The politics of vegetarianism in India and the rise of mock meat
"Being a vegan in India is as hard as being a vegetarian in a fully-nonvegetarian Goan Christian family," said Trisha D'souza. We were discussing the rise of vegan culture in India, and how there were very few options available. "It's like I am willing to work towards saving the environment and changing my lifestyle. But I shouldn't have to compromise because of it." To come to think of it, it's true. Vegans don't have a lot of options in our country.
India is predominantly considered a vegetarian nation. But according to statistics, about 40 per cent of Indians are vegetarian, and no statistics are available for the number of vegans. Non-vegetarians, on the other hand, often joke how vegetarians barely have food options. And yet India is known to be a vegetarian country. But vegetarianism in India also has a political agenda to it.
Politics of vegetarianism in India
It isn't news that the Bharatiya Janata Party is an ardent supporter of vegetarianism. Consider examples of beef ban, and the subsequent lynching and violence that followed it. Or when in 2015, Madhya Pradesh government banned eggs from mid-day meals served in anganwadis due to alleged pressure from Jain groups. Also, the infamous tweet by the Ministry of health and family welfare, that grouped non-vegetarian food with junk food. The image implied that both -- junk food and meat -- cause obesity.
Political parties might not directly promote the country as a vegetarian nation. But instilling the idea, that consumption of meat is divergent behaviour, makes it a political agenda.
Apart from this, India gets the tag of being a vegetarian nation from its affluent class. According to sociological studies, these affiliations date back to the rise of Jainism, and the spread of Buddhist teachings. Following this, the higher class individuals changed their eating habits. Thus began the culture of India being a vegetarian nation. But, till date, most Indians (especially the those belonging to lower casts) continue to enjoy meat either at home or outside. According to a survey conducted by IndiaSpend, around 80 per cent of Indian men and 70 per cent of women consume meat weekly.
Government data also shows that vegetarian households have higher income and consumption and hence are more affluent than meat-eating households. Thus, creating the notion that most Indians are vegetarian.
But what is mock?
Meat alternatives aka meat analogues, meat substitutes, faux meat, or imitation meat- imitate the textural, aesthetic, and chemical characteristics of meat products. They are made from plants (plant-based) or artificially replicated in a lab (cell-based).
The rise of mock meat
In a politically driven country like ours, the acceptance for mock meat could be higher among vegetarian households, than those who prefer non-vegetarian foods.
Imagine a jackfruit biryani that tastes like chicken biryani or a pomfret fry made out of an eggplant.
Fast foods chains such as McDonald's and Burger King have started adapting to the trend and recently launched plant-based meat analogue burgers titled McPlant and Impossible Whooper. These new lines of burgers, were launched in collaboration with international giants Impossible Foods and Beyond Burgers. These meats claim to be eco-friendly, free of animal cruelty and healthier than regular meat.
The Bridge Chronicle looked in to understand if that is true.
Considering the number of calories alone, studies suggest that plant-based protein is healthier than animal-based meat. It is also expected to be healthier than regular meat as they are produced in a controlled manner to contain only protein, essential amino acids and vitamins. This also helps in reducing the number of saturated fats, and reducing the chances of animal-borne infections.
But in India, mock meat may go beyond just being a sustainable and an eco-friendly option to meat-eaters. Such alternatives can prove to be the more "culturally" accepted forms of meat that strike a balance between both worlds. This form of meat also aids vegans who can choose from a wide variety of options available.
The Bridge Chronicle tried talking to Genelia D'souza co-founder of Imagine meat to discuss the rise of mock meat culture. But, failed to get a response.
We also spoke to Mr Sairaj Dhond Founder & CEO of Wakao Foods, a Goa-based sustainable food brand. Talking about the rise in the awareness of mock meat in India, the founder said, "Mock Meat as a concept is fairly new to Indian consumers. The awareness for sustainable food and veganism is rising every single day. We have witnessed a change in the mindset of people. After the pandemic, people have shown willingness to explore alternative meat and understand its benefits. Consumers have consciously started opting for a healthier lifestyle and are seeking healthier alternatives."
"Right from consumers to the hospitality industry, there has been a major shift in perception towards healthier dietary choices. I aim to have the HoReCa segment to extend their menus and take pride in providing vegan options. I have seen non-vegetarians give Wakao Jack Meat a try, which gives me a sense of satisfaction and hope that there is growth when it comes to the mock meat industry in our country," said Dhond.
Supporting the argument of a "culturally" accepted form of meat, Mr Dhond says, "Mock Meat as an alternative meat option was long due in India. Going by our cultural & dietary choices, I am confident that we Indians will embrace the jackfruit meat option with open arms. Switching to mock meat and adapting veganism to one's lifestyle is a personal choice. It is more about self-realisation and a choice to opt for a healthier lifestyle."
Presenting a contrasting view, Mrs Shruti Tambe, Head of the Sociology department, Savirtibai Phule University Pune expressed her concerns over hunger as a global issue. She said it was necessary to pay attention to the affordability of daily food for the common man. Then the concept of mock meat can be discussed. In a country where people are struggling to provide for necessities, mock meat comes as a question too early to be answered."
Though mock meat can be a good option for most vegans and environment-conscious individuals, does it not reaffirm certain concepts about the nation? Never the less, only time will tell if mock meat can replace regular meat in the market.