Indians are eating more meat and enjoying it. Higher incomes, global food chains and a vast population of young people indifferent to religious taboos are shattering myths about "vegetarian India", finds LATHA JISHNU. But this appetite for meat has enviro
It's official, Indians are eating more meat than ever
Wnon-veg. That’s E ARE how Vishal Jain describes himself and his younger brother Ankit. Non-veg, shorthand for non-vegetarian,is India’s quaint contribution to the sociology and culture of food, a hold-all term that signifies we are consumers of meat of some kind— chicken, beef, mutton or pork. Or fish. Or eggs. Perhaps, all of these. To declare that one is non-veg,or eats non-veg—the term is interchangeable—is a necessary distinction in a land fabled for its vegetarianism and made legendary by its most famous practitioner, Mahatma Gandhi.
Vishal Jain’s declaration underlines the shrinking nature and number of those who abide by a meat-free diet. For the brothers belong to one of the few religious communities who are rigidly vegetarian. The Jains eschew even vegetables that grow underground for fear of killing any creatures when these are pulled out. Vishal, 28, a software techie in Hyderabad, says he took to eating meat with the advent of the chicken burger, courtesy an American fast food chain. “I worked late hours and this was a convenience food.But also tasty—like nothing I had eaten before. Besides, the meat itself was not so much in your face.”
From chicken in a bun, he went on to other non-veg fare that Hyderabad is traditionally famous for, such as haleem, the city’s signature dish which is a thick broth of wheat, lentils and mutton/beef cooked specially for festivals. And he introduced Ankit to its epicurean delights.The brothers, however, are careful to keep this hidden from their parents who are strict in their religious observances. One reason the two broke religious taboos is the environment.
At the workplace, colleagues, although not exactly cosmopolitan were open to change and experimenting, while the urban ambience and culture made this easier, explains Vishal. Hyderabad is a meat-loving city, with both the Muslim and Andhra cuisine celebrating it in diverse dishes. Recently, its municipal commissioner Somesh Kumar was reeling off statistics to impress a conference of mayors about its meaty profile. According to him, 70 per cent of Hyderabad’s 7.8 million population is non-vegetarian, consuming as much as 300,000 chicken, 8,000 goat/sheep, 2,500 buffalo and 50 swine daily. On peak days, the usage simply doubles.
In a country where food and dietary habits are governed by complex rules based on religion, caste and region, the old ways are yielding place to the new. Tastes have changed and what was considered infra dig by some meat eaters in earlier times is today’s flavour of the day. Traditional meateaters look down upon those stuffing themselves on mass produced broiler chicken as upstarts and lament the inability of the neo non-vegetarians to appreciate the joy of all kinds of meat.K Dasgupta, a communications professional working in Delhi, reminisces about the changing profile and sociology of meat-eating. “At our home, for instance, till well into the mid 1990s, a typical week used to be three-four days of fish, and mutton on Sundays. We rarely ate chicken; it was considered food for inferior people.”
There was also the question of availability. “As a kid, I would sometimes take sandwiches with cold cuts to school and on those days I was quite a star,” says Dasgupta about the 1980s. “Close to where we lived in West Delhi there was a place that sold salami and ham—a rarity in those days. In fact, some of my young relatives would visit our house just to have those cold cuts. I remember I would look forward to eat rolls on my visit to Calcutta (Kolkata).Today, there is a roll seller almost every kilometre in middle class localities in Delhi.”
Increasing affluence in cities has changed all that. The frozen kebabs have become ubiquitous and in every little market in residential areas a momo vendor or two and