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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.
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