Tuesday 28 May 2019

Think Indians are mostly non-vegetarian, or only ‘upper castes’ are otherwise? This menu smriti will change your views

The food habits of Indians is a topic of much contention and argument in Indian public discourse. There are several questions that usually come up in Indian drawing rooms whenever the topic of food comes up.

What do Indians like to eat? What proportion of Indians are vegetarians? Do Indian “non vegetarians” eat meat often? If yes, how often? How do eating habits vary across geographies? Is Southern India indeed more “non vegetarian” than the North, and if yes, to what degree? How do eating habits vary by gender? How does it vary by caste? Are the vegetarians of India predominantly upper caste as often supposed? Does wealth influence Indian eating habits?

Eating out in India (Uriel Sinai/Getty Images)
These are some of the fascinating questions that are asked extremely often. Yet seldom answered with data. Usually misconceptions abound, which are shaped by one’s political orientation.

Here are some of the more common popular misconceptions –

· India is largely a non-vegetarian country

· It is only the upper-castes who abstain from meat

· It is economic hardship that prevents people from eating meat

· Gujarat/Rajasthan are the only states where a majority of people are vegetarian

· Southern India is almost entirely non-vegetarian except for Brahmins

While some of these misconceptions may have a grain of truth to them, they are often half-truths, as they tend to rely on the simplistic vegetarian versus non-vegetarian binary and critically ignore the frequency and actual pattern of meat-eating in the country.

This piece is an attempt to present some facts on the table based on the National Family Health Survey 2015-16 (NFHS-4) of 803,097 men and women aged between 15 and 49.

What Proportion Of India Is Vegetarian?
While this may seem like a straightforward question, there are several ways to answer it, especially if one considers the frequency of meat eating. While a quarter of the Indian population may be regarded as strictly vegetarian (by no means a small proportion), a much larger proportion eat meat only occasionally.

Here’s a table gleaned from the survey –
*overall figure assumes 50-50 sex ratio
(Source: Swarajya)

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