Vegetarianism Vis-a-Vis Non-Vegetarianism in India
Vegetarianism is so widely practised in India that vegetarians almost appear to be in majority. Fact may not be so, but if you include nominally non- vegetarians, especially those who eat meat twice or thrice in a month, or those who are eggetarians, then may be vegetarians are in a majority. Vegetarians in this country occupy a high moral ground and frown upon someone who is otherwise.
Vegetarians consider themselves more civilised than their non-vegetarian counterparts; there are many instances where a marriage could not be solemnised because one of the sides was non-vegetarian.
Vegetarians wear their vegetarianism on the sleeve. Though undeclared, vegetarianism is a creed that is equivalent to a religion. Jains and Vaishnavas have to be vegetarians because it is so ordained by their scriptures. They consider non- vegetarians unclean. It is not uncommon for vegetarian landlords to ask the prospective tenants their food preferences. Being a non-vegetarian can at times invite a sure rejection. Sometimes tenants have to turn closet non-vegetarian for the fear of being caught by the landlords. Occasionally the social contact between strict vegetarians and non-vegetarians is restricted to the minimum with the former studiously avoiding the latter. In a kind of counter contempt meat eaters chide their greens loving counterparts as herbivorous.
Most of the vegetarians in India are not the vegans as they are known abroad, who avoid anything of animal origin including honey and dairy products, gelatine and lanolin and avoid feathers, fur, leather etc.
In today’s society, however, it is nearly impossible to remain untouched by things of animal origin. Be it bone china crockery to lipstick, the gloss of which comes from the fish scales.
Years ago there was a big scandal when a businessman, who himself was a strict vegetarian, was caught for bringing in a shipload of tallow, which is a hard fat obtained from parts of the bodies of cattle, sheep, or horses, and used in foodstuffs or to make candles, leather dressing, soaps, and lubricants. He was accused of bringing in beef-tallow. Beef, as the people elsewhere should know, is a word that would cause revulsion in India. This word is almost never spoken in a polite conversation among the pious Hindus. Even hearing this word by chance can be revolting to them.
Recently a struggling toothpaste brand came up with a USP for selling its products in a market dominated by Colgate. The brand positioned itself as ‘purely vegetarian’ toothpaste, by implication meaning that the rest are using animal bones in their product. Soon enough every toothpaste brand-including the mighty Colgate had ‘100% vegetarian’ or ‘purely vegetarian’ written across their packs. Here even the major soaps have ‘made from vegetable oils only’ written across them.
When McDonalds came to India, even they had to sell ‘aloo’ (potato) burgers and pure veg fare to attract the majority of vegetarian clientele.