Published: 27th July 2019
Mid-Day Meal Row: Should schools remove onions from the menu?
Vegetarianism is the practice of abstaining from eating meat. Many people object to eating meat out of respect for sentient life
When I was a student, in the common dining hall of the hostel there were a number of notices on the walls, including, ‘You eat to live and not live to eat’. The authorities might have been thinking about their food budget and hinting at consuming moderate quantities of food or to at least avoid wasting it.
There are certain aspects of food that divide consumers into vegetarians and non-vegetarians. Vegetarianism is the practice of abstaining from eating meat. Many people object to eating meat out of respect for sentient life. A non-vegetarian refers to a person who is not a vegetarian — someone who consumes meat. Incidentally, the spread of non-vegetarianism in India might have occurred due to colonialism and I remember seeing in my youth the billboards of non-veg hotels carrying the words ‘Military Hotel’ — thereby implying that meat consumption was dominant in military canteens.
Incidentally, there is another category called ‘eggetarians’ and eggs have become a part of the mid-day meals in schools. Such meals are cooked within the school premises and are served to the students by anganwadi workers. But in urban areas, the ISKON-run NGO Akshaya Patra Foundation is a major player. It has been providing meals to 4.43 lakh students in Karnataka alone. But it claims that its religious beliefs contradict the government’s nutritional guidelines. It had refused to sign a memorandum following a directive by the state government to include onions and garlic in the food, based on recommendations from the State Food Commission.
The NGO had earlier refused to provide eggs with their meals, saying it can only provide a satvik diet — a diet based on Ayurveda and yoga literature. It said that it has a religious prerogative of “advocating a lacto-vegetarian diet, strictly avoiding meat, fish and eggs” and also considers onions and garlic in food as “lower modes of nature which inhibit spiritual advancement”.
On the other hand, parents, students and the society in general have asked for eggs to be included in the mid-day meals provided by Akshaya Patra. It has flouted a National Institute of Nutrition directive making eggs mandatory in mid-day meals.
The National Institute of Nutrition and Indian Academy of Pediatrics have recommended the consumption of at least three eggs per week for children. Akshaya Patra claims that eggs are ‘not permissible’ in the meal. Some argue that it also impinges on the food rights of the majority of children attending government schools who are often from marginalised communities and suffer from malnutrition.
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