Meat, vitamin and the unpalatable politics of meals


When the Rajkot Municipal Corporation in Gujarat decided last month to ban the sale of meat within 100 meters of schools, public places and temples, Irfan Yunus Khan (name changed) faced a sudden loss of livelihood.

For almost 20 years, Yunus Khan sold egg dishes in Rajkot, making about 2,000 rupees a day. His shop was frequented by ordinary city dwellers, students, and office goers.

According to the municipal ordinance, he was forced to sell his handcart and take a job as an assistant in a production company. Here he earns 300 rupees a day.

Rajkot was the first of four parishes in Gujarat, including Vadodra, Bhavnagar, and then Ahmedabad, to issue verbal orders in November to remove meat and egg outlets from the public.

Gujarat State BJP President CR Patil clarified: “No such decision will be implemented as municipal companies that have attempted a ban have been informed to avoid such decisions.” The damage was done, however, and betrayed the government’s inclination. Many who closed their stalls in November, Yunus Khan said, were not returning to make a living. For many political observers, the move is not surprising. In 2017, in the midst of a hectic election campaign, the then Prime Minister Vijay Rupani declared that Gujarat would become a “vegetarian” state.

Also read: Yogi Adityanath bans the sale of meat on the birthdays of “great people”

He made the announcement despite the fact that, according to the 2014 Sample Baseline Survey, at least 40% of the population of this coastal state (including the politically numerous Koli community traditionally involved in fishing) consume meat.

Shortly thereafter, the government passed the Gujarat Animal Protection Act (Amendment), which provides life imprisonment for transporting, selling, or storing beef – the toughest sentence of its kind in the country.

Stigmatization of eating habits

“Non-vegetarianism is only increasing,” says Satyanath, citing data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development which shows that Indians consumed a whopping six million tons of meat in 2020, up 16.67% from 2015.

R Mohanraj, the chairman of the Dalit Sangharsha Samithi (Bheem Vada) in Karnataka state, says people from marginalized communities are facing the heat of these decisions.

In February of that year, Karnataka became one of 23 states in the country to ban the consumption and sale of beef. “Christians, Muslims, and people from planned castes and planned tribes all eat beef. There are community-level traditions surrounding beef consumption. It not only violates the rights of individuals, but also the rights of these communities, ”he says.

Also read: The culture war against meat eaters

Shwetha K (name changed), a Bengaluru resident and practicing Christian, says the Karnataka beef ban has not only changed what is on the table, it has also increased prejudice that religious minorities regularly face.

“Looking for an apartment is already so difficult for us. The beef ban has only further stigmatized our eating habits. It makes homeowners think that we’re doing something illegal under our roof, ”she says.

Food and malnutrition

Those who advocate the advancement of the vegetarian ideological narrative ignore that India has an unsolved malnutrition problem despite the creation of the Integrated Child Development Program (ICDS) and lunch program.

The latest national family and health survey shows that 35.5% of children under the age of five are stunted and 32.1% are underweight. The most alarming finding is that the number of anemic children increased from 59% to 67% between 2016 and 2020.

“The children communicate that there is an ongoing malnutrition problem. Over three generations, a population reaches its maximum size based on its genetic potential. This is known as secular increase in height. This did not happen (in the country), the children stayed small, ”said Dr. Veena Shatrugna, former deputy director of the National Institute of Nutrition, Hyderabad. A study shows that the average height of Indians has decreased. For men between the ages of 15 and 20, it decreased by 1.10 cm between 1998 and 2015 and by 0.42 cm for women.

To solve the food crisis, educators and nutritionists advocate making eggs available for children. Compared to dal, eggs are a better source of protein and other vitamins (besides vitamin C). They are also easy to source and distribute.

Including eggs in lunch meals is an easy way to meet the nutritional needs of young children who have access to a high-grain diet both at home and at school.

But more than half of the country’s states prohibit the delivery of eggs to school children.

Eggs in schools

In Madhya Pradesh, where half the population consumes meat, the fight to keep eggs out of schools is fierce. In 2018, Kamal Nath’s government put forward a long-debated proposal to include eggs in lunch. Then, in opposition, BJP MLA Gopal Bharva claimed that feeding children eggs would lead them to grow into “cannibals”.

The proposed scheme should be implemented by April 2020, at which point the congressional government was not in power. By August of that year, the BJP government led by Shivraj Singh Chouhan had reversed the decision to have eggs for lunch and had chosen to offer milk.

Read also: Jain seers urges the government of Karnataka to abandon the plan to give up eggs to students

“Eggs should be imported,” says Sachin Jain, a member of the Right to Food Campaign in Bhopal, adding that they can be freely consumed.

“We have seen it have positive effects in states like Tamil Nadu and Odisha,” he says.

The pandemic has also raised several concerns that the nutritional needs of children are not being met. Grassroots reports suggest the situation is far worse than expected.

Jaya, mother of two from Anekal in Karnataka, says the family can hardly afford pulses, lentils or vegetables.

“We got rice from the public distribution system and sometimes ragi. Whatever little girl we had, we stretched it out, ”she says. While receiving food parcels from the school for a while, supplies stopped six months ago.

Dr. Sylvia Karpagam, a public health specialist in Bengaluru, says that if such hardships continue, the vitamin deficiency diseases that were historically controlled could return.

“We can see cases of night blindness, breathing problems, and keratomalacia due to vitamin A deficiency; Rickets due to calcium deficiency and poor concentration, slow brain development due to anemia, ”she says.

Karnataka’s case

The decision by the Karnataka government to offer eggs with lunch in seven districts with high levels of malnutrition and anemia – Bidar, Raichur, Kalaburagi, Yadgir, Koppal, Ballari and Vijayapura.

Karnataka is the last of the southern Indian states to include eggs in lunch. Fearful of the wrath of religious institutions and food suppliers, the state had delayed the introduction of nutritious foods over the years.

The Lingayat and Jain seers have already spoken out against the government’s decision and have turned to Prime Minister Basavaraj Bommai to stop the distribution of eggs in schools.

The director of a state school in Anekal was appalled by the condition of the children when they went back to school: “They had lost so much weight. It would be helpful if the government extended the program to our schools. It would benefit the children, ”she said.

Also read: A Model for Gujarat’s “Ban” on Meat Display

MLA Halappa Achar, the Minister for Women and Child Development in Karnataka, says the Ministry of Health is overseeing nutrition. “If there is a need in other districts, we will extend the program,” he says.

Dr. However, Karpagam says there is no effort to forestall the problem.

“We wait for the situation to get worse and then try to fix it afterwards, but child feeding doesn’t work that way. The consequences can be long-lasting and permanent, ”she says. A group of doctors, nutritionists, lawyers, activists and citizens recently wrote to the prime minister to extend the program to all state schools.

The letter reads: “What is a simple nutritional intervention for the children of the state gets caught up in so much ideological and economic jugglers who in recent years have denied many children a nutritious staple diet.”

The question now is whether the regulation will be extended to the rest of the state and how long that could take.

(Submissions by Satish Jha in Ahmedabad and Rakesh Dixit, Bhopal)