The image of India is that of a vegetarian nation, yet strikingly only 30% of the population is vegetarian. A thriving meat-eating culture exists in the country.
Chef Anurudh Khanna, Multi Property Executive Chef – The Westin Gurgaon, New Delhi and The Westin Sohna Resort and Spa, has seen vegetarianism and veganism grow abroad.
“Thanks to an abundance of scientific research, which has successfully demonstrated the health and environmental benefits of choosing a meat free diet, one can successfully aggregate that these concepts are on a global rise.
From prominent public figures, to large corporations and food chains, there is a growing support to encourage people to consciously choose plant-based foods.”
Chef Reetu Uday Kugaji, a culinary expert, mentor, food blogger, hospitality and food consultant, too puts this rise on rising consciousness, along with easy availability of vegan products.
Annu Paul, who owns Bandra’s Invincible Boudoir & Jardin, sees millennials behind this shift in the last three to four years. “Due to the rising trend in western counterparts, we have seen this trend rise in India as well mainly starting from celebrities, athletes, etc.”
But is India vegetarian? Chef Reetu calls it a myth. “The truth is millions of Indians, including Muslims and Christians, are non-vegetarians. Some 70 communities in Kerala, for example, prefer beef to the more expensive goat meat. Meat eating in India is a complex issue with many facets.”
Chef Anurudh too feels India has been forever mythologised with this tag. “Due to the diverse cultures and sub cultures there is a regional variation in vegetarianism.
This is highly governed by religious norms and beliefs existing in the ecosystem. There is also considerable variability within social groups. Apart from Jains and Hindu Brahmins, no other category is majority vegetarian.”
“With recent issues like the beef-ban we have seen a shift in the choices where people are turning vegetarian,” adds Annu. “However, in India it is definitely a slow shift as compared to other countries globally.”
Actor Gaurav Gera, a vegetarian, feels meat eaters do get affected by the country’s vegetarian prominence. “I think when I was younger, we had a lot more vegetarians. As I have grown older, I feel a lot of people are eating non-vegetarian food.”
One assumes vegetarians or vegans look down on meat eaters. Annu thinks it’s more personal choice. “As a restaurant owner sometimes, we do witness a group of friends where there are vegetarians and non-vegetarians and it is quite amicable where people are eating their choice of food.”
The concept is simple for Chef Anurudh who believes, “One should only eat foods that suit one, and give up on those which the body says a clear ‘no’ to.
Bashing meat eaters or someone who once in a while indulges in the intake of that is of no use. Food fads like vegetarians are smarter and live longer only add fuel to the fire.”
Chef Reetu does not feel meat eaters are bashed. “I am sure they know that everyone has their own right to choose. I am a pure vegetarian but have never looked down upon meat eaters as they are free to consume what their food choices are.”
For actress Pavleen Gujral, being a meat eater is the same as being a vegetarian. “It is better for the environment to be vegetarian but if one is a meat eater, I don’t think that person should be judged.”
Rohan Mankani, a foodie and Director, Monsoon Winds Wine & Food Events and Director, Raviraj Publicity Pvt Ltd, shares, “From the section of society I come from, earlier it was a rare thing, taboo and adventurous to be a non-vegetarian or meat eater.
Most had grandparents or parents who were strict vegetarians due to choice or religious reasons. But from there to today, things have changed. A meat eater is as common as a vegetarian or a vegan. A meat eater is spoilt for choice today.”
Celebrity anchor, live host and actor Sonam C Chhabra thinks our country’s complex food and dietary rules means changing tastes. “What was considered mediocre by some meat eaters in earlier times is today’s flavour of the day.”
It is quite right when Gaurav states that our non-veg food culture has grown in recent times, maybe due to economy. “They can afford this. Or is it because it is so neatly and nicely packed in the malls and is easily available? Maybe that is why it has picked up in people’s food choices.”
Chef Anurudh laughingly adds, “Within my circle I have seen lately people consciously choose the vegetarian options on the menu. But then that same circle is often unable to resist Butter Chicken or Prawn Curry. So I feel a lot depends on the mood, palate and cuisine.”
Social media options, according to Gaurav, helps spread sympathy towards animals and affect people’s food choices. “I shared some PETA videos on my Facebook page.
Many commented that people like to eat it (non-veg food) but would not want to see the sufferings of the animals. There is a popular saying that if slaughterhouses were made of glass, there would be many more vegetarians.”
Vegetarian turned vegan Sonam does not want others to turn vegetarian due to her. “I do think, however, that it would be good for our planet if people thought more carefully about, not only where their food comes from, but also how it will destroy our environment.”
Rohan too feels no pressure. “But as a courtesy to certain places and people, I avoid eating non-veg where it is forbidden or not accepted.” Gaurav does like to make people feel embarrassed about their food choice.
“People should have a choice to make their own decisions. Slowly compassion towards animals is growing and so is the search for other choices.”
October 1, 2019 is World Vegetarian Day