Hello India! It Turns Out You’re Not Nearly As Vegetarian As You Think
India is rife with pictures like this –
It is also rife with pictures like this –
And in the middle lies the general population, scattered on a spectrum that ranges from “We won’t eat vegetables that grow under the ground” to “We won’t eat vegetables”.
But for the most part, India to outsiders is a gulag drenched in generous helpings of delicious vegetarian food, tech peeps and mysticism. An image we don’t do much to counter because it makes us look smart and tourist friendly. But how much of India is actually vegetarian remains a bit of a debacle.
Estimates have gone so far as to suggest that only around 23 – 37 percent of India is purely vegetarian. But that feels a bit strange, especially considering the number of businesses and livelihoods affected by the bias against meat.
Source, Image is purely representational
Just from personal experience, establishments that proudly included chicken on their menu have sneakily morphed into true-blue vegetarian institutions with a myriad of gods adorning the walls. Entire areas have transformed into havens for vegetarians, eager to kill a business as soon as it dares to serve dead animals to the hungry.
But this is clearly not the case when looking at the bigger picture. Because amongst states with at least 2 crore residents, Assam, West Bengal and Kerala have vegetarians only making up 5% of their population. Whereas in Haryana, Rajasthan and Punjab, the number shoots up to 75% of the population. Even beef isn’t really that uncommon with arguably 15% of the population including it in their daily diet.
This graphic produced after a 2014 survey, in fact, shows the sparse distribution of vegetarians in the country, especially in the north-east.
So in a country where 70% of people eat meat, why the fuss over values? You could just put it down to the fact that if someone genuinely believes that peacocks don’t have sex, they’ll believe pretty much anything. But there’s another and far more sinister explanation.
A tale as old as time, a song as old as rhyme – Caste division.
Because it’s fairly obvious that non-vegetarianism is far more prevalent amongst members of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, but honestly not by a particularly large margin. But that did not stop vegetarian groups in Karnataka attacking the government’s decision to include eggs as part of their mid-day meal scheme for deprived children.
In most other secular nations, diet choices are not an issue to be taken up at an administrative level. But in India, it is a topic ripe for discussion from drunken conversations to political rallies. So perhaps the time to look at nationwide numbers is finally upon us, to try and acknowledge that our food habits are simply products of cultural and not religious diversity.
But we’ll probably fight about this years into the future, long after cows have become extinct and we’re bust eating cockroaches.
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