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Wednesday, February 7, 2018, 14:44 Hrs  [IST]

Food is essential for life; and for the Hospitality Industry. Home food, however, is seldom subjected to visual competitiveness. Americans yearn for Mom’s Apple Pie not because it looks more mouth-watering than any other apple pie, but because it was created by Mom. A professional kitchen cannot tap this visceral yearning. Its food has to be seen to be good to attract customers. This is what presentation is all about. So we have open kitchens, barbecues and the growing popularity of street food.

But the South Delhi Municipal Council does not want uncooked non-veg food to be seen by potential customers. One of their reasons is bizarre: it offends the ‘sentiments’ of a section of our people. Are you serious, SDMC? There are 4,635 distinct communities in our land, according to the Anthropological Survey of India. Are we going to respond to the sentiments of every one of them? Is that even possible? An enthusiastic citizen, interviewed by a TV Channel, claimed that “vegetarianism is part of our Indian culture.” He was right: it is. So, too, is eating field rats and one of our communities has been named after their favourite non-veg diet? A former central minister fled from Delhi because he yearned for fish. Another minister admitted, in a TV interaction, that like other tribal people in his region, he ate bovine flesh. So, is their culture not Indian or, to use the recently morphed meaning of a wonderful word, not nationalistic?

Since an attempt has been made to blow this up to an emotive issue, we shall bring the cold light of logic to bear on it and see if we can disperse the fog of hype and hysteria.

Are most Indians vegetarian?
No! According to a reported survey carried out by the Registrar General of India and released in 2016, over 70% of Indians are non-vegetarian. But then statistics can change with a change of guard. In an Orwellian version of double-speak, we can have notional statistics: not based on carefully researched figures but on career-enhancing, Alice-in-Wonderland, wishful thinking. So let’s do our own, logical, reality check.

Fishermen on our vast coastline, and our inland waters, are unlikely to be vegetarian. Most of our tribal people are not and this includes those of the North-East. Anyone who has visited a village market in that region will be surprised at the vast array of creeping, crawling, slithering, barking, crowing, squawking, hopping living ‘resources’ offered for sale. Christians, Muslims, Jews and Zoroastrians are non-vegetarians. Would they, all, fail the nationalistic test? And how about the Saraswat Brahmins? Would their fish-eating preferences put them outside the pale?

And is vegetarianism really part of our Ancient Cultural Heritage? According to the revered Bal Gangadhar Tilak, the Aryan tribes wandered for many generations across the steppes of Eurasia before they established Vedic dominance in parts of Northern India. They were neither farmers nor urban dwellers as the Dravidian people were. So what did they live on during their centuries of trudging behind their grazing herds? That’s obvious.

The suspicion troubling our enormous Hospitality Industry is that the kichidi tamasha on Delhi’s India Gate lawns was an attempt to project vegetarian food as the basic cuisine of India. It failed miserably. Now a second strike has been launched to brand non-vegetarian cuisine as anti-nationalistic. It, too, will fail. Next, we will probably see a bid to create a National Food Day pegged to a festival that is, normally, observed as a meatless day. This will then be touted as ‘proof’ that Indians are culturally vegetarian. However, though you can fool all the people some of the time, some of the people all the time, you cannot fool all the people all of the time.

Which brings us to the role of the Hospitality Industry. Your professional associations are powerful. You can see the writing on the wall. What are you doing about it? Your basic interests are likely to be ridden over roughshod while many of you smile, bow and garland, refusing to be outspoken about the clear and present danger of Vege-lantism!

The views expressed within this column are the opinion of the author, and may not necessarily be endorsed by the publication.

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