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We live in times of dietary profiling. Never before has what you eat been so important. Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) boss Mohan Bhagwat has called for a countrywide beef ban, people have been lynched for transporting cattle and strict laws have been passed by some states against cow slaughter. But who are the beef-eaters? We must get to the meat of the matter.

The National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) data on ‘Household Consumption of Various Goods and Services in India’ for 2011-12 is a good place to start. It says 4% of rural households and 5% of urban households eat beef or buffalo meat. With so few people eating it, per capita beef/buffalo consumption in rural areas per month is 42 gm, while it’s 79 gm in urban India. In comparison, rural consumption per head of brinjal in 30 days is 428 gm, giving a brinjal to beef ratio of 10 to 1.

Our beef is not only with beef. Buffaloes too need our attention. But it’s not just about cattle. Attempts have been made to ban the selling of all meat during some festivals. Questions have been raised about the propriety of serving eggs in school mid-day meals. Several cities, declared “holy", have seen sales of meat, fish and eggs banned. The mayor of Hoshangabad, near Bhopal, wants to ban non-vegetarian food in the town, because it is situated on the banks of the holy Narmada river. In short, we need to beef about meat-eaters too. We must not chicken out.

ALSO READ: How India’s buffalo trade has been battered by vigilantes

The NSSO data says 6.4% of rural Indians eat mutton, 21.7% eat chicken, 26.5% consume fish, while 29.2% eat eggs. In urban India, it is much worse, with 10% indulging in goat meat/mutton, 21% tucking enthusiastically into fish, 27% succumbing to the charms of chicken and a huge 37.6%, more than a third of the urban population, eating eggs.

Where do we find the most beef-eaters? Beef-eating is rampant in Meghalaya, with the average beef consumption per head there being 419 gm of beef/buffalo in 30 days. Rural Nagaland is even more brazen, tucking into 576 gm of beef per person in 30 days. And in idyllic rural Lakshadweep, where time stands still and people sit around waiting for the cows to come home, beef consumption per head is an enormous 1.135 kg in 30 days. Lakshadweep, we have a bone to pick with you.

Interestingly, the richest 5% of urban Indians have a per capita beef consumption of a mere 32 gm a month and the next 5% consume 30 gm, while the poorest 5% of the urban population eat 46 gm per head in 30 days and the next poorest 5% eat 85 gm. In urban India, beef is the poor man’s meat. Eating beef, it seems, does not bring home the bacon.

Lakshadweep tops not only in beef-eating, but also in fish-eating. The average urban Lakshadweepian chomps his way through 3.8 kg of fish in 30 days, easily beating rural Kerala, which has a per capita consumption of 2.262 kg of fish. That’s a fine kettle of fish. What’s fishy, though, is urban West Bengal’s per capita intake of a mere 1 kg of fish a month. Bengal tops, however, in potato consumption, with the average rural Bengal resident shovelling away 3.794 kg of the stuff in a month.

But we have other fish to fry. The urban residents of Lakshadweep are also very fond of eggs, topping the egg-eating league tables with a per capita consumption of a whopping seven eggs in 30 days. The saving grace is after gorging on beef, fish and eggs, they have no room left for mutton and their consumption of mutton is zero, according to the NSSO numbers. On the other hand, the residents of rural Gujarat have the lowest per capita consumption of eggs—we must egg them on in their noble resolve. Per capita consumption of chicken is the least in rural Rajasthan, at a mere 22 gm a month.

The big mutton/goat meat eaters are the folks in Jammu and Kashmir. The Andaman and Nicobar islanders have the highest per capita consumption of chicken. They are simultaneously large consumers of eggs.

I trust this data snapshot will be useful to all those who are terribly concerned about what passes through other people’s alimentary canals.

Manas Chakravarty looks at trends and issues in the financial markets. Respond to this column at manas.c@livemint.com.

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