Eggs And Prejudice

Child nutrition is being held hostage to spurious, largely upper caste, arguments.

Written by Reetika Khera | Published:June 6, 2015 12:09 am
Child nutrition, Child undernutrition, MP egg ban, egg ban mp, children egg ban, child malnutrition, child nutrition programmes, mp school egg ban, MP Child nutrition, school egg ban, indian express column, Reetika Khera column It is unfair to sacrifice children’s right to nutrition to spurious anti-egg arguments from a small minority among the upper castes.

Child nutrition is prime-time news only when a tragedy occurs. Child undernutrition is no less a tragedy but rarely recognised as such.

Attention to it, following the Madhya Pradesh chief minister’s rejection of a proposal to introduce eggs in anganwadis is significant and welcome.

Few people realise food intake in India is very poor. According to the 2005-06 National Family Health Survey, around 10 per cent of breastfed children aged six to 23 months had meat, fish, poultry, egg or milk products the day before the survey. Among children who are not breastfed, the figures are equally bad.

In a TV debate, a BJP spokesperson praised milk as the best source of protein, failing to mention that MP does not provide that either at anganwadis or schools. The urgent need to improve the quality of food provided in the mid-day meal (MDM) and Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) schemes has not been adequately recognised.

Cost is a major constraint. Allocations for child nutrition programmes are quite small (Rs 5-7 per child per day). Only states where the government is committed to the issues make additional allocations required to provide nutritious foods such as eggs. This year’s cuts in Central allocations for ICDS and MDM are likely to strain state budgets further.

Perishability and fear of adulteration impede improvements in food quality. Though milk and dal are protein-rich, both can easily be diluted and milk is perishable. Creative thinking can lead to solutions. In Karnataka, milk powder is supplied.

Eggs provide a nutritious and affordable solution. They contain all the nutrients (except vitamin C) required by small children and are generally more nutrient-rich than vegetarian options — without the problems of perishability and adulteration). People can easily monitor whether they have got their full entitlement, whereas that’s quite difficult with milk or dal. Further, eggs are important for infants, as they are nutrition-dense. In Odisha, eggs have emerged as the perfect “take-home ration” for children under three. Children also seem to love eggs.

At a mixed-caste government school in Shimoga, Karnataka, when asked to raise their hand if they would like an egg, almost all hands went up.

Recent arguments for denying eggs to children and forcing vegetarianism on them include: the strongest animals, horses and elephants, are vegetarian; Sant Ravidas was vegetarian, so all Dalits should be like him; as Dalits cannot afford non-vegetarian food anyway, schools and anganwadis need not provide eggs; separate seating arrangements might be difficult to manage. Without saying it explicitly, the message has been clear: rather than hurt the sentiments of a few among the so-called upper castes, it is better to keep eggs out.

Caste resistance is an important part of why northern and western states do not provide eggs. Often, these arguments are disguised as “rational”. First, create an impression that if eggs are on the menu, vegetarians will be forced to eat them (ignoring that vegetarians can be given fruit instead). Then, dress it up as a “freedom to choose” issue. Ironically, those who deny free choice to non-vegetarians are the ones levelling this allegation.

Karnataka provides eggs in anganwadis, but not in school meals. Why? Quite likely, this is because the Akshaya Patra Foundation is a big player in the MDM programme but not in the ICDS. Since 2007, the BJP has resisted eggs. That year, two BJP leaders disagreed on the issue. When religious leaders opposed eggs, the government caved in. The Congress is not very different. It announced eggs in the MDM scheme only for the northern nutritionally deprived districts, but even that has not taken off.

Instead of surrendering to the egg-resisters, states like MP and Karnataka should learn from others where opposition, if any, was overcome. It is unfair to sacrifice children’s right to nutrition to spurious anti-egg arguments from a small minority among the upper castes.

The writer is associate professor, economics, IIT Delhi

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  1. C
    Communal Rukstales
    Jun 9, 2015 at 11:54 am
    Dalits/Adivasis (30%) are telling Upper caste (20%) to take their #CasteShareOfLand from India and go build their own nation;
    Reply
    1. C
      Communal Rukstales
      Jun 9, 2015 at 10:36 am
      Dalits/Adivasis (30%) are telling Upper caste (20%) to take their Caste of land from India and go build their own nation;
      Reply
      1. H
        Hari Haran
        Jun 6, 2015 at 12:09 pm
        These upper caste led Bjp is spoiling Icds and Mdm schemes.. Learn from Tamilnadu ... Providing eggs 5 days in a week... And its social indicators..
        Reply
        1. H
          Hari Haran
          Jun 6, 2015 at 12:11 pm
          Well said... We can give veg people separate veg diet like banana & milk... and egg loving child should get egg..
          Reply
        2. H
          Haradhan Mandal
          Jun 6, 2015 at 3:19 pm
          Kind of personal attack - don't know moderation policy allows such post.
          Reply
          1. H
            Haradhan Mandal
            Jun 6, 2015 at 9:54 am
            Only In India food has caste label and caste barrier - more importantly caste-hierarchy labels. Food is Food - for rest of the World (except something like Halal and Kosher) and even for the lower cl (50-60%) in India - provided they can afford it, or produce/raise/harvest/fish/hunt it for themselves. Only 10% of Indian are vegetarian (on 'purity' scale) .
            Reply
            1. R
              Rahul
              Jun 6, 2015 at 10:51 am
              Beef and pork more nutritious than eggs, fight for that
              Reply
              1. S
                Saumitra Chaturvedi
                Jun 6, 2015 at 12:01 pm
                The author is not aware of the most comprehensive study ever done on nutrition called the China study, which has shown how animal proteins are directly responsible for activation of recessive genes leading to cancer, arthritis, etc. there is no such nutrient which cannot be compensated from vegetarian diet. Eight principles of food and health given by that study are: 1. Nutrition represents the combined activities of countless food substances. The w is greater than the sum of its parts. 2.Vitamin supplements are not a panacea for good health. 3. There are virtually no nutrients in animal-based foods that are not better provided by plants. 4. Genes do not determine disease on their own. Genes function only by being activated, or expressed, and nutrition plays a critical role in determining which genes, good and bad, are expressed. 5. Nutrition can substantially control the adverse effects of noxious chemicals. 6. The same nutrition that prevents disease in its early stages can also halt or reverse it in its later stages. 7. Nutrition that is truly beneficial for one chronic disease will support health across the board. 8. Good nutrition creates health in all areas of our existence. All parts are interconnected
                Reply
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