is in fashion today.
Never mind whether it’s for
religious or health reasons
INDIAN EXPRESS FINANCIAL POST:
By SAIKAT NEOGI
Every time there is an Avian flu or a Mad Cow disease, vegetarians reaffirm
their faith in their choice and non-vegetarians consider revisiting their
preference—at least temporarily. The reasons vary from the religious to the
health to the humanitarian to the economic.
Take the case of Vidyanidhi Dalmia, chairman, Dalmia Continental Private
Limited, who is a recent convert to vegetarian food. A born vegetarian, he had
turned non- vegetarian under peer pressure. He recollects, “But eating non-veg
was always uncomfortable for me and the very thought of killing a living being
for consumption was abhorrent. And late last year I decided to turn vegetarian.”
Chetan Seth, chairman and managing director, Chemon group, is also a vegetarian
convert. Says he, “I was a carnivore and ate every kind of meat under the sun.
But after going through a couple of spiritual lessons, I decided to give up
non-vegetarian food.” Besides, he adds, the quality of meat in India is not very
good and can lead to diseases. Sometimes he takes eggs, though.
A non-vegetarian by birth, Raj Khosla, director, Shelters, turned a veggie when
he saw a “horrible” sight on the streets of Mumbai. “I was going for a meeting
and got struck in a traffic jam. Ahead of our car was an uncovered lorry
carrying slaughtered chickens and their blood was flowing on the street. Every
time the lorry used to brake, a splash of blood would hit our windscreen. It was
very detesting. It was then that I decided to quit non-vegetarian food.”
Mr Seth, Mr Dalmia and Mr Khosla are not apologetic vegetarians. And they say
that the switchover has not been difficult for them. “There are pressures from
friends to eat non-veg, but one has to have the will power to say a polite no,”
says Mr Dalmia. Mr Seth says that earlier it is used to be a problem finding
vegetarian food in Scandinavia countries and Russia, but now things are
gradually changing there, too.
A born vegetarian, Yogendra Kumar Modi, president, Ficci and chairman of YKM
Holdings, agrees, “A decade ago finding vegetarian food abroad was very
difficult. One had to survive on fruits and milk, but now things have changed
and one can get delicious Indian vegetarian meals abroad.”
They are not rare exceptions. Corporate world is full of vegetarians. A born
vegetarian, Govind Hari Singhania, director, J K Organisation, is a strong
vegetarian advocate. “Traditionally India has been a vegetarian country. Today,
we have surplus grains and pulses and vegetables are cheap. So what’s the point
of killing animals for human consumption.”
Adds Dilip Modi, CEO, Spice Communications, “There is a plethora of fruits and
vegetables available all over. So, being a part of the herbivorous food group
one can enjoy a variety of cuisine in every country. It is hardly a sacrifice to
be vegetarian like many may think and one can enjoy the vast variety of
vegetarian food, apart from the fact that it is more healthy.”
Besides, he explains, both Hindu and Buddhist philosophies encourage
vegetarianism. It is not a religious dictate, though.
Sita Ram Jindal, chairman and managing director, Jindal Aluminium Ltd, is a
strong votary of vegetarian diet. “Vegetarian diet keeps me fit and healthy and
international research has shown that life span of vegetarians is longer than
Similarly, Rajaram Jaipuria, chairman and managing director, Ginni Filaments
Ltd, feels that with increasing cases of animal diseases like Mad Cow and bird
flu people around the world are turning to vegetarian food. “Vegetarian diet
keeps one fresh and it’s been proved that it’s healthy and cheap.” He feels that
many people while socialising feel it is fashionable to eat non-veg. “That not
true and one can enjoy a host of delicious vegetarian dishes in parties,” he
"I decided to quit non-vegetarian food after seeing a horrible sight on the
streets of Mumbai. " Raj Khosla, Shelters
Jaswant Rai, former managing director, Usha Spinning, feels that vegetarian
youth when they go to college tend to try non-vegetarian food under the
influence of their friends. “Later in life they realise their mistake and switch
back to vegetarian food. It is encouraging to see that people from the West are
turning vegetarian and that is something which we should follow here.”
"Eating non-veg was always uncomfortable for me and the very thought of killing
for consumption was abhorrent. " Vidyanidhi Dalmia, Dalmia Continental Pvt Ltd
These are not misguided individuals. Dr Umesh Kapil, professor, department of
Gastroenterology & Human Nutrition, All India Institute of Medical Sciences,
says that the intake of animal protein, particularly beef and pork, has been
shown to be associated with high incidence of colon cancer.
Dr Kapil explains that high content of fibre in the vegetarian diet can prevent
constipation which is responsible for diseases like diverticulosis,
hiatus-hernia and varicose vein. Similarly, a vegetarian diet prevents one from
being exposed to zoonotic diseases which spread because inadequate examination
is done of animals before they are slaughtered.
Laxmi Narain Modi, secretary general, Vegetarian Society of Delhi, adds, “Vege-
tarian food is healthier, eco-friendly and is much cheaper compared to
non-vegetarian food.” A strict vegetarian himself, Mr Modi says awareness should
be created across all age group so that people eat healthy vegetarian food and
shun meat products. “Otherwise, more and more Indians will suffer from cancer,
obesity and heart diseases, which are very rampant in the West because of high
meat consumption,” says Mr Modi.
In fact, quite a few animal rights activists are active on the issue. Anuradha
Sawhney, chief functionary, People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)
India, says people here seem to think that non-vegetarian food is trendy. “But
the trend is gradually changing as we get lots of calls, emails and letters from
people who want to throw out meat from their diet and wipe out chicken from
Outlining the increasing trend of younger generation turning vegetarian Ambika
Shukla, trustee, People For Animals, says, “The younger generation today is more
health conscious and wants to live a disease free life and that is the reason
why they are increasingly turning veggie.” She adds that though there are no
figures in India on people who are turning veggie, but in Britain about 2,000
people turn veggie every week.
Of course, celebrity endorsements for vegetarianism are also catalysing the pro-veg
movement. Even young celebrities are also turning vegetarian. Mrs World 2001
Aditi Govitrikar, a doctor, feels that eating vegetarian food is the only way to
keep fit. “When you eat meat, you eat toxins and cholesterol-making fat.
Vegetarian food is nutritive enough and has all the necessary vitamins and
Film star John Abraham turned vegetarian when he realised that some animals
never see the sun in the farms. “They are kept in dark, crowded places, crammed
into cages which are so small that they can hardly turn around. In the
abattoirs, some animals are left to bleed to death, while others are hacked and
skinned while still alive. This is absolutely unethical,” says the star.
As if these reasons were not sufficient, there are even economic reasons. Says
Dr Umesh Kapil, “It has been estimated that the cost involved in the production
of animal foods is 6-10 times greater than that involved for vegetarian food.
Secondly, it is also estimated that it is possible to feed seven times as many
people on crops consumed directly than on crops first consumed by livestock and
then converted to meat, milk and eggs to be eaten by human beings.”
Of course, not everybody needs a reason. Take the case of Analjit Singh, founder
and chairman, Max India Limited, who turned vegetarian almost two decades ago.
“I was living in America and in the last two years of living there, had turned
half-vegetarian. However, I decided to go vegetarian the very day my first child
was born some 21 years ago. I do not believe this to be good or bad. It’s just a
personal preference.” Mr Singh occasionally eats fish and eggs. He explains,
“Fish is convenient and more acceptable. Eggs are an excellent source of
protein. Most importantly, I find it hard to kill and eat.”
But then non-vegetarians have their rationale, too.
Says Shyam Kumar, vice-president, Poultry Federation of India, “Eating white
meat is a healthy diet as compared to red meat and is high on protein. Also eggs
are an excellent source of protein and very cheap. And there is no scare of any
bird flu in India and people are eating meat here.” Mr Kumar adds that over the
years consumption of meat products has increased in India and we are even
exporting meat products.
The trend of vegetarianism is not simply a modern cult. It is a gastronomic
journey that the power honchos delight in and continue to seek vigour and