More Indians are eating more meat. Consumption patterns across the country have undergone a marked shift toward higher consumption of meat at the expense of the more traditional source of protein—pulses—according to a report released Monday by the National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO).
The shift, say some economists, is reflective of the overall upward trajectory of the Indian economy with benefits of accelerated growth beginning to spread and thus, alter food habits. For example, consumption of chicken in rural households rose from a low 0.02kg per month in 1993-94 to 0.05kg in 2004-05, an increase of 150% in just over a decade.
In urban households, it jumped sharply from 0.03kg to 0.085kg in the same period.
The number of households that said they ate chicken jumped from 9% of all urban households to 27%, while it rose from 7.5% to 19.6% in rural areas.
Meanwhile, more people dined on “higher-end” pulses in 2004-05 than they did in 1993-94 even as per capita consumption of pulses declined from 0.76kg in 1993-94 to 0.71kg in 2004-05 in rural areas, while it dropped from 0.86kg to 0.82kg in urban India.
“People are moving from their staples to higher-end pulses and meats in rural areas. This is a sign of the percolation of growth. I think the findings are very much in keeping with the income dynamics we have been seeing,” said Abheek Barua, chief economist at the ABN Amro Bank.
The eating patterns are part of the the Household Consumption of Various Goods and Services in India report, 2004-05. The survey is based on household consumption data from practically all of India, except some interior areas of Nagaland, Jammu & Kashmir, and the Andaman & Nicobar Islands. It was spread over 79,298 rural and 45,346 urban households, covering 7,999 villages and 4,602 urban blocks.
The survey also showed that in the same 11-year period, while consumption of milk increased in all households, the trends in per capita consumption were mixed, with a decline in rural areas and increase in urban India. By 2004-05, 71% of rural households said they drank milk, compared with 66% in 1993-94. Over the same period, in urban areas, milk was consumed in 85% homes as compared with 80% earlier.
Per capita milk consumption, however, has declined in rural areas from 3.94kg per month in 1993-94 to 3.87kg in 2004-05, while over the same period, it went up in urban areas from 4.89kg to 5.11kg.
This broad rise in intake of eggs, chicken and milk, say nutrition specialists and economists alike, validates the theory that the country’s income growth is not limited to urban centres, but is being distributed somewhat more widely.
“The change in consumption pattern for pulses may not directly indicate economic change, but if consumption of meat increases, that it is adefinite sign of economic change and globalization of food habits,” said nutritionist Ishi Khosla.
Fatty diets are “in” and clearly not only in the cities, Khosla suggests. Indeed, the survey reports that the per capita, or per person, rate of consumption of cooking oils has risen by as much as 30% in rural India and 18% in urban parts over 1993-2005. While overall consumption of cooking oils is up, it has declined in some categories, such as groundnut oil and vanaspati, or saturated vegetable oil.
A 2004 study on the impact of Asian food habits on the US commodity markets by the Federal Reserve Bank in Kansas predicted that while per capita consumption of poultry remains low compared with other meat eating countries, it is projected to grow at nearly 50% through 2014. Consumption of animal products accounted for only 8% of calories in Indian diets in 2001, the study said, noting that price remains “an important factor” for India’s consumers.
Consider Archana Rai, a stay-at-home mother of two. Her husband is a “reluctant non-vegetarian,” she says adding that chicken is their household’s favourite non-vegetarian meal because it fries more easily—and costs less.
“Mutton, at Rs180 a kg, costs nearly double (that of) chicken, which is now at Rs100 a kg. That’s why I’d rather cook chicken at home,” she says.
The International Livestock and Dairy Expo India, estimates that while India produced 1.7 million tonnes of poultry meat in 2004-05, making it the world’s fifth-largest producer, the poultry meat consumption is significantly smaller than the world’s per capita poultry meat consumption of 11kg a year. India is also the sixth-largest egg producer in the world, producing 40.4 billion eggs though it only consumes around 44 eggs per year per person, or just half of the world’s per capita egg consumption.
B. Soundarajan, managing director, Suguna Poultry Farms Ltd, says the consumption of eggs and chicken has been on the upswing because of the younger generation. “People below 30, in urban and rural parts, have been moving towards greater consumption of eggs and chicken because there is a renewed focus on non-vegetarianism among them,” he says.
Though India’s urban population is 40-50% of the country’s total population, urban India accounts for 65-70% of chicken and eggs consumed in the country. “As you know, we are urbanising very fast as a country,” says Soundarajan. “For a business like mine, that is, I admit, very good news.”