Human Development and other Holy Cows: Sajan Venniyoor


The press is full of the India Human Development Report 2011 released by the Centre recently, and Gujarat figures prominently in newspaper headlines for reasons Mr. Modi is unlikely to quote in self-congratulatory ads. As The Telegraph put in tortured prose, Gujarat has a ‘Gnawing record fasting Modi won’t flaunt‘.

Kerala once again topped the Human Development Index. One of the more charming images that accompanied the story is from Rediff, which showed a fairly archetypal Kerala landscape with paddy fields, coconut trees and a cow. No humans, though, developed or otherwise. It struck me, then, that part of Kerala’s high ranking in the health and nutrition stakes may come from its willingness to consume all three: rice, coconuts and the cow. And thereby hangs a tale.

According to the Human Development Report, “High incidence of malnutrition among children is found among poor states. However, Gujarat, with a relatively high per capita income, witnessed a higher incidence of child malnutrition.” This gave rural development minister Jairam Ramesh, who released the report along with Montek Singh Ahluwalia, the opportunity to take a dig atGujarat, an opposition ruled state.

“On nutrition, I am puzzled as to why a high rate of malnutrition continues to persist even in pockets of high economic growth,” he said.

This anomaly was also picked up by the media, with headlines like “Malnutrition mars Gujarat’s growth story” (Times of India), “Gujarat fares poorly on malnutrition levels” (, “Human Development Ind: Gujarat worst” (Indian Express) and so on, undoubtedly confirming Mr. Modi’s suspicion that the English language media is out to get him.

The US Congressional report applauding Gujarat as “perhaps India’s best example of effective governance and impressive development” is now just a footnote.

Beyond some mild insinuations that both Mr. Jairam Ramesh and the Human Development Report were somehow targeting opposition ruled states — Karnataka and Jharkhand also came in for some criticism – the minister’s puzzlement at seeing high levels of malnutrition go hand-in-hand with high levels of growth inGujaratis not adequately addressed in news reports on HDI 2011.

This brings us back to the cow as food (Kerala) and the cow as friend (Gujarat).

Less than a month ago, Gujarat passed a Bill seeking a seven-year jail term for cow slaughter or even transporting the animal for that purpose, strengthening the existing Gujarat Animal Preservation Act which prohibits cow slaughter. The Bill was supported by the opposition Congress, suggesting that there is near-unanimous social and political consensus in Gujarat for protecting the cow.

Near unanimous, for the views of the Gujarati Muslim – nearly a tenth of the state’s population – were not recorded. Nor those of Dalits or Christians or those outside the mainstream Hindu community who may, unlike the nice shark of Finding Nemo, think of cows as food, not friends.

But Mr. Modi, famously vegetarian, no doubt has a similar narrative for Gujaratas the one put forth by Anna Hazare for Ralegan Siddhi: “We used to go to their [Dalit] area sometimes and sit in front of one house. People used to gather there, wondering how this high-caste person has come to their place. [W]e started telling them the reasons why people kept them at a distance. We said that the society condemns you because your living is dirty, your food habits are dirty, and your thinking is dirty. Therefore, you have to change. With such constant hammering, the Dalits were also made vegetarian.”

In Gujarat as in Karnataka, the ‘hammering’ could be quite literal.

A year ago, the Dalit writer and activist, Chandra Bhan Prasad asked the question which had so puzzled Mr Ramesh: why are rich Indians malnourished, too, especially rich Gujaratis? Mr Prasad observed that 44.6% children in ‘cash-surplus’Gujarat are malnourished, compared to 35% in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Commenting on the low levels of malnutrition in states where people enjoy a greater diversity of foods, especially fish, chicken and meat, Mr. Prasad noted that Gujarat has almost twice the level of malnutrition as Kerala (22.9%). In the south, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu fare better than Karnataka, which has the lowest intake of animal proteins – and highest level of malnutrition – among the southern states (see National Family Health Survey [NFHS-3], 2005-06). Not only do the women of Gujarat have some of the lowest consumption of fish, chicken and meat in India (12.4%) they also suffer significantly higher levels of severe anaemia (2.6%) than the national average of 1.8%.

Even without food inflation running at 10.6%, it probably costs more to achieve a balanced vegetarian diet than a non-vegetarian one, especially one that includes beef or pork. Beef costs much less than chicken or mutton in India, and is the “preferred source of first-class protein for the poor”, as Praful Bidwai and others have pointed out. It’s not merely for reasons of taste and habit that the poor, who are famously expected to live on Rs.32 a day, eat beef. Ralegan Siddhi’s Dalits, newly converted to vegetarianism, undoubtedly pay a very high price for giving up their supposedly impure but affordable and healthy food habits.

When push comes to shove, the religious right tends to position the ban on cow slaughter as an environmental and animal rights issue. But singling out the cow, as Bidwai says, is plainly duplicitous, for the law should then extend right across the animal kingdom, “to hundreds of animals and birds that are maltreated and vulnerable to abuse”. (This is a double-edged argument to make, as the then Mizoram chief minister Zoramthanga warned: “If a bill banning cow slaughter is passed, it could set the ball rolling for efforts to ban the slaughter of pigs.”)

Gujarat is rightly under fire for its children starving in the midst of plenty, but food habits do not change in a hurry, even if they are a greater cause for malnutrition than poverty. But the extraordinary taboos on all kinds of food – both animal and vegetable – that is prevalent in the state could make it that much more difficult to give Gujarat’s children a decent meal.

That, and the 10.6% food inflation.

39 thoughts on “Human Development and other Holy Cows: Sajan Venniyoor”

  1. I think we need to be careful here. Firstly, we need a detailed statistical analysis to prove that it’s because of vegetarianism that people are not getting the required nutrition. The evidence provided may not be enough necessarily. Also, I am not against people eating chicken, meat or egg. Regarding beef, I feel at least its nutritional content should have been mentioned. Finally, since we talk about climate change, one must think, research and analyze whether it is better to use land for growing crops and consuming them directly or feeding them to animals, and then consuming those animals for our diet which would give us reduced energy compared to consuming the crop products directly, and also possibly reduced amount of nutrition. Both need to be looked at before coming to such conclusions. Also vegetarian food may also involve food which may not be taken by many people like onion, which is very beneficial to health. We need to have a statistical analysis and not just opinionated articles for a rational debate.


    1. Can you provide any reputable sources for your claim regarding the link between climate change and meat?

      The only link I could find through searching was to a recommendation by the UN Panel on Climate Change, but the person who was the head of the panel was a scientist named Rajendra Pachauri, who has admitted to being a Hindu in the past.

      How convenient is it that a Hindu, probably of an upper-caste, is using his brief period of scientific fame to criticize meat eating?


      1. An ad-hominem attack. But surely, you must know Science does not work that way. No claims are accepted if there’s no evidence to back it up. His being a Hindu is immaterial.
        I agree with Mr. Iyer that a detailed and thorough analysis should be done before establishing a causal link between vegetarianism and meat eating. Also, I highly doubt that statement that vegetarian food is expensive compared to non-vegetarian food.


      2. Livestock bred for meat has one of the biggest carbon footprints among all food production sources. You are free to look up non-IPCC sources if you like!


    2. Not all animal fodder has separate land dedicated for its growth. By- products of crops grown for human consumption and products manufactured for human use are often used for animal feed. Hay, oilcake, poultry feed from fish and discarded grain and bran, free range animals and birds all these don’t have dedicated land and energy use.


  2. A friend would claim that it’s actually healthier to eat beef in India than chicken. Most chickens are raised in horrible conditions while most cattle are basically free-range by default.


    1. You are right Squinkly.. This is because there’s is no Beef industry as such in India unlike the west. On the other hand, Chicken is raised in the poultry farms and most of these have hormones, anti-biotics injected.
      Cow, on the other hand, comes to the slaughter house from individuals or farms usually after their productive life is over. Also, they are usually left for themselves to feed (free-range) and hardly any anti-biotics or hormones injected to grow them, There’s also another advantage when you kill the old cows because it gets rid of an extra burden on the farmer who otherwise will have to keep this unproductive cow till the rest of its life. Banning cow slaughter will only discourage the rearing of cows for the purpose of milk because people would hesitate to feed an unproductive cow and will only try to get rid of it. This is what usually used to happen in Kerala. Most households, a decade or two ago, had cows and when their productive life is over, they are given to slaughter house. Being a vegetarian or non-vegitarian is a personal choice but banning cow slaughter is utter nonsense. Expect to see more cows on the streets…


  3. so what are you pitching for-that non veg is more affordable than veg for the poor majority.ridiculous indeed. but their lies a point -how come it happened . Converting lands for multi storeys, flats,etc,poor procurement and storage, apathy towards cultivation and agriculture ,poor irrigational facilities ,increased desertification, lack of commitment from authorities, politicians and people etc etc. These are grave problems that must be fixed at the earliest. But instead you are vying for more assault on animals. If some one wanted to be a non veg then be it but dont make belief non veg as the life bread for the poor with such absurd claims


  4. In the absence of analysis based on food habits, malnutrition and disease burdens it is better not to generalize like this.Today we need to look into increasing obesity in India, not just malnutrition.
    ‘It struck me, then, that part of Kerala’s high ranking in the health and nutrition stakes may come from its willingness to consume all three: rice, coconuts and the cow’.
    Has anyone done a detailed analysis to prove/conclude that beef has made significant contribution to health and nutrition .Tomorrow somebody may ‘correlate’ this with high suicide rates in Kerala or for that matter with increase in alcoholism there. Health outcomes are dependent on many factors, not just food intake.To overcome anemia it is possible to suggest to increase the intake of appropriate vegetarian food too than linking that with less in take of non vegetarian food.


  5. Human Development Report is not the final report on all development indicators or for that matter on the performance of a state. It has be to taken lots of pinches of salt :).


  6. We need analysis but of a different kind…you can smell caste and class in the food debate…advocating vegetarianism- Let me explain
    About protein…All sources of vegetarian proteins have problems…they are just “not close” to the proteins required by the human body (also called biological value, or BV)… Only 40-65% of these are utilized by the human body, (Vegetable proteins include the sacred dals, soya, etc). However animal proteins are efficiently utilized by man..because they come closest to the human body tissues (ie muscle, bone, organs, skin proteins etc). Egg and milk are the best with a BV of 100…beef, chicken, pork, snails, fish, insects, rabbits, deer, etc. are all excellent and much better than vegetarian proteins. The poor cannot afford these…except some organ meat and beef..and many others which were found in the forests have disappeared (like rabbits, deer etc). How can vegetarians propagate vegetarianism…when they get their good quality proteins from milk, infact they guzzle milk… (an animal protein with the best BV)….so who are they fooling? Are the Anna Hazares and Gujarati Modi type vegetarians willing to assure milk to poor households?

    About Calories
    You cannot feed a child enough calories if the child lives only on rice or roti, unless oil or ghee are added in sufficient quantities to provide calorie dense food. (1gm of oil/ghee contains 9kcals, 1gm of cooked rice provides 0.8kcals). Children cannot eat more than 250-300gm of food at one sitting. If a child has to eat 1200kcals necessary for a day only from cooked rice you can imagine …she/he will have to eat the whole day (1500 gm of cooked plain rice…to be eaten in 5-6 meals) Adding 10ml of oil to each rice meal brings down the number of meals and makes the food tasty…because 10ml or 2 teaspoons oil/ghee adds 90 kcals to each meal. So rice is necessary..but NOT ENOUGH to eradicate malnutrition.
    The diet of rich children with enough ghee makes a lot of sense, but what about the rest of India? Access to universal PDS will assure that the families have some money left to buy oil, eggs, beef, or vegetables for the child.
    It should not be surprising that children’s bodies do not respect the GDPs of Gujarat or any other vegetarian state.


    1. You acknowledge that milk has the best BV. Can preservation of milk production be a good enough reason then to ban cow slaughter?


  7. All sources of vegetarian proteins have problems…they are just “not close” to the proteins required by the human body (also called biological value, or BV)…

    According to Wikipedia (yes, I know not wholly reliable), the BV of whole soya bean is 96, which is higher than the cited non-vegetarian sources (chicken, egg, beef).

    I find the original post and many of the comments very silly. Let me explain.
    For starters, we are a very diverse country with people eating all sorts of things. Some eat rats. Some eat dogs. Some don’t eat beef, others don’t eat pork. Some vegetarians (like Jains) even restrict the vegetables they eat. And so on and so forth. There is no “objective” way of saying that one choice is better than another. What we eat is determined substantially by how we are raised and the culture in which we are raised. It is not difficult to imagine people who eat, say beef, but will balk at the idea of eating dog meat or rat meat. (I can well imagine a Britisher — dog being man’s best friend and all that — being horrified if offered dog meat.) According to this paper, the people of California are so horrified at the thought of eating horse meat or dog meat that they enacted a law forbidding restaurants in that state from serving them. If it is okay to be horrified at the thought of eating dog meat (say), then why is it strange that a person may not want to eat meat at all?

    I have nothing to say on what things are okay to eat. That decision is up to the individual. I was raised a vegetarian and have remained so. But I have a cousin who not only eats meat; he even eats rat meat and says that it is delicious. I do not consider my choice “superior” to that of my cousin. But undoubtedly, going by the comments here, there are people who consider their dietary choice the “best” according to some (arbitrary) criterion. This debate may be interesting (if tiresome) but is irrelevant from a policy viewpoint.

    From a policy viewpoint, saying that the only solution for malnutrition is for people to start eating meat is silly. We have to take people’s tastes as given and find a way of working with them. No doubt it would be nice if people were meat eaters but then it would also be nice if we didn’t have the 400 or so different languages in the country. But just as we have to deal with linguistic diversity, we also have to deal with dietary diversity.

    Are there ways of dealing with the problem? There are: for instance, adding supplements to wheat or rice that is supplied via the PDS. Apparently, this has already been done — in Gujarat, at that. This is the relevant part of the article in Indian Express:

    The social sector is not something that is politically sexy. By all accounts, elections are not won or lost due to improvements in the social sector. But here as well the Modi government came up with a simple yet powerful innovation. Many women and children in Gujarat (as in other states) are highly under-nourished. The Central government adopted the mid-day meal scheme in primary schools and implemented it at the all-India level. But the mid-day meal typically consists of nutrients rich in carbohydrates and to a lesser extent proteins. A large part of the under-nutrition in children is however due to the lack of micronutrients in their diet, and women and children not in the school-going age do not benefit from the mid-day meal.

    Consequently wheat flour supplied through the PDS is fortified with iron and folic acid. Moreover vitamins are mixed in edible oils (reportedly this costs merely three paise per kg of oil). As a result, reportedly, the number of women and children suffering from anaemia has reduced considerably in less than two years of the scheme’s operation, and reduced night blindness and other malnutrition-related diseases.

    Since this is the initiative of the Modi government, I should add that I don’t support the gentleman. The only thing that I want to note is that there are methods of dealing with malnutrition even taking into account the fact that our diversity makes this task more difficult.

    Finally, it is worth noting that the Sindh province of Pakistan is also pretty badly affected by malnutrition. This is just to reiterate what Rakesh noted above: we need a proper statistical analysis to find the causes of malnutrition.


    1. Excellent points Suresh. Only thing I would like to add is that Kerala is famous for its low levels of illiteracy. Perhaps that has something to do with “low” malnutrition? 20+% still is too high, but that perhaps explains getting the right nutrition is quite difficult in these times of processed junk foods. It is just plain ridiculous to say that vegetarians can not get enough proteins.


  8. Dr.Veena is taking an anti-vegetarian position although she does not state that directly.
    Animals like deer,rabbit and birds cannot be hunted to extinction to meet the needs of humans. Some body should tell her a few things about the need for biodiversity and the rights of animal species to exist. Fish stocks in the seas have declined on account of over fishing. So non-vegetarianism comes with a price, a price paid dearly by other species when humans hunt them excessively to meet the food needs of humanism and with environmental degradation also in cases like hog farms where pollution is an issue. Perhaps someone should suggest Dr.Veena to read Carol Adam’s work on feminism and meat. Feminists have
    debated such issues including vivisection and humans’ attitude towards non-human species.There is no vegetarian state as such and the recent Act is too recent to have had any impact. Rich too may have wrong ideas about nutrition and may need some education in that. Normally rice is consumed with side dishes or is mixed and eaten with some other dishes including dhal. So it is not always just rice and oil/ghee. Rice is also mixed with
    curd/butter milk and consumed. So there are many ways of meeting the calorie and protein needs of a child. There are vegans who don’t take milk and still healthy because there are
    substitutes like soya.
    ‘Are the Anna Hazares and Gujarati Modi type vegetarians willing to assure milk to poor households?’
    It may be possible, or that matter instead of milk government can give soya flour and oil
    as part of PDS. If the issue is to reduce malnutrition then the solutions can be many ranging from subsidizing food to educating people about food and the need for a balanced diet.
    The whole post stems from hatred against Modi and this is quite clear . Any day I would
    prefer bollywood gossip in big media to this silly piece which Kafila promotes by giving space. Gujarat may be doing well in terms of some indicators, not so well in terms of some
    other indicators and one has to look at the over all picture to evaluate a state than to pick one or two.
    Finally state’s interventions in banning some foods in the name of prevention of cow slaughter or in any other name are legal issues. They can be challenged legally without taking pro/anti-vegetarianism stand. In India vegetarians are not the majority and there is enormous diversity in food habits. There are many under utilized crops that can be harnessed and the nutritional value of some of them can be studied.


  9. The term non-vegetarian is also politically loaded ; there is no such human who rules out vegetables from the diet. The right words are people who eat normal diets, available in the geographies where they live and people who eat only vegetarian diets. So let us call the bluff of calling “vegetarian’ as the default status of humans. The taxonomy should be based on normal diets and vegetarian diets.

    Tradition has also sought to embed a great psychological component into creating gastronomic repression in humans. We have to study this to see how such repression is also connected to concepts of purity and exclusion and consequent violence between communities.


  10. Mr. Sajan, your ability for political satire is truly remarkable. I fell off my chair laughing.

    This is satire, right? because by suggesting that not eating beef contributes to malnutrition is so profoundly unscientific, that it has to be a joke. also, i think you missed out on egg, but hey, its satire so its ok.



  11. It is evident – if evidence was required – that food habits are not just a dietary issue in India, it is “politically loaded” as MC Dinakaran says. Also religiously loaded, with a liberal sprinkling of caste-bias.

    Far from dissing Mr. Modi, the National Family Health Survey that I quoted gives him an alibi by suggesting that malnutrition in Gujarat, as in some other states, is partly due to traditional food habits for which he is not personally responsible. (Or is he? Introducing tougher laws against cow slaughter is possibly not the best way to improve nutrition among the poor).

    While beef is not privileged in my original post, it is mentioned along with pork only to the degree that it is usually cheaper than fish, chicken and mutton. As Dr. Veena Shatrugna says, “beef, chicken, pork, snails, fish, insects, rabbits, deer, etc. are all excellent and much better than vegetarian proteins. The poor cannot afford these…except some organ meat and beef.”

    Eggs are an even more interesting gastro-political issue, perhaps one that needs a separate post. I’m glad Anand Philip brought it up. Eggs have very high nutritional value, as Dr. Shatrugna points out. Because of this and other good reasons – they are hygienic; cheaper; easier to store, cook and serve; harder to adulterate and don’t seem to have many of the taboos attached to meat – eggs were recommended for mid-day meal schemes (MDMS) by several progressive states. Tamil Nadu, for instance, which has a very good track record with the noon meal scheme, gives three or more eggs a week (bananas for vegetarians) to a reported 5.7 million school children. It can’t be entirely a coincidence that Tamil Nadu has lower malnutrition rates among children, and a lower incidence of anaemia, than most Indian states. Also higher school enrollment rates.

    But we have it on the authority of the municipal commissioner of Ahmedabad (DNA, 23 Oct) that, “[w]hile boiled eggs can be given to school children in Tamil Nadu as a part of the mid-day meal scheme, one can commit hara-kiri by suggesting the same for the schools in Gujarat and Rajasthan.” Gujarat has a very good MDMS, too, but in the place of eggs, Gujarat offers iron supplements to its kids, which is not quite the same thing. As an IIMA study in Ahmedabad (Deodhar, Satish et al. (2007)) noted, “In terms of calorific and nutritive intake, proportionate amounts of protein and iodine are not being provided through the meals”, which consisted of khichdi, sabzi and cooked rice.

    Among other states, Delhi had opposed the serving of eggs under the noon meal scheme (2003) with the leader of the opposition stating that “serving eggs was likely to hurt the religious sentiments of some parents. Besides, some health experts believe that consuming eggs may lead to heart ailments.” Madhya Pradesh, a state with nutrition statistics that apparently place it between Chad and Ethiopia, has said it will not allow eggs in mid-day meals but “would encourage vegetarian alternatives”. Karnataka, “bowing to pressure from some seers and politicians” announced that eggs would be dropped from the mid-day meals scheme for schoolchildren (2007). Milk, said the then Dy CM Yedyurappa who had objected to eggs, would be given instead.

    “Are the Anna Hazares and Gujarati Modi type vegetarians willing to assure milk to poor households?” asks Dr. Veena Shatrughna. Did Karnataka, after taking away their eggs, compensate its school children with liberal helpings of milk and fruit? Karnataka’s abysmal record in child nutrition – see Lawrence Liang’s report on child malnutrition in Karnataka (Kafila, 24 Oct) – suggests that they have yet to put their money where their children’s mouths are.


  12. Non-vegetarian diet is cheaper than vegetarian diet?

    Imagine all the people
    Sharing all the beasts
    You may say that I’m a dreamer
    But I’m not the only one
    There’s always Mr Sajan
    oh hu hu…….



  13. For sure, beef eaters have better levels of vitamin B 12 than vegetarians, which among other things, promotes bone health and prevents depression. There is almost no freely available vegetarian source of Vitamin B 12 (except something called brewer’s yeast, which is sold in some countries). One of the reasons that vegetarians all over the world today are so deficient in essential vitamins and minerals is because agricultural produce is irradiated, thereby destroying the insects and worms – rich sources of vitamins – that used to find their way into our tummies earlier. Haha, so funnily enough, a big source of nutrition in vegetarian food actually came from hidden insects and microbes – the Jains have a point when they cover their mouths to be more ‘truly’ vegetarian. Irradiation is thankfully still not used on animals, so animal sources of several essential protein and vitamins can be potentially more pure. All the comments above that take Sajan Venniyoor to be advocating beef in an absolute way are missing the point. He seems to be critiquing absolutist measures in fact, a la Modi; and asking us to keep food choices open for populations – a move that may allow different population groups with differential needs to experiment with their nutritional intakes in a world of rapidly shifting food habits. By upping the punishment for cow slaughter, Modi is taking away that choice. Clearly, Hindus are not opposed to commercially exploiting cows for human nutrition, taking precious cow milk away from newborn calves when ‘we’ need it. But they feel justified in opposing which parts of the cow may be exploited. Use the dung and urine and the milk, but not the meat. Yoke the cow to a human food chain all her life, but don’t kill her because we need ghee and milk and because some of our scriptures (not all) thin she’s holy. Oh yes, caste and class are everywhere in this debate.


    1. please check : the egg yolk is said to be rich in B12. Eggs can be good choice of nutrition also sea -fish for those its available. There is Nothing wrong in allowing cow slaughter but atleast we should ensure that they are ethicaly treated. Unlike the western states where atandard procedures are involved in killing the animals, here barbaric practices involing ‘Halal’ cut where the animal is blead to death should not be encouraged. No body has raised this point !!!!

      also the nutrition is also proportional overall prosperity of the society , countries such as afghanistan where meat is consumed in large numbers suffer from chronic malnutrition. So to address the problem cheap protein sources such as Eggs , Milk, Curd/Yogurt should be made available to the masses , clinging on to Beef does only the purpose of critiqing a la Modi


  14. By upping the punishment for cow slaughter…

    You can criticise that position — I do, certainly, and I am vegetarian — without bringing in nutrition. By bringing in nutrition, a whole set of extraneous issues are unnecessarily brought in. I look forward now to comments from infuriated vegetarians on the link between red meat and cancer etc. etc.

    At any rate, would legalizing cow slaughter (itself, a biased term) solve Gujarat’s malnutrition problem to any significant extent? I would suspect not. Note that according to the FAO, about 22% of India’s population was categorized as “undernourished” (percentage of the population whose dietary energy consumption is continuously below a minimum dietary energy requirement for maintaining a healthy life and carrying out light physical activity with an acceptable bodyweight for attained height.) The corresponding figure for Pakistan was 23%. Surely, if lack of meat eating explains malnutrition to a significant extent, then Pakistan ought to be much better off. So why isn’t it? Cue: I now look forward to idiotic comments on Islam, Taliban etc. etc.

    I can’t speak for others but my objection is to the linking of two distinct issues. One is whether in a secular state, the government ought to be bringing in such laws as forbidding cow slaughter. The other is malnutrition. There may be a link between the two but conceptually they are distinct. I don’t think any purpose is served by linking the two issues.


  15. The cow, dead or alive, is not the issue here. The central question is this: Why do high rates of malnutrition persist even in pockets of high economic growth?

    All those references to Pakistan, Afghanistan, the Sindh Province etc are red herrings. As in the case of Sub-Saharan Africa, where meat is no doubt eaten when available, do we need to ask why high rates of malnutrition exist in poor states? The answer is self-evident. Gujarat is a rich state with starving children. It’s an anomaly. Dietary preferences are a part of it, but states like Gujarat and Karnataka are, as Sunalini Kumar spells out, adopting absolutist measures against food choices. Choices that, as she says, “may allow different population groups with differential needs to experiment with their nutritional intakes in a world of rapidly shifting food habits.” Modi took away that choice, and Karnataka — by removing eggs from the Mid-Day Meal Scheme — took nutritious food right out of the mouths of little children.

    Rich people eat well and poor people eat poorly. But for rich people to eat poorly, that takes religion.


    1. The cow, dead or alive, is not the issue here.

      You were the one who brought it in, not me.

      Why do high rates of malnutrition persist even in pockets of high economic growth?

      There may be many contributing factors. Diet and diet restrictions may be one factor. But there may be others too.

      A simple point is that high growth does not imply uniform growth. There is considerable evidence that while the growth since 1993 has benefited some groups considerably, it has benefited other groups to a much lesser extent. The groups who have benefited the least are those who were, and continue to be, at the bottom: the Dalits and the Scheduled Tribes. In this context, it is worth noting that about 15% of Gujarat’s population are “tribal.” Another 7% are Dalits. About 28% are OBC. It would not be very surprising if malnutrition persists at least in these groups which together constitute 50% of the population, high growth notwithstanding. Whether this is or is not the case, I don’t know which is why one needs a proper statistical analysis. This was pointed by Rakesh in one of the first comments on this thread. But you just seem to ignore it.

      For you, I guess, the answer is “obvious.” Yes, indeed; when the answer is obvious, why bother with statistical analysis?

      Gujarat is a rich state with starving children. It’s an anomaly. Dietary preferences are a part of it, but states like Gujarat and Karnataka are, as Sunalini Kumar spells out, adopting absolutist measures against food choices.

      Firstly, malnutrition is not the same as starvation. Secondly, Gujarat’s “anomaly” seems to be shared by other high-growth states too. For instance, Tamil Nadu. This article on malnutrition in Tamil Nadu, written in 2009 notes:

      Despite several schemes, chronic malnutrition persists in Tamilnadu and this is very likely a major cause for continuing poor performance and high dropout rates of children in Tamilnadu’s government schools. Ironically, the state leads the country in nutritional interventions and has improved its standing in comparison to other states in the last two decades since the scaling up of nutrition schemes. Yet, nutritional status have only marginally improved and in some cases like the anaemia count going up, perplexing activists, policy researchers, and funding organisations.

      And thirdly — on Modi adopting absolutist measures on food choices — I will observe that I would oppose Narendra Modi even if the nutritional content of beef was zero. For me, that is irrelevant. I just don’t think that a government in a secular country should legislate on such issues.

      Finally, let me add that I feel — as strongly as you do — that malnutrition is a very serious issue and we have to tackle it. I oppose the fundamentalist, loony vegetarianism of the Maneka Gandhi or the Narendra Modi kind (and which some have exhibited in their comments here) but I also don’t take kindly to poorly argued pieces. And I don’t think further debate is going to be productive so I will leave you to have the last word. Thanks for engaging with me.


  16. “Rich people eat well and poor people eat poorly. But for rich people to eat poorly, that takes religion.”

    No. Vegetarian and even vegan diets can be perfectly healthy and nutritious, and for some people, even more so than diets that include meat. Bill Clinton, who was notorious for indulging his carnivorous tendencies during his presidency, recently adopted an entirely vegan diet on his doctor’s recommendation after two serious heart surgeries.

    There are compelling secular ethical and moral reasons for being a vegetarian or a vegan. I am an avowed atheist who abandoned meat-eating after reading Peter Singer’s seminal work on ethics as it relates to animals, Animal Liberation.


  17. The cow population is what it is, because the animal has been fed and bred at the cost of other heterotrophs that share the same low-entropy energy sequestered by photosynthesis. Surely, all parts of the cow, meat, dung, blood, entrails, horns, hoofs and hide, must be used efficiently by the breeders in order to lessen the environmental impact of such bovine abundance. The need of the hour is modern slaughterhouses.


  18. I am an atheist and vegetarian myself; have been for most of my life. On most days I find the idea of eating flesh repulsive, but if I were to imagine that this personal revulsion had to be shared by all, I would have to be a crazy fascist. Environmentally, the threat posed by mainstream agriculture is not that different from that posed by poultry and livestock. The problem is of mass production, transportation and consumption of an increasingly homogeneous diet for diverse populations. There is growing evidence to prove that consuming a cereal-rich, non-organically produced diet is bad not only for health but for the environment. Further, it is financially disastrous for poorer populations, given how sensitive non-local food is to inflation and scarcity. So the point is really about allowing populations to maintain traditional sources of protein and nutrition, while giving them a healthy range of non-traditional options too. In areas where meat is a staple and produced traditionally, vegetables and even milk can be frightfully expensive. By the way, in this past week’s inflation figures, inflation for vegetables was almost twice that of meat and eggs. I feel a little sorry for anybody here who missed the lighter notes in the article above, proving once again what a holy cow vegetarianism is in this country.


  19. I am so sad that people fight over which food is better. No one has right to tell eat veg or non-veg. I am vegetarian by choice, who can eat anything. What I felt is that no doubt non-veg food gives more nutrition per small amount but please see that behind that it take lot of land resources also. If you buy 1 kg beef it is after you feed cow lot of lot of lot grass on which you could have grown vegetables. Some people are so stupid that they just see one point and jump to conclusion. Please go and research properly. Do, we have land to properly feed animals so much large amount of grass/feed. Also, do we have proper managment to see that animls are not given bad treatment. The reason, I stop eating non veg is that the way they are treated at butcher factories (even in so called US ) than in INDIA they will be killed in a hell. Also, people will use many kind of hormones to grow them fast. Also, where you will dispose the carcase or the blood. Do you want to allow epidemic to start in India…

    Honey, we have to come with plan before just opening stupid mouth… (Indian problem, no offense).. Muslim says allow beef, Hindus says dont allow cow why don’t you eat pork.. In which both fights..

    It has been proven that even with vegetarian diet you can sustain better nourishment. Why not use Tofu (cheap and good source of protein) ?
    Why not use more ankurit legumes ?
    Use more fruits ?
    Use more nuts ?
    Decrease pizza /burger/snacks and blah blah…
    These days problem with kids is they don’t eat fruits ? Malnourished kids also come form rich family (even meat eater)..

    I have one request to the people before coming with any stupid conclusion please do proper research with facts (with taking correlation and other stuffs).

    If Indians started eating beef and other meats in large amount, please be prepare for SARS or mad cow disease or other kind of epidemic (because we simply su*Ks at management of waste and other issues). First, please improve that issues..
    Also, please don’t hurt someone religious right, because we don’t want any trouble. These so called intellectuals start some turbulunce in society (become famous by giving lecture outside India or in other states ) and poor person like us suffer (who travel in local trains).. I hate this kind of politics..


  20. ha ha .. some logic .. I thought such articles came only in some rabid left wing blogs/mags but kafila seems to trying to take over the mantle of giving space to any tom dick and harry to manufacture insight out of anything…but seriously guys.. there’s been so much authoritative research(much more than off handed linkages to malnutrition n vegetarianism put forth here) on how breeding livestock is much responsible for global warming..more than transportation and due to multiple reasons(deforestation, methane to name a couple) I am myself Non-Veg n not here to sell vegetarian diets or any such things.. but know this thing .. in bigger scheme of things when push comes to shove.. Non-Vegetarianism will lose’s really nothing to do with Religion…


    1. It is strange that when we talk about making sure that all poor children get animal protein, (this includes milk which is drunk in plenty by vegetarian children….and helps them put on height and muscle mass…), the debate shifts to global warming, deforestation, methane etc) Please look at our poor kids, underweight, stunted, and with bodies which are ALL FAT …They are thin fat babies because in the absence of quality food(Vegetables fruits, milk oil etc) and animal protein, the pure cereal feeds are converted to fat ….My plea was that any anlmal protein is good and the cheapest is beef, liver, maybe eggs…but if you want every kid to be a vegetarian.. assure them a good veg diet like milk, curd, buttermilk etc
      Poor children in India have been burdened with the task of saving the planet, and they must not desire illegitimate foods like meat eggs etc…because the country cant afford it…sorry the planet cannot afford it.

      About Modi’s iron fortified atta…it is sick…iron must come from food like liver, greens etc. because as added chemical it causes oxidative stress…but as part of food there are other
      vitamins and minerals which are protective.
      Modi would love to medicalize the whole country and solve the problem of anemia with his iron added to the atta.
      Wish it was that easy


  21. About Modi’s iron fortified atta…it is sick…iron must come from food like liver, greens etc. because as added chemical it causes oxidative stress…but as part of food there are other vitamins and minerals which are protective. Modi would love to medicalize the whole country and solve the problem of anemia with his iron added to the atta. Wish it was that easy.

    I have no intention of getting sucked into a debate for which I am ill-equipped but it appears that a whole host of countries are equally sick. This article, for instance says:

    From 2004 to 2007, the number of countries with documented national regulations for mandatory wheat-flour fortification increased from 33 to 54. Fifty of the 54 countries with mandatory fortification in 2007 required fortification with both iron and folic acid, two with folic acid but not iron, and two with iron but not folic acid. Twenty-four of those countries also mandated wheat-flour fortification with thiamin, riboflavin, and niacin; two with thiamin and riboflavin; and two with thiamin. The percentage of wheat flour processed in roller mills that was fortified increased from 18% in 2004 to 27% in 2007. Nearly 540 million additional persons, including 167 million additional women aged 15–60 years, had access to fortified wheat flour in 2007 compared with 2004, and the annual number of newborns whose mothers had access to fortified wheat flour during pregnancy increased by approximately 14 million. By region, the greatest increase in the percentage of wheat flour being fortified was in the Eastern Mediterranean Region: from 5% in 2004 to 44% in 2007. The portion of wheat flour being fortified increased from 90% to 97% in the Americas Region (the region with the highest percentage of wheat flour being fortified), from 26% to 31% in the African Region, from 16% to 21% in the South-East Asia Region, from 3% to 6% in the European Region, and from 2% to 4% in the Western Pacific Region.

    Even within India, other states have been doing it. For instance, Madhya Pradesh.

    As I said, I don’t know the nutrition aspect of the issue. I am just reporting what I found and I am keenly aware that there are nuances that I am very likely missing. That aside, surely we can all agree that we want all our children to get nutritious food. Children don’t make these decisions; it’s their parents. And parents have their preferences, for religious or other reasons. At least in a democratic society, we cannot dictate to parents. As inconvenient as it may be, we have to take their preferences as given and find ways of ensuring that our children are not malnourished.


  22. I totally don’t understand this: I am a non-vegetarian turned vegetarian, and my experience was always that even easily available non-veg food (chicken, mutton etc, which are not restricted by law) were a factor more expensive than anything vegetarian. So I am assuming that something like beef (which is even prohibited in many states) would be much much more expensive. How does it suddenly then become a more sustainable solution to malnutrition than solutions like fortification (which as Suresh points out, is far from being “sick” and is quite common in several places in India and abroad) and an emphasis on cheaper sources of proteins such as eggs and milk, especially the former?

    As for the article, I think it belongs squarely into either the class of “A Modest Proposal”, or in the class of required readings for high school kids on “How not to argue a case”. Although I’d like to believe the former is true, I am very much afraid the latter is more likely.


  23. I feel it is repeatedly used in India to make the dalits and the minorities as outcasts and make the cow a holy being. I would like to quote some lines from the site Philosophy in orkut, to talk about it.
    “i think vegetarianism is a way to show the social status of a group of
    people and isolate others, because most of the labourers are hard
    working in the sun and they cannot rely on a vegan diet like a person in
    the white collared job.”//
    ” there are states in india which decides on what food people should be eating. For example cow slaughter is banned in gujarath.”//
    ” this makes a villain of people who eat beef/steak. This is a basic
    principle of fascism. Allienate people on the basis of what ever you
    can. “//
    ” But that is another matter. It is quite true that Hinduism can adjust
    itself… can absorb many things. The beef-eating Hinduism (or strictly
    speaking Brahminism which is the proper name of Hinduism in its earlier
    stage) absorbed the non-violence theory of Buddhism and became a
    religion of vegetarianism. But there is one thing which Hinduism has
    never been able to do – namely to adjust itself to absorb the
    Untouchables or to remove the bar of Untouchability. – BR Ambedkar”
    “And yet, today we witness in India an episode that against this backdrop
    defies explanation. In Dulina, Jhajjar district, Haryana, two hours
    from the capital, New Delhi, five dalits were lynched by a mob on 15
    October. The dalits were reportedly sighted skinning a cow, but the
    local Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) rumour mill, in collusion with the
    police, spread the word that the dalits had slaughtered the cow (The
    Indian Express 17-18 October).
    Within three hours, a mob – of four to
    five thousand according to the police – gathered near the police
    station where the dalits were sheltered, pulled them out, burnt two of
    the them alive and lynched the other three with stones and sharp
    “in india vegetarianism is very much related to fascism and its our job to fight it.”


  24. The way chickens are raised in India is highly barbaric and that is the case in most parts of the world. But the way economically unproductive male chicks are “disposed” in India is probably the worst in the world.

    “Each day, across India, millions of male chicks are put to death, and in ways that would be unimaginable to most. In many instances, the rejected chicks are simply thrown live into incinerators. If that’s gruesome, in other cases, they are shoved live into gunny bags that are dunked into barrels full of poisonous chemicals.”

    The solution is to encourage more independent houses and apartment complexes to raise their own free range chickens and to encourage people to keep chickens as pets to produce good quality safe eggs.


  25. Very interesting to see the debate about general arguments. I am the one who said clearly in the first comment: please have a statistical analysis of the nutrition provided by beef versus other food items (both vegetarian and non-vegetarian) and then let us see what comes out. Of course, compare the price also and then say something. Instead, trust most human beings to fight on treating their views as generalities sometimes. That’s why most of the human race is lost in fighting out debates. Do some research (and there are many questions to be researched) and then put it here instead of slogging it out with generality-based statements. If you are interested in slogging, spend your energy in playing a game out on the ground. At least it’s a physical exercise and good way to strain yourself out rather than here. And that’s seriously much more creative rather than generating heat here. Right?


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