NO, VEGETARIANISM IS NOT GROW­ING IN IN­DIA

Bar­ring Ra­jasthan and Pun­jab, the share of meat-eaters has risen in all the states in In­dia

Mint Asia ST - - News - BAY RJUN S R I N I VA S

Food and pol­i­tics have never been more en­tan­gled in In­dia than over the past few years. Vi­o­lent vig­i­lan­tism has claimed the lives of sus­pected beef-eaters and even peo­ple in the live­stock trade. In some of these in­stances, po­lice ac­tion has been first ini­ti­ated against the al­leged beef-eaters rather than on the mur­der­ers. Other forms of vig­i­lan­tism have led to the en­forced shut­down of meat mar­kets in en­tire cities dur­ing ma­jor re­li­gious fes­ti­vals.

Such in­ci­dents seem to sug­gest that ris­ing re­li­gios­ity ( bit.ly/2zx­u­rae) has also led to ris­ing vegetarianism in the coun­try.

But a Mint anal­y­sis of data from two suc­ces­sive rounds of the Na­tional Fam­ily Health Sur­vey (NFHS) con­ducted in 2005-06 and 2015-16 shows that vegetarianism has in fact been on the de­cline over the past decade.

Across all but two states— Ra­jasthan and Pun­jab—the share of meat-eaters has risen over the past decade ( charts 1a and 1b).

While Delhi shows the high­est in­crease in the share of meat-eaters, sev­eral other north­ern states such as Haryana, Hi­machal Pradesh, Jammu and Kash­mir, and Ut­tarak­hand also show high rates of in­crease.

This in­crease is partly ex­plained by the fact that they had low meat con­sump­tion to be­gin with.

Kar­nataka, which was an out­lier among the south­ern states in terms of meat con­sump­tion, seems to be catch­ing up with its neigh­bours, show­ing a con­sid­er­able in­crease in the con­sump­tion of fish, meat and eggs. If we con­sider the change in vegetarianism (ex­clud­ing egg con­sump­tion), the largest de­crease is ob­served in Haryana at 11.1%.

Women lag men in the con­sump­tion of meat and eggs, the data show. As of 2015-16, 30% of women were veg­e­tar­ian, as com­pared to 22% of men. How­ever, women seem to be catch­ing up with men. Over the past decade, meat-con­sump­tion and egg-con­sump­tion has in­creased faster among women than among men. This au­gurs well for In­dia’s fight against mal­nu­tri­tion, given that the nu­tri­tional sta­tus of women is a key de­ter­mi­nant of the nu­tri­tional out­comes of fu­ture gen­er­a­tions ( chart 2).

It is worth not­ing that the rise in con­sump­tion of eggs, meat and fish has oc­curred de­spite a rapid in­crease in the prices of these pro­tein-rich food items over the past decade, sug­gest­ing that ris­ing in­comes have al­lowed In­di­ans to di­ver­sify their diet and in­crease their pro­tein in­take.

The data sug­gest that the poor­est classes have largely de­pended on eggs to di­ver­sify their di­ets.

While egg con­sump­tion has risen across in­come classes, it has risen the most among the poor­est wealth quin­tile ( chart 3).

Among so­cial groups, meat con­sump­tion is the high­est among Mus­lims and sched­uled castes and sched­uled tribes (SCS and STS). More than 80% of SCS, STS and Mus­lims are meat-eaters.

Among the gen­eral cat­e­gory (in­clud­ing up­per castes), this pro­por­tion is much lower at 57%. The high­est in­crease in meat-con­sump­tion over the past decade has been among the other back­ward classes (ex­clud­ing Mus­lims). The share of meat-eaters among OBCS has risen 3 per­cent­age points over the past decade to 68% in 2015-16.

Ar­jun Srini­vas is a re­cip­i­ent of the Mint-hin­dus­tan Times-howin­di­alives Data Fel­low­ship 2018.

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