Why ‘idli-sambar’ Chennai is sad about closure of meat shops

As much as 97.65 per cent of Tamil Nadu’s population consumes meat, according to a 2014 survey

Chennai is their biggest market that consumes around 2 crore kg of broiler chicken every month.

There is a general perception that the Punjabi cuisine includes a lot of meat, especially chicken. Scores of rotis and parathas blended with the pan-Indian toothsome-trio—tandoori chicken, chicken tikka and butter chicken—make a meal heavenly. This perception has instilled into Indians an idea that Punjabis are the largest consumers of meat in the country.

But the reality is otherwise. According to the Sample Registration System (SRS) Baseline Survey 2014, only one-third of Punjab’s population consumes meat and the state is third last in the meat consumption among Indian states, only following Rajasthan and Haryana.

Delhi, which has a large population of Punjabis, too has less than two-thirds of residents consuming meat.

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On the other hand, south Indian states that are often perceived as consumers of vegetarian food like idli, dosa, vada and sambar top the list. While Telangana, famous for its Hyderabadi biryani, has 98.7 per cent of its population consuming meat, its neighbour Andhra Pradesh has 98.25 per cent of meat eaters. As much as 97.65 per cent of Tamil Nadu’s population consumes meat, while it is 97 per cent in Kerala.

Meatless days

This is why people in Chennai have been clueless about dealing with next two weeks without meat as the Tamil Nadu government has ordered the closure of all meat shops in the city as a part of the lockdown imposed in Chennai and its neighbouring districts. The state government said it had made the decision to avoid the thronging of people in meat shops that would lead to further spread of COVID-19 in the city.

However, the plan has not gone well with many residents of Chennai. While many have been trying all possible ways to avoid a meatless Sunday, some have taken to social media to criticise the government’s move to close meat shops and open vegetable shops.

As a result of which hashtags like #MeatIsEssential are doing the rounds of Facebook.

Since Friday (June 19) morning, Wazir, the owner of two meat shops in Chennai, has constantly been getting calls from his customers asking for chicken and mutton. However, he is out of stock.

“Some sellers may have a little stock of mutton, which they will deliver this Sunday. But no retailer, or even wholesaler in Chennai will stock chicken as it requires high maintenance and birds will die in a day or two,” says Wazir.

Out of the blue

It came as a shock to meat sellers in Chennai as the government announced the closure of all meat shops and slaughterhouses in the city just a few hours before the lockdown began. Unlike the other restrictions that were notified to people on June 15, the announcement on the closure of meat shops came only on the night of June 18, as the lockdown was set to begin the next day.

Immediately, meat sellers had informed poultry farmers in districts like Namakkal and Tiruppur not to transport any new loads of chicken. “The government should have informed us well in advance. We had to hurriedly clear all the stocks by the end of the day,” said Anwer Basha Quaraishi, the vice-president of the Chennai Mutton Merchant (Retailers) Association.

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However, hatcheries and poultry farmers have borne the biggest brunt of the sudden announcement.

Chennai is their biggest market that consumes around 2 crore kg of broiler chicken every month. “In these 12 days of lockdown, around 60 lakh kg of chicken will remain unsold. As a chicken is normally around 2 kg, more than 30 lakh birds have not exited farms,” said Aravindan, marketing manager at Venkateshwara hatcheries.

Running in loss

During the initial phases of the lockdown, poultry farmers had faced huge losses due to restrictions in transportation and fears of bird flu in Chennai. Many farmers had buried the birds as they were not able to manage the maintenance costs. Aravindan foresaw the repeat of the situation if the government did not withdraw the order on the closure of meat shops in Chennai.

“A farmer spends around ₹80 to feed a bird for about 40-45 days. After meat shops in Chennai were shut, the procurement price of chicken has reduced to ₹50 a bird. So, we are already facing a loss of ₹30. By Monday (June 22),  the price will drop further to ₹30 and farmers will be left with no other option than burying the birds,” said Aravindan.

Even if a farmer goes ahead and feeds chickens for another 12 days, the weight of a bird will increase to 3 kg.

“No seller will prefer chicken weighing 3 kg as it will be bland,” said VS Manikandan, joint managing director of Vangili group of companies in Namakkal. “If we reduce the feed, birds will turn bony. So, farmers are clueless about what to do with the stock that is ready for export,” he said.

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