Recently there were a couple of interesting articles in the papers which really challenged my own beliefs about vegetarianism and Indians.
Arvind Kala wrote in The Times of India about the change in the diet of many Indians. He states that a huge numbers of Indians are becoming non-vegetarian. They are taking to eating eggs, chicken and even meat.Much of this change in dietary habits he puts at the door of increased incomes, both in urban and rural homes, as well as the affordable price of eggs and poultry meat.
I do recall a time when chicken was a luxury which most families from middle class homes could afford just once a week. The turning point, in Pune, came with the establishment of Arbor Acres a hatchery and poultrybreeding farm in Talegaon, just 30 minutes away from Pune. They introduced local farmers to chicken farming , and drew investment and new management practices to the field. Some twenty five years later poultry farms are common in Maharashtra with many of the larger ones getting into the marketing of fresh packed broilers and cooked meats. As a result of such a tremendous increase in production prices have dropped and eggs and poultry meat is now within the reach of the common man.
The National Egg Coordinaion Committee , an organisation which promotes eggs in the daily diet, for reasons of health even more than taste, has its CEO in Pune, the owner of Venky's, a large company whose hoardings dominate the visual advertising landscape of Pune.
So a country with a population, 90% of whom are mostly Hindu by faith, whom, till now most thought were vegetarian, are in fact eating a fair amount of meat.Not in global terms to be sure . Kala says that an American consumes twenty three times as much meat.Nevertheless a 5.2 kg per capita consumption is much more than I thought possible.
What is even more of an eyeopener is the fact that beef and buffalo meat is consumed even more than chicken.This is because they are much cheaper than mutton, poultry or fish. The best cut is known as undercut here, and that word means---fillet of beef, which can be divided into tenderloin, chateaubriand, fillet steaks, tournedos and filet mignons.You can dine on these for less than half the price of chicken!
Nevertheless, India does have the largest number of vegetarians says Kala. 'More than the rest of the world put together'. However because of individual beliefs and faiths this vegetarianism takes different forms and you have eggytarians, fishitarians and cake eating egg avoiders among other avatars .
Humra Quraishi , also in the TOI , shatters other commonly held perceptions in his article on a "Guide to Daily Diet" in Islam. He quotes botanist M.I.H. Farooqi who says that the Quran and Hadiths (the recorded sayings of the Prophet Mohammad) give great emphasis to conservation, in the tilling of the soil and the care of plants and trees. The Prophet speaks of fruits, vegetables , herbs, roots and grains. These books mention dates and olives and figs as well as gourds, brinjals and lentils. "The Prophet said, add more gourd to the curry. It strengthens the depressed heart."
"So Muslims are not really averse to a vegetarian diet" writes Quraishi. A fact that Kala reinforces in his article when he says that Bangladeshi non vegetarian Muslims eat less meat than a partly vegetarian Indian, though the reasons he cites are somewhat different.
While all this was news to me, it confirmed one strongly held view...it is always a mistake to make generalisations about anything or anybody at all in India.
But now consider the Supreme Court's judgement on cow slaughter. Does this mean no protein for the poorest of the poor?