Guest Post by Dr ARUN R, ASHRAF MOHAMMED, SEJAL PARIKH
The Madhya Pradesh government’s recent decision to continue avoiding eggs in children’s mid-day meal schemes sparked off heated debates in newspapers, social media and the television. There are several facets to the inclusion of eggs in mid-day meal schemes. This article examines those, and sheds light on facts and perspectives ignored by most parties involved in these debates.
Opponents of the government decision have rightly pointed out the resistance to certain food options for the midday meals scheme in schools is largely due to caste oppression and class privilege. In India, diet has indeed been used, historically and now, as a tool in oppressing dis-privileged caste and minority-religion groups. These groups comprise a huge chunk of India’s impoverished people who must get all the government support possible for meeting their dietary and other needs. Interestingly, governments which oppose eggs on the basis that they are not vegetarian do not have any problem with dairy, when dairy also involves the killing of spent cows and male calves (apart from the forced impregnation of cows every year). While we must acknowledge and oppose these forms of bigotry steadfastly, the way we do it should be such that we don’t uphold one good cause at the expense of another.
Fighting one form of oppression with another
There is another oppressive dynamic at work here. The implications of some of our food involve another constituency of vulnerable victims, the species-based “others”. Food is a personal choice only so long as it doesn’t involve any agony of innocent sentient beings (which is why we would avoid and oppose food that involves child or human slave labour). Hence, recommending eggs and other animal products – and consuming them personally – is ethically untenable, since it amounts to oppressing egg-laying hens and other innocent nonhuman animals. We are confident that, with an open mind, we can propose nutritious, viable, cheaper, safer and familiar alternatives to eggs that are not motivated by hypocritical, caste-based discrimination and instead by a morally consistent rationale which is just with respect to all sentient beings.
Non-human animals are sentient individuals like us – they can feel pain, joy, fear, love, distress, companionship and a variety of other emotions. Yet, we turn them into commodities, take away their freedom and separate families, all for our greed. Of all the animals that needlessly suffer at our hands, animals raised for food (including meat, dairy, fish and eggs) form the largest group – the UN estimates that more than 60 billion land animals (and countless sea animals) are bred and killed for food every year.
Egg production torments and kills male baby chicks and hens
Many people are not aware that, just like meat (or dairy), eggs give rise to acute misery and brutal killing. Most hens raised for eggs are confined to spend almost all of their lifetimes inside stacked cages in stinking, unhygienic compounds, and a hen typically gets an area of an A4 sized paper. To reduce the losses caused by the stressed birds’ pecking, they are de-beaked (i.e., their beaks are chopped off with a hot blade without anaesthesia) at a very tender age. When these hens are no more ‘economically viable’ for egg production, they are butchered barbarically in full view of their terrified fellow victims. The egg hatcheries brutally grind all male baby chicks to death, most of whom are just a day old, since they cannot lay eggs and do not grow fast enough to be raised viably for meat.
Even the so-called ‘free-range’ farms kill male baby chicks as well as ‘spent’ hens, because raising them would cause monetary losses. They also require more resources (including land, food and water), and consequently, are several times more expensive.
Why is it morally excusable to enslave, harm or kill hens and other non-human animals when we know that they want to live and be free? The exploitation of sentient beings on the arbitrary and discriminatory basis of their species, referred to as speciesism, is fundamentally similar to sexism, casteism and other injustices. To quote Richard Ryder, a renowned psychologist, speciesism is “based upon morally irrelevant physical differences”. “Our concern for the pain and distress of others should be extended to any “painient” – pain-feeling – being regardless of his or her sex, class, race, religion, nationality or species.”, he writes.
Animal rights are NOT at odds with the right to nutrition
Does taking an ethical stance against speciesism mean that we scuttle poor children’s right to cheap, nutritious food? The answer is an emphatic no; we point out nutritious, cheaper and safer plant based alternatives to eggs.
Table 1 compares eggs and beans (also called pulses, legumes or dals) on several attributes. We can clearly see that beans provide better nutrition at a reduced cost (the cost per gram of protein or kcal of energy from pulses is less than 1/3 of that of eggs) [1, 2, 3]. Sprouted beans are even more nutritious.
8:2 Wheat:Chana dal
Price (per kg)
Rs. 80 (Egg wt = 55g; Cost – Rs.4.4 per egg)
From Rs. 45 (horse gram – a staple in many Indian homes)
Rs. 35.4 (0.8 * 28 + 0.2 * 65)
Energy (kcal per kg)
Protein (per kg)
Cost per gram– Protein
From 20.45 paise
Cost per kcal of energy
From 1.4 paise
Fiber (per kg)
Heart Disease Risk
May increase risk
Table 1: Eggs vs Plant Based Staples – A Comparison
A combination of cereals and beans has been the staple across several parts of India (in North India, for instance, it is often roti/dal; in the south, it is rice/millet with sambar). It turns out that such a whole grains – beans combination provides all the essential amino acids and several other micro-nutrients (vitamins B1, B2, folic acid and also minerals including calcium, magnesium, zinc and iron, in addition to complex carbohydrates and dietary fiber) , and is also the most cost-effective way to meet calorific requirements, making them an attractive choice for tackling malnutrition.
We must note here that contrary to the popular perception, energy inadequacy is a major cause of malnutrition among Indian children and not protein inadequacy . Table 1 also shows that plant based staples are superior to eggs on many counts (millets offer even better benefits ). In addition, these plant based staples have longer shelf-life (simple preservatives like dried neem leaves will do) and are easier to handle than eggs, which often require refrigeration and are fragile.
Using eggs (or other animal products) to combat energy malnutrition is highly inefficient – plant based staples are several times cheaper (Table 1). Eggs (or other animal products) cannot replace vegetables and fruits which can complement whole grains and pulses as well – many locally available green leafy vegetables like moringa and agathi are highly nutritious and inexpensive. Most importantly, eggs and animal products lack complex carbohydrates, fiber, Vitamin C and other protective phytonutrients which are almost exclusively present only in plant based foods. Vitamin B12 that is often added to poultry feed (among many other vitamins and minerals that are present in eggs) [13, 14] to comply with the specification of poultry feed  can be directly supplemented in children’s food (for instance, in nutrimix powders made by women’s self-help groups, or in wheat flour, as in ) or in salt.
Eggs are not just unnecessary, they are fraught with substantive health issues. While there are studies that suggest that eggs aid human health or are not associated with significant health risks, there are also many studies published in reputed scientific journals that suggest that the consumption of eggs increases the risk of heart disease and cancer [7, 8, 9, 17]. It should be noted that eggs are very high in cholesterol, and just a single egg yolk, which also has about 44% of an eggs’ protein, has about 190 mg of cholesterol .
On the other hand, whole grains and pulses pose no such risks, and are safe to consume to meet energy requirements. They do not have cholesterol, and typically, less than 15% of energy in them comes from fat . In fact, the fiber and phytonutrients present in them offer protection against heart disease, diabetes and cancer ; they are also the staples used in several diabetes and heart-disease reversal studies published in reputed scientific journals [4, 5].
To summarise, using plant based staples is a win-win situation for all of us – children, hens whose lives are at stake, those who fight oppression, and for poor people (as a means of income):
They are nutritious, safer and more cost-effective means than eggs for ensuring nutrition of poor children, and offer strong protection against lifestyle diseases.
They encourage children to attend schools, and children develop healthy eating habits at a young age.
Traditional Indian foods are centered around them, and children like these familiar foods.
Their production does not involve oppression of sentient beings (human or non-human); On the contrary, egg production involves violent oppression of fellow sentient beings, and egg consumption means that children’s foundation is laid on cruelty; it denies children an opportunity to develop empathy for all classes of sentient beings (worse, it could suggest children that there is nothing wrong in oppressing certain ‘others’ – egg laying hens and other nonhumans).
Nutrimix powders (popularly known as ‘poor people’s horlicks’) made from sprouted cereals and pulses provide employment to poor people and women’s self-help groups (several women’s self-help groups in Tamil Nadu already produce and sell such powders).
Those privileged people fighting oppressive caste/religion/sex/sexuality based politics and bigotry should make the connection between different forms of oppression [10, 11, 12] – oppression of innocent sentient non-humans is principally very similar to other forms of oppression that they passionately fight – they cannot conveniently ignore or condone one form of oppression, while passionately arguing against other forms.
At the same time, we are fully sensitive to the predicament of the poor with respect to food and other lifestyle choices (most often, they do not have the luxury of choice in the first place) – hence this appeal to make individual and systemic changes is directed to the governments and the privileged. We request well-meaning activists to encourage governments to amend their policies to provide school children with (and promote) nutritious and safe plant based staples, and oppose the unethical and unsustainable industries that thrive on the misery and death of fellow sentient beings, and also put the health of the less privileged at risk.
[We are deeply grateful to Pulkit, Bindu, Pooja & Milesh for their insightful inputs and feedback on the article contents.]
 Nutritive Value of Indian Foods. Gopalan C, Rama Sastri BV, Balasubramanian SC, Narasinga Rao BS, Deosthale YG and Pant KC. National Institute of Nutrition, Hyderabad, India. 2007.
 Retail Prices in Kundalahalli, Bangalore (8 July 2015)
 A Way to Reverse CAD? C.B.Esselstyn Jr. et. al. The Journal of Family Practice. Vol. 63, No. 7. July 2014.
 A low-fat vegan diet improves glycemic control and cardiovascular risk factors in a randomized clinical trial in individuals with type 2 diabetes. ND Barnard et. al. Diabetes Care. Aug 2006
 Position of the American Dietetic Association: Vegetarian Diets. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. July 2009.
 Egg consumption and risk of cardiovascular diseases and diabetes: A meta-analysis. Li Y, Zhou C, Zhou X, Li L. Atherosclerosis. 2013. Aug; 229(2):524-30.
 Egg, red meat, and poultry intake and risk of lethal prostate cancer in the prostate-specific antigen-era: incidence and survival. Richman EL, Kenfield SA, Stampfer MJ, et al. Cancer Prev Res (Phila) 2011, 4:2110-2121.
 Dietary cholesterol and egg yolks: Not for patients at risk of vascular disease. J D Spence, DJA Jenkins, H Davignon. Canadian Journal of Cardiology. 2010 Nov; 26(9): e336–e339.
 Can the Treatment of Nonhuman Animals Be Compared to the Holocaust? David Sztybel. Ethics and the Environment 11 (Spring 2006): 97-132
 The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory. Carol J Adams. Continuum. 2000
 ‘Eternal Treblinka: Our treatment of Animals and The Holocaust.’ Charles Patterson.
 http://www.venkys.com/products/biotech/vitamin-premixes/ventribee-plus/ – Accessed on 2 July 2015
 http://www.leobiocare.com/company-profile.html. Accessed on 2 July 2015
 Indian Standards – Poultry Feeds Specification – Fifth Revision. Accessed from https://law.resource.org/pub/in/bis/S06/is.1374.2007.pdf on 2 July 2015
 Egg consumption and coronary artery calcification in asymptomatic men and women.Choi Y, Chang , Lee JE, et al. Atherosclerosis. 2015;241:305-312