According to the 2011 Indian national census, India’s population was over 1.2 billion people, making it the world’s second-most populous country, accounting for 17.50% of the global population. The term Indian refers to nationality rather than ethnicity or language in India; the Indian nationality is made up of dozens of regional ethnolinguistic groups that reflect the population’s rich and complex history. But did you know that India is not a vegetarian country?
The majority of Indians are actually meat-eaters, only about 20–30% of the population are vegetarians.
What are the Most Common Misconceptions and Stereotypes about Indian Food?
The most common misconception is that India is primarily a vegetarian country. That, however, is not the case. Previous non-serious estimates suggested that more than one-third of Indians consumed vegetarian food. According to three large-scale government surveys, between 23 and 37 percent of Indians are vegetarian. This isn’t particularly revelatory on its own.
However, new research by US-based anthropologist Balmurli Natrajan and India-based economist Suraj Jacob shows that even these estimates are inflated due to cultural and political pressures. As a result, people underreport eating meat, particularly beef, while overreporting to eating vegetarian food.
Considering all this, the researchers estimate that only about 20% of Indians are vegetarian, much lower than common claims and stereotypes suggest.
Hindus, who account for 80 percent of the Indian population, consume a lot of meat. Even among the privileged upper-caste Indians, only one-third are vegetarian.
According to government data, vegetarian households have higher income and consumption – they are more prosperous than meat-eating households. Meat is primarily consumed by the lower castes, Dalits, and tribespeople. (Source: BBC)
Food Migration Around India
Second, migration, according to the researchers, facilitates some of the stereotypes. As a result, when south Indians migrate to northern and central India, their food becomes synonymous with all south Indian cuisine. This also applies to north Indians who migrate to other parts of the country.
Finally, some stereotypes are perpetuated by outsiders. North Indians stereotype south Indians simply by meeting a few without considering the region’s diversity, and vice versa. According to the researchers, the foreign media is also complicit because it seeks to identify societies by a few essential characteristics.
The study also reveals differences in food habits between men and women. Women, for example, are more likely than men to identify as vegetarians. According to the researchers, this could be explained in part by the fact that more men eat outside their homes and with greater moral impunity than women, though eating out may not necessarily result in eating meat. Politics and patriarchy may have something to do with it.
In about 65 percent of the surveyed households, couples eat meat, while vegetarians make up only 20 percent. However, in 13% of the cases, the husband ate meat while the wife was a vegetarian. Only 3% of the time was the opposite true.
The majority of Indians consume some form of meat, primarily chicken and mutton, on a regular or irregular basis, and the majority do not practice vegetarianism. (Source: BBC)
Image from Pewsearch.Org