For long, India has been stereotyped as a land where majority of people are vegetarians. However, this popular perception may not hold true. If we go by some of the large-scale surveys on food habits of Indians, a whopping 70% of our population are estimated to be non-vegetarians.
US-based anthropologist Balmurli Natrajan and India-based economist Suraj Jacob compiled data from three large-scale surveys – NSSO, NFHS, IHDS- to understand the extent of overall vegetarianism in India, Times of India reported.
Prevalence of vegetarianism
The survey, published in Economic and Political Weekly, estimates show that between 23% and 37% of the population of India is vegetarian. The researchers pointed out that even this data could be inflated as people under report meat eating because of “cultural and political pressures”. Taking all this into account, researchers claimed only about 20% of Indians are actually vegetarian.
Prevalence of Beef eating
For some, India may come across as a beef-eschewing society but again this is far from true. According to government surveys, at least 7% of our population are beef-eaters, but there is evidence that the official data is “considerably under-reported due to social taboos surrounding beef-consumption.” Dr Natrajan and Dr Jacob put the figure at 15% – or about 18 crore people.
Where are the vegetarians in India
The six north-eastern states have less than 2% incidence of vegetarianism. Among states with at least two crore population, three have less than 5% (Assam, West Bengal and Kerala) while Haryana, Rajasthan and Punjab have incidence of over 75%. There is a clear pattern which shows states in India’s west and north have a relatively higher level of vegetarianism compared to states in the east and south.
Cultural dynamics and food habits
Cultural and political pressure of the region plays a key role in affecting the food habits of people. While both West Bengal and Punjab have large SC populations, the incidence of vegetarianism among SCs is 1% in Bengal as against 74% in Punjab. Likewise reported beef-eating among Muslims is over 50% in Assam, Bengal and Kerala. The incidence among Muslims is 7% in Rajasthan and 67% in West Bengal, and the incidence among SCs is close to zero in Rajasthan and 22% in (undivided) Andhra Pradesh.
- Indore: 49%
- Meerut: 36%
- Delhi: 30%
- Nagpur: 22%
- Mumbai: 18%
- Hyderabad: 11%
- Chennai: 6%
- Kolkata: 4%
(Average incidence of vegetarianism. Source: National Family Health Survey)
Among cities, Indore tops the chart with nearly half of the residents thought to be vegetarians. Delhi, which has a reputation for India’s butter chicken capital, is estimated to have 70% incidence of non-vegetarianism. While Kolkata, which is known for its love for meat, has the lowest incidence of vegetarians, BBC reported.
So, it is evidently clear that majority of Indians eat some form of meat- regularly or occasionally,
Given the vastly complex and multi-cultural society that India is, the stereotyping of food habits of people based on religion and caste happens as they are largely identified by a few essential characteristics or rather incomplete observation.