Wednesday, 20 March 2013

The Food We Have, The Food We Need

Sometimes questions are raised regarding our attitude to mutton consumption and there are advices for revisiting it. I don’t doubt that on occasions and in certain elite families mutton consumption may be excessive but we need to note that we can’t be a vegetarian society. To properly understand modern Kashmir’s obsession for mutton – the need of mutton as a protein source in the normal diet of all Kashmiris, we may have a brief look at the figures provided by science.
Not only do we consume far less than required when we speak in general terms for the whole population, but we are also deprived of quality meat due to absence of slaughter houses and non-availability of quality meat that goes for export to big hotels. If it were not for Eids, prayer food culture and festivals Kashmir's would, generally speaking, qualify as very poor consumers.Middle classes eat mutton mostly on different functions, festivals and marriages or when guests come visiting. The BPL people can enjoy it only very occasionally. Thus we can safely say that ours is not a meat sufficient state in terms of consumption. There is over -consumption on marriage and festival days and generally under-consumption on routine days. Guests are overfed and hosts underfed.  
We need to educate people regarding quality or balanced nutrition that include animal source protein, and in our conditions it is mutton. We need more reasons than we currently have for assembling together and sharing a meal based on meat dishes.Although requirement of protein can be met from vegetarian or non-meat sources, but according to well-recognized recommendations the value of meat is still indisputable. However, we need not forget that there have been healthy vegetarian communities throughout history.Meat may not be declared an essential part of the diet but without animal products it is argued that it is “necessary to have some reasonable knowledge of nutrition in order to select an adequate diet. Even small quantities of animal products supplement and complement a diet based on plant foods so that it is nutritionally adequate, whether or not there is informed selection of foods.”However, biological argument should not be used to decide the matter in our conditions. Here meat is an inseparable part of our culture. It is not dispensable.As per standard scientific recommendations we require one gram of protein per kilogram of body weight daily of which half should ideally come from animal sources.Human requirements for protein have been estimated by FAD/WHO to be 55 grams per day for adult man and 45 for a woman. The requirement is higher in various states of disease and conditions of stress. As milk and eggs are recommended to be part of our diet, and they supply at recommended rates less than half of daily requirement, the rest has to come from meat, both red and white, for non-vegetarians.
Keeping consideration of meat bone ratio in mutton available in the market we see that a meat piece is needed to be taken daily. Calculating our requirement for a population of one crore (assuming the rest to be pure vegetarian), we need 20 crore kgs. Thus we need more meat than is available and whatsoever is available is quite asymmetrically distributed as much of the available meat goes to the urban elite. 
In fact, in India the per capita availability of animal protein is 10 grams only against the need of around 25.There should be an informed debate on the question of how far can and should poultry replace sheep? Should there be policies for regulating our long-term consumption? We need to discuss short and long term environmental and economic costs of sheep versus poultry rearing.So far no serious studies from the environment point of view on our carrying capacity, on the scope of horizontal increase in sheep population, on relative costs of raising other food animals or vegetables, precise trade off between forest conservation efforts and sheep raising have been undertaken in our state.
 The pitched battles against sheep farming on supposedly environmental grounds between forest authorities, who go on fencing and walling off so much land without considering the possibility that controlled grazing augments need to be first scrutinize, and quality journals should publish the studies and then only could they be taken seriously.Currently sheep farming is under stress from forest authorities in many places and if you deprive sheep of pastures or routes connecting to pastures you are asking people to disinvest. There needs to be better coordination between different departments on this issue and in fact a board which should oversee all decisions that deprive farmers of grazing land. A good number of jobs are at stake. There are standing Supreme Court orders whose spirit dictates that grazing rights shall not be infringed up on this or that ground.

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