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Zomato’s ‘pure veg’ fleet: Is India a predominantly vegetarian nation? – Firstpost

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“Veg only”. That’s a phrase you’ll often encounter on restaurant hoardings across India. Now leading food delivery app Zomato has ventured into a new segment, catering only to vegetarians.

On Tuesday, Zomato CEO Deepinder Goyal announced the launch of a “pure veg mode” service for customers with vegetarian dietary preferences. An added feature on the app, once selected, reportedly shows only restaurants that serve vegetarian meals.

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The delivery persons on the new service would only exclusively deliver food from vegetarian eateries and not handle any non-vegetarian meals. They won’t enter restaurants while serving meat and fish.

According to the first announcement, the vegetarian meals would be delivered in green delivery boxes by delivery partners wearing green uniforms. However, after outcry over the “veg only” fleet, the uniforms have been rolled back.

But why did Zomato launch a “veg only” fleet? And what does this say about India’s food preferences? We explain.

The controversy surrounding Zomato’s ‘veg only’ fleet

Goyal said a separate fleet for “pure veg” deliveries was launched because sometimes, food gets spilt into the delivery boxes and thus, the smell of the food is inevitably carried to the next order. “For this reason, we had to separate the fleet for veg orders,” he said.

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The Zomato CEO claims to have received an “overwhelmingly positive response” for the new service. But there was also backlash.

After the controversy, Zomato delivery workers dedicated to delivering vegetarian food will also wear the red uniform. File photo/Reuters

Many customers took to social media, expressing concerns that meat eaters would be discriminated against and that Zomato’s latest business idea could exenterate existing divides.

Critics said that the feature could make certain housing societies and residents’ groups ban the entry of the regular Zomato delivery agents who wear red T-shirts and carry red boxes on their vehicles.

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The barrage of remarks prompted Zomato to roll back its decision to introduce a green uniform.

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“While we are going to continue to have a fleet for vegetarians, we have decided to remove the on-ground segregation of this fleet on the ground using the colour green. All our riders – both our regular fleet and our fleet for vegetarians, will wear the colour red,” he wrote on X on Wednesday.

Goyal also claimed in an earlier post that India has the largest percentage of vegetarians in the world. But is this accurate?

Vegetarians in India

Recent data from the National Family Health Survey (NHS) revealed that more people are eating non-vegetarian than ever before.

According to the NHS survey conducted between June 2019 and April 2021, covering 29 states and seven Union Territories, an overwhelming 83.4 per cent of men in the 15 to 49 age group eat non-vegetarian food daily, weekly or occasionally, a jump from 78.4 per cent men in 2015-16. As for women, there was a marginal rise to 70.6 per cent from 70 per cent earlier.

The proportion of weekly meat eaters too has risen sharply: 57.3 per cent of men and 45.1 per cent of women reported eating fish, chicken or meat at least once a week during NHFS-5. This is higher than the figures reported in 2015-16: 48.9 per cent men and 42.8 per cent women, according to a report in The Indian Express.

A man cooks food on a street in New Delhi. According to a World Atlas report, 38 per cent of the country’s population eats only vegetarian meals. File photo/Reuters

While a large population consumes meat and fish, last year’s report from World Atlas says that India has the highest number of vegetarians in the world. Thirty-eight per cent of the country’s population identifies as vegetarians.

India also boasts the lowest meat consumption rates worldwide. However, the reasons behind the inclination towards a vegetarian diet are not necessarily associated with health and the environment.

The reasons for the rise in vegetarianism could be religion, ethical motivations, economic considerations, distaste for meat and cultural influences, according to experts, says a report in The Times of India.

Also read: After Bombay, now Hyderabad: Why IITs are under fire for creating ‘veg-only’ spaces

Vegetarianism and the politics of caste and religion

In India, the choice of food is a complicated issue rooted in caste. In the West, vegetarianism is a lifestyle choice but here dietary preferences are often influenced by religion and the caste system.

The NHS data also reveals that Christians and Muslims accounted for the highest consumption of meat and fish eaters. Among Christian men and women, 80 per cent of men and 78 per cent of women between the age group of 15 to 49 consumed non-vegetarian food at least once a week. The numbers of other religious groups were as follows: Muslim men: 79.5 per cent, women: 70.2 per cent; Hindu men: 52.5 per cent, women: 40.7 per cent; Sikh men: 19.5 per cent, women: 7.9 per cent; Buddhist/Neo-Buddhist men: 74.1 per cent, women: 62.2 per cent; and Jain men 14.9 per cent, women: 4.3 per cent, reports The Indian Express.

A man prepares meat to make kebabs at a roadside stall in New Delhi. NHS data revealed that Christians and Muslims accounted for the highest consumption of meat and fish eaters in India. File photo/Reuters

Then comes the caste equation. In several parts of the country, people from the dominant castes like the Brahmins do not have chicken, meat and fish. Many associate having a vegetarian diet with purity, hence holy towns like Uttarakhand’s Rishikesh are vegetarian by law. In January, five Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled states – Uttar Pradesh, Assam, ⁠Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan – asked Zomato not to deliver non-vegetarian food on the day of the Ram temple’s inauguration in Ayodhya and its complied with the order.

Restrictions on non-vegetarians often extend to everyday living. Several housing societies, including in cosmopolitan cities like Mumbai, prohibit residents from cooking or eating non-vegetarian food, even inside their homes. Many universities prohibit meat and eggs in their messes and last year, the
Indian Institute of Technology-Bombay
and Hyderabad introduced separate dining spaces for vegetarian students, a move that led to protests.

Segregation in the name of food is not uncommon. Zomata appears to have jumped onto the bandwagon. It’s ironic though because it was only a couple of years back when a
customer cancelled an order from a non-Hindu delivery agent
, Zomato said, “Food has no religion”.

With inputs from agencies

This post was originally published on 3rd party site mentioned in the title of this site

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