The Federal webinar: What it means to be a non-vegetarian in today’s India

Understanding the trend of growing politicisation of food habits and the impact it could have on a multicultural, unequal society like India

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What does it mean to be a non-vegetarian in today’s India?

That was the topic of a webinar hosted by The Federal on Saturday (November 27).

In the past seven years of the BJP-led regime, there has been a state-backed push against non-vegetarians. Stringent laws against cattle slaughter and  attacks on those involved in cattle trade have been followed by local authorities in several cities like Gurugram attempting to ban meat sale on certain days of the week.

To understand the trend of growing politicisation of food habits and the impact it has on a multicultural, unequal society like India, The Federal spoke to Sohail Hashmi, writer, filmmaker and activist; Dr Sylvia Karpagam, public health doctor and researcher; Meet Ashar, animal rights activist, PETA; and  Aunindyo Chakravarty, journalist and commentator.

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The panel discussion was led by K S Dakshina Murthy, associate editor, The Federal.

Hashmi said that what it means to be identified as meat eater is changing drastically and entire populations are being “marked out and attacked” for their food preferences. “People are getting lynched for keeping meat in fridge. And all this is being wrapped up in the language of culture, values…

Hashmi said that what it means to be identified as meat eater is changing drastically and entire populations are being “marked out and attacked” for their food preferences. “People are getting lynched for keeping meat in fridge. And all this is being wrapped up in the language of culture, values… nationalism,” he said.

“To be a vegetarian today is to be a nationalist,” Hashmi said, calling legislations banning certain food items “essentially anti-democratic”.

Chakravarty compared meat consumption in the United States to meat eating in India and said Indians need more animal protein.

“In terms of consumption in India, animal protein is very low, but it is eaten by the poor. It is a cheap source of nutrition. Vegetarianism is high in only three or four states – Punjab, Gujarat, Haryana, etc. National Sample Survey Office data show that 70 per cent of Indians are meat eaters,” he said. “America consumes 130 kg of meat per capita. In India per capita consumption of meat is 4.5 kg,” he said.

Vegetarianism is practiced by only certain groups: Jains, Sikh, Brahmins, Chakravarty said.

Hashmi said there is a wrong impression that Gujaratis are vegetarians. “I was talking to young people based out of Ahmedabad and other cities. And they told me Gujaratis don’t eat meat,” he said.

“I took for a tour. All the tribals in Gujarat, all Dalits, they are not a small percentage. Muslims, Parsis, Christians, and the Kshatriyas – all of them eat meat,” Hashmi said.

A huge number of Indians are on “starvation diet”, Dr Karpagam said, listing out health data. “Caste and corporate nexus, and the national agenda are contributing to severe nutritional problem in the country,” she said. Meet Ashar pointed to the growing trend around the world for vegan diet and said veganism is good for people and good for the planet.

“Between 2004 and 2014 there was a growth of 5 per cent vegetarianism in India. The number of vegans in India has risen by 360 per cent in the past decade. And this trend is global,” he said. What does it mean to be a non-vegetarian in today’s India? “Nationalism,” he said.

“To be a vegetarian today is to be a nationalist,” Hashmi said, calling legislations banning certain food items “essentially anti-democratic”.

Chakravarty compared meat consumption in the United States to meat eating in India and said Indians need more animal protein.

“In terms of consumption in India, animal protein is very low, but it is eaten by the poor. It is a cheap source of nutrition. Vegetarianism is high in only three or four states – Punjab, Gujarat, Haryana, etc. National Sample Survey Office data show that 70 per cent of Indians are meat eaters,” he said. “America consumes 130 kg of meat per capita. In India per capita consumption of meat is 4.5 kg,” he said.

Vegetarianism is practiced by only certain groups: Jains, Sikh, Brahmins, Chakravarty said.

Hashmi said there is a wrong impression that Gujaratis are vegetarians. “I was talking to young people based out of Ahmedabad and other cities. And they told me Gujaratis don’t eat meat,” he said.

“I took for a tour. All the tribals in Gujarat, all Dalits, they are not a small percentage. Muslims, Parsis, Christians, and the Kshatriyas – all of them eat meat,” Hashmi said.

A huge number of Indians are on “starvation diet”, Dr Karpagam said, listing out health data.
“Caste and corporate nexus, and the national agenda are contributing to severe nutritional problem in the country,” she said.
Meet Ashar pointed to the growing trend around the world for vegan diet and said veganism is good for people and good for the planet.
“Between 2004 and 2014 there was a growth of 5 per cent vegetarianism in India. The number of vegans in India has risen by 360 per cent in the past decade. And this trend is global,” he said.
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