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Changing Food Habits: Fodder For Thought

India is a land of diversity-her myriad landscapes, varied tongues, resplendent festivals and multi-ethnicity reflect the culture of this ancient land. Indian cuisine, which// is as diverse and splendid as the colorful country, has gained connoisseurs, even among the rich and the renowned, across the globe. Since the pre-Christian era, the aroma of the famous Indian spices wafted far enough to attract traders, and eventually invaders, from distant lands.

It is widely believed that like ‘ahimsa’ or non-violence, the concept of vegetarianism is India’s contribution to the world. But is this land of the ‘holy cow’ a land of ‘grass-eaters’ as well? No, says an interesting national survey on the food habits of Indians, jointly carried out by ‘The Hindu’ and the CNN-IBN.

It has been revealed that in the land of Gautam Buddha and Mahatma Gandhi, the consumption of meat is nearly equal to, if not more than, anywhere else in the world. Although 31% of Indians are vegetarians, only 21%of Indian families believed in vegetarianism. The survey also revealed that cultural practices still held sway on the country’s food habits although changes are steadily creeping in. 55%of Brahmins are reported to be vegetarians and so are 12% of adivasis.

The majority of the Hindus consume meat, while 8% of the country’s Christian population abstains from it. Indian men are more likely to be non-vegetarians than women, and there are more meat consumers among the young and the middle-aged while comparatively, those above the age of 55 years go easy on their meat consumption.

Regional factors, such as locality, play a greater role in shaping the country’s food habits, than community or caste. The land-locked states such as Rajasthan, boasts of the maximum number of vegetarian families (63%) while in the coastal state of Kerala, only 2% of the families are vegetarians.

The majority of Indians love their ‘magic brew’, as 77% of In dians consumed tea or coffee everyday. Despite the sweltering heat, only 4% of Indians take to cold drinks on a regular basis, although it must be noted that these drinks are gaining popularity among the young.

The survey also revealed that alcohol consumption is quite popular among the middle-aged and is avid in communities where drinking is not a taboo.13% of the country’s population drink regularly. It is estimated that alcoholism, in our country, is here to stay unless appropriate measures are taken to bring it under control. The majority of the people surveyed support a government ban on alcohol.

India, being the land of extremes, is seeing a rising trend in childhood obesity producing a new breed of juvenile ‘jumbos’, while having its share of ‘tapeworms on diet’ in the form of the underprivileged among the dalits, the adivasis, the urban and the rural poor, who struggle for two square meals a day.

Some hard truths that have emerged from the survey should not be undermined. With 45% of Brahmins breaking the ground rules of their belief by consuming meat, and with ‘aggressive’ vegetarianism being used to coerce the ‘minority’, are we not becoming a land of the intolerant hypocrites? Is the proverbial Indian tolerance melting into a myth? Although a ban may help to curb the bane of alcoholism, it must be treated as an abominable social evil and dealt with accordingly.

Let us leave behind the days when dietary choices decided the destiny of the nation and look forward to a blazing tomorrow that is unblemished by inequality, thereby, saving our great nation from the brink of a civilzational collapse.
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