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Vegetarian Elite In India Say No To Eggs In School Lunches

Egg Free

The lowly egg is at the center of a battle simmering in India over religious and cultural taboos against some animal products.

This spring, the head minister of a state in central India rejected a plan to add eggs to lunches at state-run daycares and schools.

The idea was to address a protein deficiency for children in Madhya Pradesh, where the state figures indicate half of the kids are undernourished and underweight.

The minister, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, is an upper-caste Hindu man who recently became a vegetarian. In Madhya Pradesh, the politically powerful Jain minority community is strictly vegetarian, and has blocked previous attempted to add eggs to school lunches.

While many Hindus in India do not eat meat, millions more – including the poorest Hindus - do.

When Chouhan struck down the egg proposal, he told India's press that he would never allow eggs in school lunches, adding that "the human body is meant to consume vegetarian food, which has everything the human body requires."

Free Lunch

The free public school lunch program phased in over the last couple of decades in India has provided critical relief to an estimated 120 million children who do not get enough to eat at home.

This is the denial of a source of animal protein to lots of poor children, and I think it's frankly quite outrageous.

In 2001, the program became a national requirement following a court case.

The Midday Meal Scheme is also credited with boosting school attendance. Child-rights activists say that in some areas the introduction of eggs, a food too expensive for many families to afford, further increased attendance.

Hindu Nationalism

Observers say the recent egg ban is part of a rising tide of Hindu nationalism that has swept the country since the Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power last year.

Sumit Ganguly, a South Asia expert and director of the Center on American and Global Security at Indiana University, said Chouhan's decision to block eggs in school lunches is political.

"This is the denial of a source of animal protein to lots of poor children, and I think it's frankly quite outrageous," he said. "You know, if they were really serious about simply addressing the concerns of another minority, the Jains, and their aversion to any form of animal protein, what they could have said – look, Jain children do not have to partake of the eggs."

Officials in a neighboring state recently banned the possession and sale of beef, with penalties of up to five years in prison. In India, beef is cheaper than mutton or chicken.

Ganguly said these measures disproportionately affect Muslims, poor Hindus and other populations that do not share the ruling elite's taboos.

"It has nothing to do with notions of sustainability," he said, or concerns about industrial agriculture and the treatment of chickens, for example, "those, I think, are legitimate criticisms. Even though I'm not a vegetarian, I actually share those sentiments. But none of that was in play in this particular situation."

Read More:

  • India's Malnourished Children Hit By Food Politics As Eggs Rejected For School Lunches (Globe and Mail)
  • Egg War: Why India's Vegetarian Elite Are Accused Of Keeping Kids Hungry (NPR, The Salt)
  • Saving the Cows, Starving the Children (New York Times)

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