Akshaya Patra mid-day meal controversy: Another attack on Dharmic values
The Akshaya Patra foundation (APF) and people supporting vegetarian meals in mid-day scheme have been under attack for long by organizations like Right to Food Campaign (RFC). During 2015, activists associated with RFC remarked that the denial of eggs to children was the conspiracy by upper caste groups and BJP government.[i] Sylvia Karpagam, leading activist of RFC, attacked nutritionists who didn’t support beef and called them cow worshippers and drinkers of cow urine.[ii] Organizations which are in the steering group of RFC, have members who had opposed Rafael deal, Amarnath yatra etc. in the past.[iii]
Recently, activists associated with RFC and the Jan Swasthya Abhiyan (JSA), had complained to the government that children are eating less food as they find it bland and the meal lacks proper nutrition due to lack of eggs, onion and garlic in it and the food is imposing religious beliefs on children. They demanded that the government should cancel the contract with APF on these grounds.[iv]
After the complaint, the Karnataka state government sought technical advice from National Institute of Nutrition (NIN) and Central Food Technological Research Institute (CFTRI). NIN in its report on Feb 14th found that the nutritive values of the food provided by APF often exceed the prescribed energy and protein requirements prescribed by Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD). It also found that the inclusion of seasonal and fresh vegetables and the use of turmeric, lime, curry leaves, cumin seeds, tamarind, green leafy vegetables also improve the bio-availability of nutrients apart from additional health benefits and are also effective substitutes of onion and garlic.[v] CFTRI in its report on Feb 19th also uphold the NIN findings and commented that the contribution of onion and garlic to macro and micro nutrients is negligible.
Afterwards, various activists associated with RFC, JSA etc. opposed the NIN report and sent them the open letter dismissing their study, which had notorious anti-Modi activists, journalists, primary school teacher among the 94 signatories. RFC activist Siddharth Joshi remarked that the government should have just enforced their menu without seeking an opinion from NIN or CFTRI regarding whether onion and garlic could be substituted and the government was unfairly only serving a dominant caste group food. v
There is a lot of misinformation regarding food these days like some people believe that eggs are best source of proteins. It is mainstream knowledge today that non-vegetarian food is harmful to health.
Proteins are essential nutrients to our body and are one of the building blocks of body tissue. The National Academy of Medicine recommends that adults get a minimum of 0.8 grams of protein for every kilogram of body weight per day.[vi] Proteins in food have characteristics like quantity, composition, bioavailability and health effects. Following is the list of foods containing protein and their quantity.
|1 large egg||6 gm|
|Half cup of raw oats||13 gm|
|Cup of paneer with 2% fat (226 gm)||27 gm|
|Cup of whole milk (244 gm), particularly high in calcium, phosphorus and vitamin B2||8 gm|
|Cup of boiled lentils (198 gm)||18 gm|
|Cup of peanuts (146 gm)||38 gm|
|Cup of curd (225 gm)||25 gm|
|Cup of roasted soybean (172 gm)||61 gm|
|2 chapatis (70 gm)||8 gm|
Clearly, one can see that the quantity of protein in egg lies nowhere close to vegetarian options like one cup of curd alone has more than 4 times of protein as compared to an egg.
Second characteristic is composition of amino acids in food proteins. Amino acids are extracted from proteins when they are digested and human body need 20 amino acids of which nine are called essential for humans because they cannot be produced from other compounds by the human body and so must be taken in as food. Foods that contains all nine indispensable amino acids in adequate amounts are considered complete proteins. Most animal-based foods like milk, curd, eggs etc. tend to be good sources of complete protein while most plant-based food contains subset of these nine and thus need to be consumed in combination, which is usually the case the way food is consumed. Certain plant foods like soybeans, quinoa and chia and hemp seeds are also complete proteins.
Dairy alone could meet all protein requirement and if one has to rely only on plants then too it is impossible to design an amino acid–deficient diet based on the amounts of unprocessed starches and vegetables sufficient to meet the calorie needs of humans. vii For example, combination of cereals, which have relatively good concentration of s-amino acids and pulses, which are rich in lysine results in a nutritional complementation and in fact the protein quality of the mixture is greater than that for either protein source alone.[vii] [viii] A vegetarian diet based on any single one or combination of unprocessed starches with the addition of vegetables and fruits, supplies all the protein, amino acids, essential fats, minerals, and vitamins (with the exception of vitamin B12) necessary for excellent health.[ix] So, the concerns that through vegetarian food one might lack certain essential amino acid are baseless.
Third characteristic is bioavailability which is related to the digestibility and absorption of the protein source. One popular measure is biological value (BV), which measure the proportion of consumed protein from a food which becomes incorporated into the proteins of the organism’s body. The value for various protein sources is as below (considering the score of eggs as 100 as reference point)[x] [xi].
|Wheat endosperm (farina)||101|
Now, if various foods are combined then these values often exceed the value from single source as the amino acids present in alternate food increase the absorption of total amino acids as they’ll provide the missing amino acid in other food source, which affects its absorption. The BV of some combinations is as follows in refence to eggs: [xii]
|Whey + potato (70-30 ratio)||134|
|Milk + wheat flour (75-25 ratio)||125|
|Milk + potatoes||114|
|Soy + rice (55-45 ratio)||111|
Clearly, the vegetarian food combinations that most people consume have higher BV value as compared to eggs and even if certain food has lower BV value then that is easily compensated through higher quantity.
Fourth characteristic of protein in food is the health effects of that food. Available evidences indicate that it’s the source of protein rather than the amount of protein, that likely makes a difference for our health and it is recommended to get protein from plants when possible as some meats could be good source of proteins but they have number of health problems like cancer, diabetes, low life span etc. [xiii] Research conducted at the Harvard Chan School of Public Health has found that eating even small amounts of red meat on a regular basis is linked to an increased risk of heart disease and stroke, and the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease or any other cause. Eating more red meat predicts a higher risk of type 2 diabetes, high risks of cancer, high risks of premature deaths and increased weight. ix The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer concluded that consumption of processed meat is carcinogenic to humans.[xiv]
As per latest studies on the health effects of consuming eggs, it was found that each additional half an egg consumed per day was significantly associated with higher risk of incident cardiovascular and all-cause mortality. [xv] Vegetables, fruits, and soy products are rich in antioxidants that are essential to lower disease risk stemming from reactive oxygen systems in the body. Overwhelming amount of evidences show that vegetarian diet is best diet for good health and non-veg diet causes various health complications. [xvi] So, be it protein quantity, composition, bioavailability or health effects, vegetarian meals outperform eggs in all aspects.
Environment impact and sustainability
Production of animal-based foods tends to have higher greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions than producing plant-based foods as making just one pound of lamb generates around 30 times more GHG than making a pound of lentils.[xvii] Beyond emissions, it’s also important to note that food production places an enormous demand upon our natural resources, as agriculture is a major contributor to deforestation, species extinction, and freshwater depletion and contamination. [xviii]
With sufficient and strong data regarding current food production driving climate change, biodiversity loss, pollution, and unsustainable changes in water and land use, it is important to act with urgency to decrease the risk of irreversible and potentially catastrophic shifts in the Earth system in six key processes: climate change, deforestation, use of freshwater, biodiversity, and nitrogen and phosphorus cycling (based on the application of these fertilizers) otherwise the delay would increase the likelihood of serious, even disastrous, consequences. This is doable through substantial dietary shifts toward mostly plant-based dietary patterns, dramatic reductions in food losses and waste, and major improvements in food production practices.[xix]
It is trivial to understand that non-vegetarian food is inhumane, causes great pain and distress both physical and psychological to the killed animal and his family. The ethics that drive individuals to not kill other humans are same as that prohibit one to not kill animals as well. If one argues that killing animals is alright because we are more powerful and more intelligent then killing humans who are weak or have low cognitive abilities would also be justified on same principle. Killing an animal might be justified in extreme circumstances like survival but consuming a living creature for its enjoyable taste, convenience, or nutrition value is abhorrible. There is need of debate on animals’ rights and cruelty and our constitutional stand on it. Our existing laws to prevent widespread slaughtering are clearly ineffective.
It is also important to be beware of such political groups that create massive outrage on animal’s cruelty in selective cases like Jallikattu or Shaktiman but are conveniently silent on slaughter of millions of animals on daily basis.[xx] [xxi] It is amusing to find the paradox that certain group of people talk about animal cruelty and compassion in selective cases but talk in favor of allowing cow slaughter other times.
Impact of Food on Psychology and Behavior
High Emotional Quotient (EQ) score is corelated with better relationships, academic and work achievements, negotiating ability, life satisfaction, self-esteem, growth mindset, forgiving nature, sense of security, cheerfulness and lower degree of drug and alcohol addiction. Studies have found that people who are vegetarians and vegans, due to ethical reasons have significantly better EQ score in comparison with omnivore subjects.[xxii]
The majority of studies attempting to characterize empathy-related responses did not separate empathy towards humans from that towards animals.[xxiii] [xxiv] Studies found that when we observe something unfair happening, it results in empathy-related activation in pain related brain areas towards the victim.[xxv] Thus people with higher empathy and EQ feels greater pain from animal cruelty and adopt vegetarianism. On the contrary, there is substantial theoretical and empirical evidence supporting a link between polysubstance abuse, human aggression and antisocial behavior, and animal abuse.[xxvi] [xxvii]
There is no doubt that the food prepared in machines by APF is completely hygienic and no complaints were reported regarding it except once from Government Urdu Higher Primary School in D.J. Halli where it was found that the food was contaminated at the handing level and where education department officials also explored the possibility of a probable sabotage angle of food being contaminated on the school premises.[xxviii] Otherwise the reports of students being served unhygienic food with cockroaches, lizards etc. are quite common at other places.
Taste is subjective e.g. western food is considered bland by most Indians, who are used to spicy food. So, the argument given by activists that students crave the familiar taste of meat at home and such food should be provided is unfeasible as no single food could fulfill such subjective criteria of all. Also, government can’t kill innocent animals just because some people like eating them.
As per their campaign, food is a right and not a favor or an act of benevolence. Unfortunately, it is quite common that so many people who call themselves human rights activists have absolutely no idea of what human rights represent. One’s rights end where other’s rights begin, therefore one’s right can’t extend to other’s resources and labor. The term “Right to food” implies that a person can force other people to invest, farm, harvest, transport, cook and serve him food for free, which on the contrary is against human rights. Only ignorant and socialists are expected to call such acts of exploitation and injustice as human rights.
India has Dharmic principles like reincarnation, Karma, Moksha, Maya, Samsara, Guru, Ahimsa and Atman since primeval times. Various Gurus, Yogis, Rishis and Munis like Buddha, Mahavir, Nanak etc., have taken birth from time to time and proposed different paths to realize Dharma. Dharma guided Indians to practice Ahimsa and be against animals’ cruelty. As per Dharmic principle of Karmic law, everyone is accountable for their actions irrespective of whether one is legally punished. As per Dharma, there are nature laws due to which our actions leave their impressions on our consciousness and such laws always act irrespective of whether one believes in it like the existence of gravitation laws doesn’t depend on our believes.
The progressing science is also validating our ancient knowledge of mind, Yoga, Ayurveda, vegetarianism etc. through several scientific studies. The diets and dishes we inherited are nutritionally rich with the presence of vegetables, herbs, spices, grains, legumes in it in various forms. This exposes those who lack intellectual abilities and mock Indian knowledge without any scientific basis.
There is another charge that APF is imposing its traditions on students of different traditions and beliefs. It is true that the non-use of onion and garlic is a matter of belief for APF and it can’t be imposed on others, nevertheless it is the government who is responsible for this as they are the one who’ve entered into agreement with APF to provide such food, which APF only agreed to provide as per their conditions. So, attacks on APF on this ground are unwarranted and those who are genuinely concerned could approach courts.
The misinformation spread by various organization through lies has tarnished the image of APF to some extent where ignorant parents have believed that their children are harmed due to traditions of APF. This is the definitive case of defamation and APF is duty bound to pursue this case as non-action encourages criminals in society.
They are also arguing that if APF is providing eggs in Orissa then why can’t it do it at other places. [xxix] If the charges that school management procure eggs and APF bears the cost are true then it might be upsetting for donors who are strict vegetarians.
There is another charge that the food is prepared in centralized manner. Though activists should have no concern about how food is prepared but donators might be apprehensive about higher cost due to centralization and other factors like expensive machines, transportation, management and personnel cost. In Karnataka, cost of meal is Rs. 14.33, of which Rs 5.87 comes from government while the remaining Rs 8.46 from donations.[xxx] [xxxi] Other contractors are able to provide meal from the amount provided by government alone because of different model.
Another charge against APF is that it is operating like business and should be treated like one and children would get food even without any role of APF as it is funded by government. Regarding the charity, Bhagvad Gita mentions that
दातव्यमिति यद्दानं दीयतेऽनुपकारिणे | देशे काले च पात्रे च तद्दानं सात्विकं स्मृतम् || 17:20||
Charity given to a worthy person simply because it is right to give, without consideration of anything in return, at the proper time and in the proper place, is stated to be Satvic.
In the present model, the food is provided with consideration as APF accepts government funds and the beneficiary is not accepting the charity voluntarily. Example of true charity is Langar tradition in Gurudwaras where the person voluntary comes to eat food and nothing is expected from the person in return.
First, the government knowing both the physical and psychological ill effects of non-vegetarian food has a duty towards well-being of children and should thus ban non-vegetarian food in mid-day meal program on immediate basis all over India.
Second, vegetarianism is not about purity, caste and class like what those spreading misinformation wants people to believe but it is about humanity, sustainability and health, which anyone with humane tendencies could practice and different people from all over the world are practicing it.
Third, the disinformation campaign has harmed the public by coercing them to adopt practices which are against their health and actions should be taken against them.
Fourth, the basic belief by the non-vegetarian doctors and nutritionists that only they own and should possess knowledge makes them very reticent to engage in health education where communities are able to take health into their own hands. This abuse of power means that most people are often left confused about what is good for the health of themselves and their family, and are often not given information that reduces the need for doctors in their lives.
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