Forced Veg­e­tar­i­an­ism

Down to Earth - - ANALYSIS -

For three decades and a half, VEENA SHA­TRUGNA has worked on nu­tri­tion and health is­sues, es­pe­cially those con­cern­ing women. She has cam­paigned vig­or­ously against the brah­man­i­cal in­flu­ence on the "bal­anced diet" pre­scribed by the gov­ern­ment to meet the calo­rie needs of the poor, call­ing it a ce­real over­load that has led to myr­iad health prob­lems. In a con­ver­sa­tion with LATHA JISHNU, the nu­tri­tion­ist ex­plains the pol­i­tics of food that has left a legacy of abid­ing mal­nu­tri­tion. Ex­cerpts: The majority in In­dia eats meat, yet why are the di­ets rec­om­mended in In­dia en­tirely veg­e­tar­ian? The RDA (rec­om­mended di­etary al­lowance) was cal­cu­lated in labs by well-mean­ing na­tion­al­ist sci­en­tists and econ­o­mists like C Gopalan, V M Dan­dekar, Ni­lakanth Rath and M S Swami­nathan. When you study nu­tri­tion in a lab, cost be­comes a ma­jor fac­tor. Th­ese were all up­per class, up­per caste—Brah­mins, for the most part—who used their own pref­er­ence for veg­e­tar­ian di­ets to of­fer sim­ple, scal­able so­lu­tions to pro­vide "ad­e­quate" calo­ries to the vast num­bers of the poor. They did not un­der­stand the food cul­ture of the poor peo­ple who ate a va­ri­ety of meats from mut­ton to pork, rab­bits, tor­toises, beef, and birds, apart from a whole lot fruits, berries, tu­bers and eggs. What was their pre­scrip­tion? Ce­re­als and more ce­re­als. RDAs from the early 1960s were loaded with ce­re­als. Nuts, oilseeds, fruits, flesh foods all went out of the win­dow. With­out our knowl­edge we have been prac­tis­ing up­per caste nu­tri­tional sci­ence. What was for­got­ten was that peo­ple who rec­om­mended ce­re­als were con­sum­ing ad­e­quate quan­ti­ties of milk, milk prod­ucts and other items like fruit and nuts as part of their own veg­e­tar­ian regime. Why was this done? It is eas­ier for gov­ern­ments to deal with ce­re­als, to pro­cure and dis­trib­ute. But ac­tu­ally they were tak­ing many short cuts. About 60-80 per cent of In­di­ans en­joy meat but the gov­ern­ment ig­nored this fact. The en­tire ef­fort was di­rected at find­ing the most eco­nom­i­cal so­lu­tion. Are you say­ing this ce­real over­load is re­spon­si­ble for mal­nu­tri­tion? Some vi­tal nu­tri­ents like good pro­teins, Vi­ta­min A, Vi­ta­min B12, and even folic acid are found largely in an­i­mal foods. An­i­mal foods help ab­sorp­tion of iron present in greens, and this is im­por­tant in a coun­try where 50-85 per cent of women and chil­dren are anaemic. Vi­ta­min B12 is found only in an­i­mal foods, not sur­pris­ingly we now have an epi­demic of B12 de­fi­ciency. The over-em­pha­sis on ce­re­als and ab­sence of an­i­mal foods in the diet spills into the mid­dle and up­per classes too, and ex­cess of this has con­trib­uted to obe­sity and re­lated chronic dis­eases like di­a­betes and hyper­ten­sion. Fullinter­viewon­www.down­toearth.org.in

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