ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Food Consumption Expenditures and the COVID-19 Pandemic in India

The COVID-19 pandemic led to lockdowns and disruptions in food supply chains and emerged as both a demand- and a supply-side shock. Based on the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy– Consumer Pyramids Household Survey monthly expenditure data for the period from January 2019 to August 2021, changes in food expenditure shares in India as a result of the pandemic across income and socio-economic and demographic groups are examined. The pandemic-induced lockdowns resulted in a sharp increase in the share of food in the total expenditure across rural and urban India for all income groups and castes and religions, but the intensity of shifts varied.

Deepening Divides

Changes in the incidence of vegetarianism across time are sought to be analysed by identifying the specific trends at the level of region,caste and class. Divergence in the attitude towards vegetarianism across these axes points towards deepening divides linked to socioeconomic status and cultural-political power inequalities.

'Provincialising' Vegetarianism

Large-scale survey data are used to question the most public claims about food habits in India. It is found that the extent of overall vegetarianism is much less—and the extent of overall beef-eating much more—than suggested by common claims and stereotypes. The generalised characterisations of “India” are deepened by showing the immense variation of food habits across scale, space, group, class, and gender. Additionally, it is argued that the existence of considerable intra-group variation in almost every social group (caste, religious) makes essentialised group identities based on food practices deeply problematic. Finally, in a social climate where claims about food practices rationalise violence, cultural–political pressures shape reported and actual food habits. Indian food habits do not fit into neatly identifiable boxes.

Food and Nutrition in India: Facts and Interpretations

This paper reviews recent evidence on food intake and nutrition in India. It attempts to make sense of various puzzles, particularly the decline of average calorie intake during the last 25 years. This decline has occurred across the distribution of real per capita expenditure, in spite of increases in real income and no long-term increase in the relative price of food. One hypothesis is that calorie requirements have declined due to lower levels of physical activity or improvements in the health environment. If correct, this does not imply that there are no calorie deficits in the Indian population - nothing could be further from the truth. These deficits are reflected in some of the worst anthropometric indicators in the world, and the sluggish rate of improvement of these indicators is of major concern. Yet recent trends remain confused and there is an urgent need for better nutrition monitoring.

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