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Vegetarianism in India - Arvind Narayanan's journal [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]

Vegetarianism in India [Mar. 1st, 2008|12:28 am]
Arvind Narayanan
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Many non-Indians assume that most, or at least the majority of Indians are vegetarian. This is far from true: the percentage of Indians who avoid all meat is rather small, between 20% and 30%. While that's still higher than any other country, it hardly fits the perception. That isn't the whole story, however, because of two additional factors.

First, Indians who avoid meat almost always do so for religious reasons. Consequently, most vegetarian Indians and some of the rest have moral hangups about meat that don't make sense from any sort of rational perspective. Restaurants, for instance, have a separate food processing pipeline for the vegetarian menu because meat is "impure." Plus, Hindus won't eat beef whether or not they are vegetarian, and Muslims pork.

Differences in culture almost always reflect in language, and this is something that always fascinates me. Indian English has the word "non-vegetarian" which is used frequently enough that is usually shortened to "non-veg." The need for an umbrella term that encompasses everything that is not vegetarian is uniquely Indian.

Second, even those Indians who do eat meat do so sparingly, largely for economic reaons. There is a significant difference between the prices of vegetarian and meat options on most restaurant menus. I think there are two reasons for this: land is very scarce, and the principles of industrial food production and distribution haven't really impacted India in a significant way.

So yeah, I guess there is some truth to calling India a "vegetarian country."