The inclusion of eggs in mid-day meal schemes has been a contentious issue in many parts of India. It is opposed by some communities that traditionally consumed only vegetarian food. Since dietary preferences in India follow caste prescriptions, it is not surprising that the inclusion of eggs in public food distribution and welfare schemes becomes a matter of debate.
In Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, we saw an opposition to the move, some of which had the political support of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is in Opposition in these states. In some states, a third-party NGO, Akshaya Patra Foundation (APF), contracted by the government to serve mid-day meals in schools, has refused to serve eggs. It refuses to serve not just eggs but also onion and garlic because that goes against the organisation’s adherence to a satvik diet. This has become a point of controversy in Karnataka. APF is a particularly large organisation that caters to children not just Karnataka but also in 12 other states according to its website. Their steadfast decision to not include eggs, onion and garlic in the mid-day meal scheme is worrisome.
No scientific basis
The hesitation and refusal to serve eggs in mid-day meal schemes continue despite it being part of the National Institute of Nutrition’s recommended diet. It becomes particularly telling when we look at the larger reality of the malnutrition crisis in India.
The Global Hunger Index 2019 places India at 102 out of the 117 countries. India’s ranking is the lowest among the South Asian Countries and the BRICS. Two stated reasons for India’s low scores were its child wasting rates and stunting rates. At 20.8 per cent, the wasting rates were reported to be the highest among the countries surveyed. Child stunting rate of 37.9 per cent was another serious cause for concern.
The mid-day meal scheme allows the government to replenish or make up for the deficiency suffered at birth by being the agent that directly feeds the children. School years give the administration a golden chance to make up for the shortfall sustained at birth, help foster catch-up growth in children who have suffered nutrition deficiency at birth.
Eggs are one of the best sources of proteins out there and several studies have proven this.
Specifically, it can provide a way to fight stunting in children. Low supply of protein from dairy and meat sources during the late pregnancy stage can lead to stunted birth, but catch-up growth in case of stunted delivery can happen during adolescence if the child is fed the right diet.
Eggs also satisfy another fundamental aspect of diet, namely, taste. Nobody likes to eat food that is not tasty, no matter what its nutrient value is. Criticisms against Akshaya Patra Foundation’s idday meals in Karnataka have to do with the issue of taste.
Food that does not meet the criteria of nutrition and taste in a country faced with severe malnutrition is a recipe for disaster. Childhood is when the body undergoes rapid growth and development. The development of the body in this crucial period forms the basis on which a healthy and productive lifestyle can be maintained for the rest of the lifetime. Inculcating eggs into the daily food intake of poor children will help in combating the malnutrition crisis in a big way.
The decision of the Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh governments to provide eggs in anganwadis is a step in the right direction. Other Indian states need to take a cue from them. Opposition to genuine efforts to rectify the malnutrition issue in India is often born out of feelings of insecurity and ignorance. Taboos surrounding the consumption of eggs need to be dismantled by the authorities because promoting healthy food consumption is a must for unlocking the potential of India’s population.