The myth of the Indian vegetarian nation

#1 Apr 4th, 2018, 16:41
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#1
When I first visited India, back in 1983, as a vegetarian myself I was pleased to find that vegetarian seemed to be the "default" option for restaurant meals.

Recently it seems that more "non-veg" meals are popular.

Is there a real shift towards non-veg, perhaps brought about by improved refrigeration?

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-india-43581122

Any thoughts, apart from that you don't like the BBC?

Ed.
#2 Apr 4th, 2018, 17:12
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Originally Posted by OldandRambling View Post
Is there a real shift towards non-veg, perhaps brought about by improved refrigeration?

Ed.
No, not really. I don't think the use of refrigerators has anything to do with the increase in the consumption of meat. If indeed there has been such an increase I'd put it down to one of the effects of globalisation and travel and exposure to different foods. Younger people today are less strict and narrow about their food choices than their parents were-- I guess this is universal. A general increase in wealth could be another factor.

Vegetarianism (not veganism- which is virtually unheard of, and if it's practiced by some, then it is a recent import) in India is strongly tied to Hindu/Jain/Buddhist socio-cultural mores. But such dietary practices belong predominantly the upper-castes, (which is not to say that others don't emulate them). And they vary from place to place. (Some Hindus and many Jains even avoid onion and garlic.)

So for example, while Brahmins virtually everywhere are vegetarian, this isn't the case in Kashmir (where the Pandits eat meat--cold temperatures) or in Bengal (they are obsessed with fish). There are plenty of exceptions and even exceptions to the exceptions.

Here is an interesting map:

Name:  vegetarian map.jpg
Views: 284
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Source: https://www.google.co.in/search?q=ve...R5EOkSmovr-eM:
#3 Apr 4th, 2018, 17:26
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Thanks for that map BB. Interesting to see that Rajasthan has the highest percent of vegetarians. I know this more from experience that the divide of what comprises vegetarian vs what's non-veg is much sharper back home than even here in Delhi - and the farther east i go, muddier the waters.

Eggs are an interesting case - Jainism makes it clear that an unborn life, is still a life form and therefore a 'jiva'. Same is the case with smaller organisms, it is observed that root vegetables exhibit a higher tendency of hiding small worms, for example. The brahmin take on the same set of foods, garlic, for example is different - it has to do with whether the food will incite baser tendencies (rajasik bhava).

At the same time, what you eat, is often determined by availability. I'm sure historically, Rajasthan, parts of MP, Gujarat, etc are so arid that the cuisine is more grain and vegetable based than any other. Milk is integral and not harming milch animals is a core tenet of cuisine, also of religion as historically Jainism was a religion followed by agrarian communities. Rajasthani meat dishes were the preserve of Rajputs - those who could hunt.

And certainly younger generations the world over are a lot less strict - so many vegans in the west now - hard to tell them I love cheese, but sites like happycow make it easy to find veggie food when traveling.
#4 Apr 4th, 2018, 17:30
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Gosh, the map seems to indicate that the situation is even more different to what I had imagined.

Can it be that all those South Indian dosas, etc, are so over shadowed by non-veg meals in the South?

Ed.
#5 Apr 4th, 2018, 18:19
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One thing the map doesn't really cover though is consumption. Just because someone self identifies as someone who eats meat doesn't mean they consume it regularly (as appose to vegetarians who when they self identify only eat vegetables).

As an example, I have a friend in Kerala who would self identify as a meat eater, but in reality he only eats it on special occasions.

I imagine that there are far more like him due to a number of factors but three in particular spring to mind: Income with vegetarian food being generally much cheaper, availability of vegetarian (and delicious!) food being so ubiquitous across all of India and thirdly religious sentiment/family pressure dictating that most meals be vegetarian regardless of the specific individuals actual beliefs.

Of course all of this is a conjecture and belief on my part. And as a non-native armchair commentator, I might be wrong!

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#6 Apr 4th, 2018, 18:27
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#6
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Originally Posted by OldandRambling View Post Gosh, the map seems to indicate that the situation is even more different to what I had imagined.

Can it be that all those South Indian dosas, etc, are so over shadowed by non-veg meals in the South?

Ed.
I think of my area (Maharashtra) as being in the middle - not north or south or east or west, with influences from everywhere. I am the ONLY ovo-lacto vegetarian I know (not counting ferengi). I am not vegan (no animal products including gelatin, honey, etc.) so I eat mostly plants plus eggs and dairy. Muslim friends serve beef on special occasions— but call it mutton with a wink. Hindu friends who think of themselves as vegetarians have different food rules for various feast/fast days. and most seem to enjoy eggs and chicken, and see no conflict in this; on "fasting" days they don't eat chicken (many other rules apply). "Veg" means yes dairy, but no eggs. "Pure Veg" is the same menu as "Veg" but the kitchen does not also prepare "Non-Veg" items."Non-Veg" means chicken, fish, goat, eggs. Jain veg has too many rules to mention; no eggs. When invited to somebody's home for a meal, after stating my food rules, I will invariably be served egg curry instead of mutton curry, the local feast dish. (I often explain to white people that "mutton" comes from goats.) So far I have only met one Muslim who eats bacon, but he only does so when outside India. The featured dish at McDonald's seems to be something like a fried mashed potato patty, in a bun. It does not closely resemble street-food forms of this idea, like alu pav.
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#7 Apr 4th, 2018, 18:38
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#7
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Originally Posted by OldandRambling View Post When I first visited India, back in 1983, as a vegetarian myself I was pleased to find that vegetarian seemed to be the "default" option for restaurant meals.

Recently it seems that more "non-veg" meals are popular.

Is there a real shift towards non-veg, perhaps brought about by improved refrigeration?

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-india-43581122

Any thoughts, apart from that you don't like the BBC?

Ed.
Refrigeration does keep getting more common, but when I send to the market for a kilo of cut-up chicken for my cats, it arrives still warm from the hen, as the vendors all have cages, not refrigerators. I recall an alley I stumbled across in some big city: At one end, a pen containing small herds of sheep, goats, chickens, rabbits, etc. At the other end, a shop window with hanging carcasses. In between, much pain and bloodshed (and pools of blood and clouds of flies). One is certainly assured of freshness when animals are slaughtered to order. No chilled plastic-wrapped shield between where the food came from and you.
#8 Apr 4th, 2018, 19:42
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Originally Posted by OldandRambling View Post Can it be that all those South Indian dosas, etc, are so over shadowed by non-veg meals in the South?

Ed.
I frequently visit Rishikesh in Uttarakhand. The entire town is vegetarian. You'd find it difficult to find any place where they serve eggs, let alone meat. And the higher up you go along the Ganges, the more Pure Vegetarian joints you'll see. It's virtually impossible to find non veg joints on so many routes-- For you're going up along places that are sacred to Hindus--Badrinath, Gangotri etc). So one would come away with the impression that Uttarakhand is a largely vegetarian state. And yet, as per this map about 72% of the people there would eat non-veg if they would have the chance.

I imagine you had a similar sort of experience in TN. TN is a fairly religious Brahmin-dominanted state and the Brahmins there are all vegetarian. If you'd go to the Muslim or Christian quarters in Chennai, or even those of other Hindu communities you'd have come away with a different impression.


Quote:
Originally Posted by NomadicBoo View Post One thing the map doesn't really cover though is consumption. Just because someone self identifies as someone who eats meat doesn't mean they consume it regularly (as appose to vegetarians who when they self identify only eat vegetables).

NB
I think the map only shows what people eat as a matter of principle and not how much meat they would/could eat if they had the opportunity. For most of the country, meat or chicken is still a luxury. A once a week indulgence.

Another thing to note is that unlike the western world, where going vegetarian or vegan implies that the person cares about the rights of animals or is environmentally conscious, in India vegetarianism is more strongly associated with the person's religious beliefs. This is because even though those religious beliefs have been strongly shaped by noble ideas of non-violence towards animals, the majority of people who practice vegetarianism in India have practiced it since birth. Meaning, they didn't become veggie. They were always so--and so going non vegetarian (as is the case with IMer Vishva) is what (some) people associate with being liberal or breaking free from puritanical Brahmanical mores. It's a fraught and interesting topic.
#9 Apr 4th, 2018, 22:40
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Originally Posted by OldandRambling View Post Gosh, the map seems to indicate that the situation is even more different to what I had imagined.

Can it be that all those South Indian dosas, etc, are so over shadowed by non-veg meals in the South?
After a decade of living here, I saw the same map in my daily newspaper --- and discovered that the title of your thread is absolutely correct: The Myth of the Indian Vegetarian nation! I was most astonished at the percentage for my own home state: 97% non-veg!

There are plenty of non-veg hindus here... and only 2% brahmins (apparently: I don't know where I got that number).

As with most things "religious," people mostly just do what they are told/bought up to do. And, if I ask for an explanation of not eating meat, it comes in terms of the effects of different food on the eater --- not the eaten.
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#10 Apr 4th, 2018, 22:56
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I know several in India who voluntarily gave up meat after seeing a chicken or a goat being slaughtered. Some are friends, some family.
That said, in the west, especially in the US many children do not realize that meat comes from animals and the brutal ways in which they are killed (bolt gun). By the time they are of an age to make a distinction and therefore a choice, they are conditioned to eat what happens to be an animal. So in that way, they're making a similar choice as an Indian 'born vegetarian'.
#11 Apr 4th, 2018, 23:27
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Originally Posted by Nick-H View Post After a decade of living here, I saw the same map in my daily newspaper --- and discovered that the title of your thread is absolutely correct:
Hmm. In a way, yes. In that it is not (and probably never has been) predominantly vegetarian if you take into account only the number of people who won't eat non-veg.

But it is still the most vegetarian country there is, I'm sure, both in terms of the total number of vegetarians present as well as measured by the percentage they make up of the total population. Not to say anything about of how deep-rooted vegetarianism is in our ethos.
#12 Apr 5th, 2018, 13:46
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Originally Posted by BholeBaba View Post No, not really. I don't think the use of refrigerators has anything to do with the increase in the consumption of meat. If indeed there has been such an increase I'd put it down to one of the effects of globalisation and travel and exposure to different foods. Younger people today are less strict and narrow about their food choices than their parents were-- I guess this is universal. A general increase in wealth could be another factor.
I think wealth is the biggest factor. Meat and fish are far more expensive in India than daal or vegetables. My parents were obsessively non-vegetarian, they had to eat meat/fish in every meal, I suspect partly to demonstrate that they were not poor. Nowadays many more Indians can say they are not so poor they have to eat veg.

A similar, but more extreme, phenomenon exists in Bangladesh and Pakistan, where no one is constrained by religious prohibitions. Meat must be served as often as possible. Vegetarian food is more authentically local and tastier than the same-old kababs, but the old dishes are being lost.

Of course another partial explanation is that what tourists see is restaurant food, but there are many Indians who eat veg at home (and homebound women cook and eat only veg) while those who go out eat meat outside the house. So while non-veg consumption has increased, restaurant food may be a skewed metric.

Finally, OldandRambling may remember more vegetarian food in 1983 because he was subsisting on a smaller budget.
#13 Apr 5th, 2018, 16:04
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Bangladesh and Pakistan, where no one is constrained by religious prohibitions
I bet they don't eat much pork!

Certainly, there are those in India who choose to be or remain vegetarian for ethical rather than religious reasons. That might include some of the people who might have been been explaining the religious reasons. My Brahmin friend and his family are veggie, but they buy meat for their dog.

In my local street... There are many small food places of the cheap and hardly-spotless kind. I think that one, or maybe two of them are veggie. There's plenty of low-end meat meals being sold and eaten out there.
#14 Apr 5th, 2018, 16:40
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Originally Posted by RPG View Post I think wealth is the biggest factor. Meat and fish are far more expensive in India than daal or vegetables. My parents were obsessively non-vegetarian, they had to eat meat/fish in every meal, I suspect partly to demonstrate that they were not poor. Nowadays many more Indians can say they are not so poor they have to eat veg.
Yes, I think what you said above applies to those communities who never had huge problems with eating non-plant life in the first place- such as Bengalis, Rajputs, Khatris in many areas, Dalits and so forth.

But for those who have historically had a problem with eating non-veg of any kind, I doubt a rise in wealth has or will make a jot of a difference. Aren't Mukesh Ambani and Modi and Amit Shah all Bhejetarians?

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#15 Apr 5th, 2018, 19:35
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Punjab, the land of butter chicken and where the day ends with liquor and roasted chicken, the self confessed foodies and 75% vegetarians. Sounds improbable.

21% vegetarians in NE is also surprising
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