environmentally sustainable scenario will then enable each member of the society to live a 'good' life; each individual personality getting an opportunity to flower to one's full potential.” RDA thus has direct ramifications on the status of poverty, in determining the per capita incomes that will enable a person to achieve daily intake of the required 2400 K.Cal, and consequentially the minimum wages

The root of the problem, as Veena Shatrugna, Director, National Institute of Nutrition, points out, is one-sided diet itself, that was loaded with cereals—then seen as the cheapest, and the most easily available source of calories. Consequently, this decision, in turn affected the minimum daily wages, the determination of the poverty line, and not to mention, making the Public Distribution System what it is today, i.e. a machinery doling out rice and wheat at cheap rates, but no meat, egg or nuts, or any non-vegetarian food at all. So in a country where vegetarians are a definite minority, we now plan our daily meals based on a notion of a Brahminical notion of a “easily available, balanced diet”, and the cultural production of modern India as vegetarian. This was fine for the upper castes rich, who had the luxury of eating 3-4 kinds of vegetables, and other supplements like nuts, oil etc., along with their rice, but for the poor, this meant serious lack of vital sources of energy. So if the poor man got his plate of rice, and 3 rotis a day, he was expected to be happy and satisfied. The result? We survived, but barely.

The question that now arises is why the nutritionists, and the bureaucrats did not look at alternate sources of proteins, more importantly meat proteins, which, as Dr. Veena Shatrugna, points out, is not just widely consumed, but also highly recommended for anaemic populations such as Indians? Why was there no acknowledgement of differences in cuisines and the palette? The answer seems simple enough, the bureaucrats took the average Indian diet, but the average Indian that they had in mind, was not the majority who ate meat, but the dominant upper class minority. What was an alternative became the norm. The food that the various tribes used eat, says Dr. Shatrugna, was never analysed for its nutrient content. So while we romanticised their customs, did detailed anthropological investigation on how they lived and how they married, there is very little research to evaluate what they eat, and how their food, or the lack of thereof is affecting their health, growth, child birth or birth weight of their children.

The result? 41.9% of adults belonging to the ST and 38.4 % belonging to SCs have Chronic Energy Deficiency, while the pooled average of the nation is 34.8 %. Further, 62.7 % of the children born to Scheduled Caste parents are under-weight, 57.6 % are stunted, while among the other castes it the numbers are 53.1 % and 50.1 %

The women suffer more. Most studies and recommendations are made with the modern working class male, as the average and the requirements of the women are appropriated accordingly. Questions such as different working style, responsibilities, and requirements of the women are not taken into consideration. The birth weight in the low socio-economic groups have not increased significantly since the past 50 years. There pharmaceuticals rally to supplement women with iron, various multi-vitamins during pregnancy, but with no significant impact. NGOs, and activists blame the man- he eats first, the woman is left with the leftovers, but the problem is much simpler, says Dr. Shatrugna. “The low socio-economic groups get 80% of their proteins from cereal. In a scenario where there is not enough food to eat, where is the point in asking the women to eat first?”

What we need now is to a second look at the standards that we have put in place. The items of food that were delegitimised by the RDA—flesh food, egg, etc., must be allowed to become a part of the daily diet of people of all economic strata. The argument that it is beyond the means of the lower caste man, just does not hold. Egg is cheaper than vegetables, then why is egg not distributed via the PDS? Why are we raising a huge outcry over culture and heritage when eggs are being given out under the mid-day meal scheme? Why is eating beef against any religion?

The questions of why food becomes aligned to religion and caste, may still be unanswered. However, in a society that has claims to equality in opportunities and preferences, we need to realise that caste does not work in its open manifestations of discrimination and repression alone.
(Certain students who wanted to put up a beef stall in campus for one of the fest, where prevented from doing so. One of the arguement for the move was that beef is unhealthy. The Dalit Students' Union apporached Dr. Veena Shatrugna for clarity on the nutritional values of beef, and were given a letter certifying that beef was indeed neither unhealthy, nor "contagious".)
Also read Dunkin Jalki's article on food habits in student hostel messes
Thank you James for the links


Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Hello Guys,
Since you are talking about food habits, it would have been better if you had referred to this specific article written by Dunkin Jalki who was doing his Phd here.
His is an analysis of food habits in student hostel messes etc.
If you can give it as a main link in the article itself and give a brief introduction to it.
It would definetly "beef" up your article.

The article link is:

Anonymous said...

I am pasting an excerpt from S. Anand's, a brahmin, reflection on meat eating. The full text of the article entitled "Notes on my Brahmin Self" can be accessed from

The excerpt:
The second crucial change effected in my personal self was with respect to food habits. The family I was born into ate only vegetarian food. Egg, boiled, was a rare indulgence, that too as a dietary supplement since I played tennis during my childhood. This too had to be done secretively by my mother without my grandparents coming to know of it. I knew how to cook, partly because I helped my mother, and handled kitchen duties whenever she menstruated. After marriage, it was I who cooked and was in charge of the kitchen. In our early days in Chennai, when my partner sought to eat meat, mostly chicken, she would buy it from hotels. At her behest, I used to try it occasionally, but did not enjoy the taste. Since I approached the issue politically, I understood that my inability to appreciate the taste of meat owed not to an inherent, ‘natural’ repugnance to it, but rather to the fact of my lack of exposure to its taste. For the first eighteen years of my life, my tongue had been colonised by vegetarian home food. In my six years of hostel life, I was too conservative and brahminical to have tried meat. Most crucially, I was not politically conscious those days. Not liking the idea of my partner having to buy oily meat from hotels, I decided that I would at least cook it at home. Soon, I began tasting it. Over the years, I have come to really enjoy it and realise what I had been missing all these years. What really got me hooked to the taste of meat was my liking for kebabs—burnt mutton. (In 2003, I also savoured succulent beef kebabs at Bade Miyan in Mumbai thanks to my friend Sharmila.) Since 2001, I have turned quite a decent meat-eater. Yet, nonbrahmin friends would point to how I am a bit clumsy in my inability to clean up the bones dry. Today, we cook mutton, beef, all kinds of seafood and chicken at home. I have not yet conquered pork, though I love bacon the way it is served continental style.
Eating meat should hardly be considered a means of running away from one’s brahminic identity. Historically, the brahmins consumed all kinds of meat—including beef. Pulao made of veal (tender calf) was a delicacy served to the guests during the vedic period. It was only Buddhism that forced the brahmins to swing to the other extreme and give up on meat altogether. Just as my dalit friends who rediscover and revert to Buddhism, and hence turn vegetarian, are not ceasing to be dalits by refusing to eat meat, I would not cease to be a brahmin my merely eating meat. It is not a certificate of progressiveness or regressiveness. But when the choice of not eating or not eating certain foods is not based on self-made decisions but based on irrationally inherited caste culture, then as rational human beings we need to rethink and question the same.
Why this conscious effort at making, and now marking, these changes in my personal self? Do I want to pass for a nonbrahmin? Does one cease to be a brahmin just by speaking a different register and by eating different kinds of food? I have seen several brahmins in the modern, urban context assuming progressive postures—as liberals, marxists, feminists, poststructuralists, radicals of various hues. These are largely public postures. In the private sphere, they tend to remain true to their castes. They tend to marry within caste (even accidentally falling in love with a person of the same caste), sometimes even go through traditional marriage rituals and justify it as meant to satisfy parents/ relations, they even indulge in some rituals for the dead, they continue to eat what they have been used to eating. In the personal sphere, the language of modernity takes a backseat and the premodern caste self is allowed a free reign. In other words, not much changes in their personal lives. My fundamental problem was: how can one don a progressive hat in public and continue to indulge in practices inflected by one’s caste in the personal realm? How can one be modern and feudal at the same time? I was convinced that the personal and political had to be made compatible and complementary. I could not be someone who keenly engaged with Ambedkar’s ideas, interacted with the dalit movement, benefited a lot intellectually from my interactions with dalit and nonbrahmin friends, and yet keep intact a brahminical core.

Srivatsan said...

I liked the juxtaposition of the interview with Veena Shatrugna and the personal narrative of S. Anand. There was an interesting way in which they talked to each other in my mind, bringing memories of my childhood together with a sort of Aha! understanding of so many automatic verbal and practical responses to meateating and cooking today.

Anonymous said...

There are a few things I don't understand:
- What is the relevance of S. Anand's article?
- Surely, in hostels and such, there are "forward" castes who are meat-eaters. I wonder why there has been no objection from that end.
- Is the issue in question the view, that in India, the vegetarian diet is the "default" diet?

Personally, I always thought that was true if you go by the kind of food even meat-eaters eat, say, during the week or for breakfast. Wasn't meat always seen as a luxury?
I guess I don't quite get why it is seen as the Brahmin view.

Suresh said...

If the thrust of your article is correct, then it suggests that under-nutrition of SC/ST/non-Brahmins is a post-independence phenomenon, or at least, post-Mughal phenomenon since the dominance of the Brahmin bureaucrats started with the British raj. Is there any evidence to suggest that under-nutrition was not a problem in the pre-British era when the rulers were mostly Muslim who presumably would not have any Brahmin hangups? I would even be satisfied with evidence suggesting that undernutrition became more of a problem in the post-independence era when the real dominance of the Brahmin bureaucrats started. Can you point me to some such evidence?

Your hypothesis also suggests that undernutrition should be much less of a problem in, say Bangladesh or Pakistan since they do not have to worry about Brahminical hangups. Also, the Bengali brahmins do eat fish. However, according to one World Bank report (link given below), in 2000, while 47% of under-fives suffered from underweight, 45% from stunting and 16% from wasting, the figures for Bangladesh was (48%, 45% and 10%) and Pakistan was (40%, 36% and 14%). While Pakistan is lower, it is not drastically so. (Remember also that current-day Pakistan was one of the richer parts of the subcontinent and indeed, until recently had a higher GDP per capita than India.) I would also note that Bangladesh has been one of the countries which has made drastic improvements in poverty reduction in recent years so more recent figures might show it in a more favourable light vis-a-vis India. At any rate, then, why are the figures for Bangladesh and Pakistan so high?

Your point about the need to provide a wider choice through the PDS is well-taken but I do wish you did not have to bring "Brahmin conspiracy" almost as a reflex. Anyway, for the link to where I got the figures:

Anonymous said...

A simple question, what is the logic behind referring to world bank data? is the world bank often glorifyingly referred in the social sciences nowadays?

Suresh said...

Dear Anonymous:

The proper response would be a link discrediting the data source. Do you have one? If not, then what's your point? Is this the best you can do?

The World Bank's policy prescriptions may be attacked by many people (including economists) but the Bank does contain a fair number of good economists, including many from India.

I now know where this is going to go...sigh...feel free to take shots at me.

Toon Indian said...

..well I guess for the majority vegetarian is a default diet not by choice in our country....but for a lot of middle class and upper middle class who voluntarily become vegetarian it's more of aquestion of conscience, soul...they feel it's not right killing an animal for their gastronomical whims...also I personally think now-a days a lot of U.S. bred/educated hindus eat beef , for a rush of rebellion and not just for nutrients. The vedic hindu religion is way too broad minded for these things.

ಬಾಲಗಂಗಾಧರರಕನ್ನಡಕೃತಿಗಳು said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ಬಾಲಗಂಗಾಧರರಕನ್ನಡಕೃತಿಗಳು said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Armchair Guy said...

"The answer seems simple enough, the bureaucrats took the average Indian diet, but the average Indian that they had in mind, was not the majority who ate meat, but the dominant upper class minority."

The explanation for the composition of the PDS items is not simple; it is unnecessarily complicated. I think the Indian PDS just sells items which are not perishable and easily transported, as it should. Meat would require refrigeration facilities. I don't think it has anything to with what the Brahmins eat.

Having said that, I think it would be a good idea to include some high-protein items such as protein bars. This could include animal proteins, but I think India is only now waking up to the benefits of food processing.

ಡಂಕಿನ್ ಜಳಕಿ said...

I saw my article being mentioned here. Thanks.

I also have written another article on the caste system recently. It can be found here:\

Your opinion will be useful for me.

you can also write to me directly at

മലമൂട്ടില്‍ മത്തായി said...

The fact that a majority of Indians are under nourished remains. But then, meat eating alone will not reduce the effect.

PDS cannot distribute eggs or even vegetables because they are perishable. Given the lack of basic infrastructure in India, it is easy to know why the government sticks to distributing rice, pulses, sugar and oil. Here it is the lack of infrastructure which plays the role and not the caste.

That said, I am not for banning cow slaughter anywhere in India. Any one who wants to eat beef (which includes me) should get quality beef at cheap rates. That gives way to another question - if a majority wants beef, then why do they vote for folks who want to ban beef altogether?

Then there is the issue of opening a slaughter house on campus. That is simply unhygienic and unhealthy. Animals should be slaughtered in abattoirs only and the waste should be disposed off properly. So in the name of eating meat, do not condone the unhealthy trends.

So far as trends go, Indians are eating more meat now that their economic circumstances are better. As we develop more, people will eat more meat.

Anonymous said...

This Breitling Watch is a star. It's light weight, made from titanium. Chronomat B01 did not forget those who love the sea. The Chronomat Evolution is a diving watch and is water resistant to 1,500 meters.

The High definition CAROL BURNETT & FRIENDS also comes in two categories; one is of 720 pixels while the other is of 1080 pixels. Thus resolution and quality wise, there is quite a big difference between an ordinary CAROL BURNETT & FRIENDS DVD and a high definition CAROL BURNETT & FRIENDS DVD COLLECTION .

Since the feature is good you need not disquiet about your entirety purloin. You can be surely your Ed Hardy clothing women’s tees or ED Hardy Shoes men’s jeans will last you for a long time to move comfortably.Actually people generally think that clothes which not socialize top eminence with a few reasons here as to why you should. To stop you rather a bit on clothing bills and at the same time be fashionable, you have been view of exportED Hardy Shoes we will supply you with high prices all firm.

Dino Castelbou said...

To eat meat, it is to eat hell. Meat is first terrorism, just violence, and tolerance for violence is violence. You like meat, and you don't respect animals. If you don't respect animals, you don't respect yourself. ABOLITION OF MEAT IN THE WORLD, for a best world !

Bhuvana said...

nice blogspot.. update more post... we are vegetarian caterers catering services in chennai and caterers in tambaram , anna nagar chennai .

Anonymous said...

Currently it seems like BlogEngine is the preferred blogging
platform available right now. (from what I've read) Is that what you are using on your blog?

Here is my web site :: Razberri Ketone Slims

Anonymous said...

my favorite is #3: "I'm up for anything" I guest that's correct, i also don't feel on that statement .
..LOL...his sample was nice,I can't imagine myself getting scuba diving along with fantastic white sharks..

Also visit my web page: top 3 dating tips for shy guys

Anonymous said...

If you might be seeking a fantastic set of resistance

Also visit my blog post -

Anonymous said...

I have "always" been thin, 5'9 never ever weighed more than 125-130, never owned scales and while I don't eat huge portions and I am relatively picky, I do not usually eat the healthiest.
i.e. Cereal for meal. I used to be blessed
with a few very great genetics and have Never ever been on a diet regime.
I began speaking 25 mg of Zoloft for Peri-menopause as well as
because of a great deal of adjustments in my existence within 6 months (moved, married, occupation alter, sold my home,
bought yet another house, daughter marrying, son graduating) Possibly a miracle it
had been attached intravenously..Nonetheless I have often been extremely active my whole daily life
either running, biking and so that was my drug of selection (endorphin's) I did not discover significantly alter whatsoever in my bodyweight at first, then a yr later on my garments size went from size 4 to an 8. 10-12 lbs does not sound like a good deal, but on somebody that's around the
slim aspect to begin with, created a large distinction in my clothes along with the way
I felt. I had been exercising tougher and eating much less, which to become honest, significantly significantly
less and I would have been starving myself.
I never sit about and my husband compares me towards the Energizer Bunny.
I decided following researching the fat gain to finish the use of Zoloft and take care of the smaller sized problems in Menopause.
6 Months later, a little much more moody, but have lost at any time pound I place on.
I must have been the modest percentage of folks that had excess weight acquire,
but in addition I believe the studies never keep track of
the information long enough simply because it was not instant
with myself. Folks keep stating the bodyweight obtain was Menopause and to get a although I believed it until I made a decision to
go off Zoloft and see what happened. Family members historical past on my Mother's facet was that we all stayed slim even through the Menopause. So now after i get upset or moody, I put my operating footwear on and hit the asphalt.

Here is my blog post The Perfect Muscle Building Fat Burning Diet Plan

Anonymous said...

Also, if you are looking to build intervals into your workout, going
for walks on an incline for thirty seconds
to two minutes can the perfect technique to interval train and strengthen your
submit exercise calorie melt away.

Feel free to visit my web page - dumbbell sets

Anonymous said...

I adore your creating design and also the
way you impart the info

Here is my blog six pack shortcuts off youtube

Anonymous said...

Normally I don't read article on blogs, but I would like to say that this write-up very forced me to try and do so! Your writing style has been amazed me. Thanks, very great article.

Here is my blog ... Teeth whitening pen target

Anonymous said...

My partner and I absolutely love your blog and find nearly all of your post's to be just what I'm
looking for. can you offer guest writers to write content to suit
your needs? I wouldn't mind creating a post or elaborating on many of the subjects you write with regards to here. Again, awesome website!

my web blog ... Louis Vuitton Outlet

Anonymous said...

I’m not that much of a internet reader to be honest but your blogs really nice, keep it up!

I'll go ahead and bookmark your website to come back later on. All the best

Here is my blog; Abercrombie France

Anonymous said...

Harold, as soon as once again, look on the crossover
mag and see who had creative control, DC, and DC did
not stick to the parameters they set. Where did you see that Superman Knocked out
the Juggernaunt with one punch, I want to study it myself.

my website; foods That can stop premature ejaculation

Anonymous said...

Hello, all the time i used to check website posts here early in the daylight, for the reason that i enjoy
to find out more and more.

Here is my blog: Learn More

Anonymous said...

To be able to maximise your fat loss initiatives, you also really need to mix the
next exercises by using a sound nutrition strategy.

Here is my webpage ::

Anonymous said...

Why do you're thinking that the health and fitness center is advertising it?

Here is my webpage:

Anonymous said...

Neat blog! Is your theme custom made or did you download it from somewhere?
A theme like yours with a few simple adjustements would really make my blog shine.

Please let me know where you got your design. Bless you

Here is my web blog :: mind games to attract women

Anonymous said...

The Bowflex Best two is really a complete home gymnasium according to their patented
Energy Rod technologies.

My web page; please click the up coming article

Anonymous said...

e cigarette, smokeless cigarettes, e cigarette forum, smokeless cigarettes, best e cigarette, smokeless cigarettes

Unknown said...

Moratic Electronic Cigarettes are best electronic cigarettes in India.

Electronic Cigarette In India
E Cigarettes In India
E Cigarette In India
E Liquids In India
Electronic Cigarettes In India

Naveen - +91-7827490192 said...

We provide electronic cigarette or E-Cigarette, e-liquid & e-Juice brand in Delhi, Mumbai, chennai, kolkata and all over India at the best prices buy online.


E-Cigarette in India
Electronic Cigarettes Online in India
e-liquid in India
E juice in India
Vape in India

Prince raj said...

E-Cigarettes are not harmful to the human body like traditional cigarettes. It is a myth that E-Cigarettes contains cancer causing chemicals. Buy E-liquid for Vape pen

Prince raj said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rajini sharma said...

Thanks for sharing this priceless information. This inforamtion is very useful information. If you want to consult with any professional nutritionist, want to lose your weight in a proper way. Total Nourish is the best nutritionist in delhi.

Web Tycoons - Website designing company in Delhi said...

Amazing Article !! ICGC is one of the Best
Ice cream parlour in Shalimar Bagh.
Ice cream Parlour in model town
Cafe in Shalimar Bagh
Cafe in model town
Best cafe in Delhi
Restaurant in Shalimar Bagh
Online food delivery in model town
Online food delivery in Shalimar Bagh
Best restaurant in Delhi

Saladaa said...

Nice blog, are you waiting to eat Healthy SoupsFood , just search online best place to eat Healthy Food Delivery Service in Chennai

kristinahojholt said...

I together with my friends have already been following the good thoughts on your website while quickly developed an awful feeling I had not expressed respect to the web site owner for those tips. These ladies came for that reason very interested to see them and have now actually been tapping into them. Thank you for truly being considerably kind as well as for pick out such nice subject matter most people are really needing to discover. My honest regret for not saying thanks to sooner.
indian diet plan for weight loss

Shreecaterers said...

I am very thankful to you as your article has given me lots of ideas. Such great information you have shared through this article, We at shreecaterers The Vegetarian Caterers or Wedding Planners in Bangalore is a highly professional and extremely dedicated event catering company, Follow us to know more our services click the link, Thank You.
Best Vegetarian Caterers In Bangalore | Brahmin Caterers In Bangalore | Wedding Planners In Bangalore

fgthtyhsrty said...

golden goose sneakers
kobe sneakers
kyrie 6
yeezy 700
curry 7
air jordans
supreme t shirt
jordan 1
kyrie 7 shoes