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Policing food habits

Policing food habits
Highlights

Policing food habits. The controversy over beef refuses to die down as it is not just related to food habits. The underlying politics of polarisation keeps the issue live.

The controversy over beef refuses to die down as it is not just related to food habits. The underlying politics of polarisation keeps the issue live. It’s unfortunate that modern India instead of debating on issues such as skills, innovations which are need of the hour, is bogged down by medieval controversies like what one should or should not eat.

India is a diverse country with varied customs, traditions, cultural practices, festivals, and food preferences. Is it possible to regimentalise anyone to eat or not eat a particular form of food? A section of Indians did not start eating beef today. But, why is it being problematised now? Should animal justice be observed selectively? The new field marshals of food habits should answer these basic questions.

Demanding ban on beef and unilaterally imposing it on one side and celebrating meat based cuisines and beef festivals have derailed the debate. The issue is certainly not related to beef alone. If not beef, there would be similar polarisation on some other aspect. Therefore the, issue is the manifestation of conflict between those who celebrate and cherish India’s social and cultural diversity and those who unleash cultural totalitarianism.

Despite a strong argument that vegetarianism is a healthy food habit, majority of Indians consume meat in some form or the other. Vegetarian is seen synonymous with couple of upper castes whose food habits are also rapidly changing. This is precisely the reason why food policing is also seen as perpetuating caste hierarchy. A strict vegetarian cannot tolerate someone consuming even chicken or mutton.

Similarly someone who does not eat beef cannot obviously tolerate its consumption. But, the moot point is how to reconcile between the two. Someone can convince others through awareness. But, can anyone dictate food habits in a democratic nation. If so, Narendra Modi government would love to enact a law to ban beef eating and strictly enforce it with all the might at its disposal.

Empirical evidence suggests that meat consumption rises with growing economic prosperity. According to the estimates of Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations (2014 study), the per capita consumption of meat in India increased from 3.7 kg per year in 1980 to 5.1 kg per year in 2005. This was the time when annual economic growth rate rose from little over 5 percent to about 8 percent.

On the contrary, the global average per capita meat consumption is 41.2 kg per year. Should we retard the growth itself to discourage meat consumption? The FAO study estimates that meat consumption would increase with growing urbanisation, affluence and integration with global markets and society.

The debate over beef eating is not borne out of concern for live stock or worries over health implications. But, it’s more about politics of cultural homogenisation that receive fierce backlash from Indian social landscape marked by diversity of all kinds. Food hegemony cannot be allowed to threaten peace and tranquility and serve as fodder for politics of any kind.

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