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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Surcharge on vegetarianism

If you are an Indian and a non-vegetarian, you should probably stop reading now, because I am going to write about you.

India is a vegetarian’s paradise. It is perhaps only country in the world where vegetarianism is culturally and religiously ingrained, unlike other countries where it is outcome of personal choice usually later in life. Those not familiar with Indian history of vegetarianism often find surviving on meatless diet impossible and it is not uncommon to find doctors in western countries proscribing pure vegetarian diet for pregnant women, a notion amusing at the least. Inclination to meat eating is growing in India alongside average affluence of urban generation. Religious apathy, consumerism and emphasis on instant gratification probably also have something to do there. That said, about one-third of Indian population remains lacto-vegetarian and no food service provider can ignore them. In an interesting cross-cultural business mishap story, when KFC tried to position itself as pure non-vegetarian restaurant, it saw its sales low and stagnant. That even one vegetarian person in the group of people can veto a going to KFC for eat-out was the reason behind this otherwise successful chain not taking off in India. They ultimately introduced limited set of vegetarian options to reduce the barrier to entry.

Eating out remains a group and social activity in India and in a group of people there are bound to be few vegetarians. Vegetarians almost always suffer small economical loss every time they go on group lunches or dinners. This is because (1) meat always costs more than vegetables in Indian menu, and (2) group usually splits the bill equally. Thus, vegetarians always subsidize their non-vegetarian brethren. While difference can be substantial within single bill itself, none speaks lest he be cast ‘cheapskate’ by others. This difference compounds over life and ends up being surcharge on being friendly to animals. Group that benefits from this subsidy will naturally not protest against it — not necessarily intentionally but possibly because thought never occurred to them — though it is surprising that no non-vegetarian has even raised an issue or questioned this practice even once in my twenty five years of experience involving numerous such meals. On the other hand, few vegetarians have confessed silently this systematic bias to me occasionally.

It is not that I want accounting done to minute detail but elephant in the room is worth acknowledging. Of course, writing about this might makes me ‘cheapskate’ to others but then, truth will have those it hurts trying to mock or curb it.

Edit 30/04/2010: As some commentators point out, same surcharge applies in case of alcohol consumption as well.


Ashish Gupta said...

via Google Buzz:

Chetan Bhandari: i m agree to u. n i m spreading this in my buzz too


via Facebook:

Amit Virmani
It's also about fairness.

Charisma Choudhury
People who avoid alcohol (by choice or for religious reasons) very often have the same experience while eating out ... however, in this case the difference is generally much higher and in occasional cases I had the privilege of getting exempted from the surcharge...that is a 'considerate' person in the group (who has ordered a drink) had noticed the difference and split the drink bills and food bills separately ..

Vinod Vaikuntanathan
Interesting post! I more or less agree with your point on fairness, but on the other points: first, I find that people who give up meat after having been non-vegetarians for their whole life much more admirable than people who have been vegetarians all their life (they have some deeper reason for converting as opposed to us, where the only reason ... See Moreis that "my parents brought me up that way". that's a pretty lame reason). Second, there is a rational reason why the west dislikes vegetarian food, in general (which is not to say that I endorse the view). The reason being that the only vegetarian food they know how to make is usually crappy, and that is actually a compliment.

Mayank Kumar
agree with you here Ashish!

@vinod.... I don't know all the 'deeper' reasons ppl have for forsaking meat (of course, such deeper reasons can perhaps vanish as easily as they come!)....one is perhaps empathy for animal life.....but this argument is institutionally built-in into the vegetarian ethos of India! - we instinctively know why we are ... See Morereligiously and culturally veggie - its got to do with universal empathy....this 'deeper' reason is deeply ingrained in many places in our culture - thats one reason vegetarianism still holds in India against all the counter-trends which Ashish has mentioned.....
the other deeper reason why ppl forsake meat can be related to climate change, food sustainability etc......that is also a genuine one.....my point is, other cultures go through a heavy meat consumption spree and then some ppl realize the drawbacks and then even fewer discard meat......so whats bad in such idea being culturally inherent - agreed that we simply learn/ingrain it from our parents, but it works and we instinctively know that it is based on the idea of holistic and universal empathy, not just our own personal good......

Amit Virmani
Well said, Mayank. The outcome is the same - whether a person does it after seeing (and realizing) how effed up the meat industry is, or does it because it was so in the family.

Ashish Gupta
@Vinod & others: I agree in general that one who makes conscious choice deserves accolades but "brought up by parents" vegetarians don't have a choice and hence cannot be considered inferior for not doing what they cannot. Given the trend of starting meat eating in college these days, those who continue to remain vegetarian also deserve similar ... See Morepraise (not that that is consideration in decision).

I had a vegetarian friend who stopped consuming milk in US when he saw despicable way milk is milked from cows. He is the one who deserves real praise from me.

@Charisma: Good point about alcohol. In line with argument.

Ashish Gupta said...

via Google Buzz:

Shadab Khan
mwahahaha, chal be Mags, we'll have a buffet at Taj ...(veg and non-veg buffets are priced almost the same at high end hotels - whereas we all know that the cost wise both are miles apart: nonveg considerably more)

So its not just in the group situation, but otherwise also at "fine dining" the veg ppl suffer. oops,. I forgot, the same may be said by non-drinker to the alcohol drinker too.
When you split the bill, the drinks are not separately paid by boozers.

And we all know that booze is considerably more expensive than Tea or Soft drinks (again keeping "fine dining" in context.

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