Vegetarianism is a trait which is usually associated with India. But, according to the recent statistics, only 30 percent of Indians above 15 years are vegetarians. This proves that Indians are ‘not so vegetarian’. Then why India is often dubbed as a ‘Vegetarian country’ .There are two main reasons for this notion. The first being, India has the highest proportion of vegetarian population in the world and the second; India has the lowest per capita meat consumption in the world.
According to a survey, meat consumption per person in 2009 in India is 4.4 kg, which is the lowest in 177 countries assessed.
India also has the highest proportion of vegetarians in the world. About 30% of the population is believed to be vegetarian. Proportion of vegetarians in other countries is significantly lower than India. For example, Australia (2%), China (4-5%), USA (2-3.4%), Japan (5%), Israel (8%), Sweden (10%) of their population is vegetarians
The concept of vegetarianism is quite different in India because majority of vegetarians are lacto-vegetarians .To grasp the concept of vegetarianism in India we need to understand the differences between Vegan, lacto vegetarian and lacto-ova-vegetarian. Vegan is someone who abstain the use of animal products in their diet. It includes meat, fish, poultry, egg, dairy products, honey or gelatin. Ethical vegans do not consume dairy because they state that their production causes the animal suffering or a premature death or abridges animal rights. Lacto vegetarians include vegetables and dairy products, but exclude eggs in their diet. A lacto-ova vegetarian include eggs into their diet but not meat.
In a country like India where religion and community plays a huge role in eating habits, vegetarianism is predominantly a function of inherited cultural practice rather than individual belief. Findings showed that around 60% of Brahmins are vegetarians where only around 12% of Adivasis are vegetarians.
Even within India there are states with high and low vegetarian populations. Telangana is ‘the most non-vegetarian state’ with 98.7% of its population being non vegetarian and Rajasthan is ‘the most vegetarian state ‘with 74.9% of its population being vegetarian.
When researched, some interesting trends were found in this data.
- Access to Sea and coastline: States with high non-vegetarian population like Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Karnataka, Orissa, West Bengal, Telangana (Part of undivided Andhra Pradesh) are all coastal states with easy access to sea food. While states with low non-vegetarian population like Rajasthan, Madhyapradesh, Punjab Uttarpradesh and Haryana are land locked.
- Brahmin population:
According to various surveys the Brahmin population in India accounts for about 5% of the total population. But their distribution is not uniform throughout the country. Brahmin population in states with high non-vegetarian population like Telangana, Andhrapradesh, Kerala and Tamil Nadu is less than 5%, whereas in states with low non-vegetarian population like Rajasthan, Madhyapradesh , Gujarat , Punjab, Haryana and Uttarpradesh is greater than 5%.Exception to this trend is West Bengal.
Vaishnavism is perhaps one of the largest tradition of Hinduism along with Shaivism, other being Shakta and Smarta traditions. The followers of Vaishnavism are strict vegetarians. States with high vegetarian population like Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhyapradesh and Gujarat have large number of vaishnavites, whereas states with high non-vegetarian population have low vaishnavite population.
- Jain population:
As per the 2001 census, there are only 4,451,753 jains in the 1.21 billion population of India; however, the influence of Jainism has been far greater the Indian population than these numbers suggest. Majority of jains reside in states with high vegetarian population like Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Madhyapradesh.
- Muslim population: Islam is a minority religion in India, with 14.2% of the country’s population or roughly 172 million people identifying as adherents (2011 census). But their distribution is not uniform throughout the nation. The states with low non vegetarian population, Madhyapradesh , Punjab , Rajasthan , Haryana and Gujarat all have significantly lower Muslim population, compared to West Bengal, Kerala , C.Andhrapradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand which have high non-vegetarian population.
- Lingayatism: It is a distinct Shaivite denomination practiced in India, with considerable influence in South India, especially in the state of Karnataka. Lingayats are predominantly vegetarian’s .Lingayats is Karnataka’s largest caste group, who are estimated to form around 17% of the population. This probably explains why Karnataka is the only South India state with significant vegetarian population.
- Milk consumption:
It is interesting that states with low non vegetarian population(Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan, Gujarat, UP etc) are the ones with highest average spending on milk and milk products and states with high non vegetarian population ( WB, Kerala, Orissa, TN, AP etc) have least average spending on milk.
- Influence of BJP:
Surprisingly, Influence of BJP in the states with low non vegetarian population like Rajasthan, Gujarat, Haryana, Punjab, Madhya pradesh , Maharashtra, Uttarpradesh is high. Whereas, in states like with high non-vegetarian population like Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Andhrapradesh, Kerala and West Bengal, it is struggling for a foothold.