Though 70% of Indians above 15 years of age are still non-vegetarians, the numbers are expected to decline, a nationwide survey conducted in 2014 and released recently by the Registrar General of India (RGI) showed.
In 2004, the prevalence of non-vegetarianism was pegged at about 75%.
Experts said increasing health awareness, coupled with rising burden of lifestyle diseases like heart disorders, diabetes and cancer, may be influencing the Indian palate.
Several international researches and studies have found vegetarians leading a healthier life compared to meat-eaters. Incidence of diseases such as pancreatic cancer and respiratory problems are also less common among vegetarians than in those who consume meat regularly.
Besides, religiosity and changing lifestyles could also be contributing to the changing trend, experts said.
“It is possible that the purchase wallet for non-vegetarian foods is now being diverted towards ready to eat, processed or packaged foods because there is an increasing trend of cooking less at home,” said Dr Shikha Sharma , a leading nutritionist and founder and managing director of Nutri-HealthSystems.
However, food consumption data from NSSO as well as OECD-FAO (Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development, UN Food and Agriculture Organisation) Agricultural Outlook 2014, showed that growth in per capita consumption of chicken and fish outpaced the growth in consumption of wheat, rice and sugar.Chicken consumption grew the most with India becoming the fourth-fastest growing market for the product in the world. According to the OECD-FAO 2014 data, chicken consumption in India grew at an annual growth rate of 5.9% between 1992 and 2013.
The latest RGI data also highlighted a contrast with rising purchasing power which should otherwise allow more consumption of non-vegetarian meals. The latest NSSO data showed that at higher ends of the income table, consumption of milk, eggs, meat and processed foods rose. In urban India, the richest 5% consume the fewest cereals and the most derivatives of cereals like bread and noodles. However, in rural India, the richest 5% still consume the most cereals.