Needs More Vegetarian Restaurants

By Swarnendu Biswas

Awareness about vegetarianism is gaining currency in India, though in 2014, more than 70 percent Indians above 15 years of age were non-vegetarians. However, according to a nationwide survey conducted in 2014, whose findings were released in 2016 by the Registrar General of India (RGI), the numbers of non-vegetarians in India was expected to decline. This can be further substantiated by the fact that about a decade ago, the prevalence of non-vegetarianism in India was more than it is now.

If the healthy trend persists the number of vegetarian population would significantly increase in India, a decade from now. The reason for this awareness towards the benefits of vegetarianism could be the growing health consciousness among a huge section of urban Indians during the recent years. In fact, vegetarianism is emerging as a pronounced trend in the western world.

A research from Mintel, whose findings were published in 2014, did found that 12 percent of global food and drink products launched in 2013 carried a vegetarian claim, up from 6 percent in 2009. Further to this, according to the report, 2 percent of global food and drink launches carried a vegan claim in 2013, up from 1 percent in 2009. According to the same report, 12 percent of the UK adults followed a vegetarian or vegan diet.

Healthy Edge

It may be argued that going for exclusively vegetarian diet is gaining global popularity primarily for personal health reasons, which may include the objective of having lower risk of obesity and heart disease, having lower risk of cancer, and attaining greater longevity. Vegetarian diet is often associated with lower cholesterol and lower blood pressure as compared to a non-vegetarian diet. Vegetarian diet may also lower the risk of cardiovascular disease.

According to the findings of the researchers from Loma Linda University in California, which came to light in 2015, compared to 'non-vegetarians', 'vegetarians' had 19 percent lower risk for developing colon cancer and a 29 percent lower risk for developing rectal cancer. However, in this study about half of the population of the study was demarcated as non-vegetarians. The non-vegetarians were defined as people who consumed meat at least weekly.

The other half of the population of the study was segmented into four groups. “They were semi-vegetarians who ate meat less than once a week; pesco-vegetarians who ate fish and seafood but avoided other meats; lacto-ovo vegetarians who avoided meat but ate eggs and/or dairy products; and vegans who avoided all meats, eggs and dairy,” explained Dr. Michael Orlich, the lead researcher of the study.

 So we can see in this study the ambit of vegetarian population was much wider than our popular perception of vegetarians. In India, anybody consuming fish or egg is generally considered non-vegetarian and here consuming dairy products among vegetarians is extremely common.

Green Issues

But all said and done, the health benefits of vegetarian diet are not the only factors in favour of going for vegetarianism. In the backdrop of incessant environmental degradation, sustainable lifestyles have garnered considerable mind and media share. Sustainable lifestyles also include sustainable eating. One of the ways the idea of sustainable eating can be fostered into reality is through the practice of vegetarianism or through abstinence of meat products, or at least through lesser consumption of meat than it is being done now.

There is no denying the fact that vegetarianism can also positively influence the sustainability of the planet. It is simply because growing agricultural produce results in less carbon emissions and involves less usage of water on an average, as compared to raising of livestock.

The plethora of meat eaters requires the continuous breeding and maintenance of a huge livestock population, which need huge amounts of land and water, and this livestock population produces huge quantities of waste. Methane from the ruminants’ digestive systems is a major source of the greenhouse gas emissions. Methane is about 30 times more powerful than carbon dioxide in terms of their capacity towards global warming.

Unless the world switches to vegetarianism in a big way, or at least cuts down on its meat intake significantly, producing animal-based food for the growing global population can make greenhouse gas emissions cross the line of safety.

 There are other environmental issues too, which need to be considered. In fact, the huge livestock population often leads to deforestation, for growing of feed crops and grazing, and deforestation is one of the reasons for endangering our environment. It is alarming that more than two thirds of agricultural land across the globe is being used for animals’ grazing.

It may sound unbelievable but like many unbelievable facts it is true that over the millennia millions of hectares of trees have been decimated to present meat before the forks. We can very well imagine what would be our fragile environmental situation be after say five decades, if the shift from meat eating population to vegetarian population doesn’t take place in a significant manner.

Besides deforestation, the maintenance of huge numbers of livestock has effect on our water sources. According to an expert, production of one pound of beef requires almost thirty times more water than it is needed to produce one pound each of potato, wheat, maize and rice. Meat production is water-intensive. Worldwatch Institute noted in 2014 that "Agriculture uses about 70 percent of the world’s available freshwater, and one third of that is used to grow the grains fed to livestock. Beef is by far the most water-intensive of all meats." 

That is not all. According to FAO, globally, 108 million people in 2016 were reported to be facing crisis level food insecurity or worse. In a world facing severe food crisis, the fact that livestock population consumes majority of the crops of the world may sound shocking, but sadly it is true.

And it is not surprising also for there are more than 56 billion animals raised across the globe each year for slaughter and consequently, for food; which is a number much more than the global population of humans. And the sustenance of these animals for slaughter needs huge amount of food.

The Industry Initiative

The food service business of our country can play its role in addressing these above-mentioned challenges to our environment and our future survival, by opening up more vegetarian and as well as vegan restaurants for the eating out crowd. And with the vegetarianism likely to gain market appeal in India in the near future, and with already significant vegetarian population in India, their ventures are most likely to be successful ones, provided of course, if their location, ambience, décor and food match the tastes of their target guest profile.

The five-star hotels can also make it a practice to have one exclusively vegetarian restaurant in their ambit. Royal Vega restaurant of ITC Grand Chola, Chennai can serve as a pertinent example in this regard. Royal Vega has a fine collection of signature vegetarian dishes from across India, and also presents the vegetarian repertoire from the Indian sub-continent and beyond. Some of the delectable offerings at the restaurant housed in the five-star hotel  are Paneer Khasa, Marudhar Sangria Kofteh, Dal Adhav, Kishantil Aloo, Daal Maa, and Mangodi Mutta  among others.

Then there is the Country Inn & Suites By Carlson Sahibabad. The eating out options of the five-star property in Delhi-NCR offers only vegetarian dishes. More such praiseworthy initiatives are needed by our food service industry in the direction of vegetarianism.

In order to convert many passionate lovers of non-vegetarian food like me to vegetarian dishes, the restaurant business in urban India should go beyond vegetable biryani and vegetable kebabs. They should bring to the forefront the many wonderful vegetarian specialties from India’s rich treasure-trove of regional cuisines, on the national platter.

Some examples could be Aloo Posto and Mochar Ghonto from Bengal, Litti Chokha from Bihar, Sadya from Kerala and Pohay and Vada Pav from Maharasthra among others. There is every chance that timeless tastes of these and many more vegetarian dishes would soon waft from regional to national popularity through creative marketing endeavours.  One can easily say that in the backdrtop of growing health and environmental consciousness, the time for more vegetarian restaurants in the fast evolving Indian food service industry is now.

Besides vegetarianism, the idea of being vegan, that is a person who does not eat or use animal products, is also gaining foothold as a lifestyle choice across the globe. Besides not having meat, poultry, fish and eggs, vegans also do not consume dairy products and honey.

Eating Out Vegan Way

It seems adhering to this stringent dietary regime in one’s life on a regular basis requires great discipline and to extend the concept of veganism in the food service industry is still more challenging. Here one needs to mention of Carrots, which claims to be the first 100 percent vegan restaurant in Bangalore with a focus on promoting healthy eating and sustainable living. They have gluten free & sugar free options.

Then there is The Real Green Café in Pune, which is a multi-cuisine vegan restaurant, dishing out special handcrafted dishes and beverages.  Of course, to run a vegan restaurant, one needs to harness one’s culinary creativity a lot, and needs to be innovative.

“Two of our specialties are pizzas made out of cashew cheese and 100 percent dairy free ice-creams, made out of almond milk,” informed Vaibhav Viswanath, Marketing Executive of The Real Green Café. One must also mention Vegan Bites, a catering service and delivery kitchen in Mumbai, which serves vegan meals. Vegan Bites has an array of dairy free ice-creams in its repertoire. The emergence of these and many more vegan food service operations indicate that the vegan culture is having its own niche among Indians.

Pragmatically Flexitarian

We can see that going vegetarian or vegan can not only prevent animal cruelty, but can be good for health and be sustainable for our blue planet.

Even if we the non-vegetarians cannot do away with meat altogether because of our long-held eating habits, we can always adopt to flexitarianism, which is emerging as an important global food & beverage trend.  By definition, flexitarian is a person whose diet is mostly vegetarian but sometimes includes meat, fish, or poultry. It is a much easier option for us to achieve than going fully vegetarian or vegan.

The Indian food service industry can also adopt this pragmatic option by opening primarily vegetarian restaurants, which could serve meat or fish only on Sundays. This way the restaurants can cater to the increasing vegetarian population and also satisfy the huge numbers of existing non-vegetarian population in the country.

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