Fighting hunger

Seven reasons why India needs eggs on the menu of midday meals

They're very nutritious, have a relative long shelf-life and could boost rural employment.

Last week, the Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan rejected a proposal to introduce eggs on the menu of the Integrated Child Development Services scheme – even just on a trial basis in three tribal districts. This short primer responds to some of the questions being asked about whether and why we need eggs on the menu of two government programmes for child nutrition: the mid-day meal scheme and anganwadis (for pre-school children under the age of six).

1. Eggs are among the most nutritious food items
Here’s a comparison of the nutritive content of eggs and some vegetarian options of roughly similar cost. Need one say more?

One serving provides…

Source: % refers to recommended daily allowance met.

Note: Eggs are sometimes criticised for their fat content, but most young children in India need more fat. Aside from helping to raise calorie intake and facilitating the absorption of other nutrients, fat is important in its own right, for brain development, for example.

One more thing: though some vegetarian options can match eggs in protein content (for example, soya chunks) or calcium (for example, milk), there are none where all nutrients (vitamin A, iron, calcium and fat) are available from a single source.

If you’re still unconvinced, read Rohini Mohan’s piece in the Economic Times in which she talks to various experts or watch this episode of The Big Picture, where clinical nutritionist Ishi Khosla explains this in greater detail.

2. Other arguments in favour of eggs
Consider the following advantages of eggs: they have a longer shelf-life than milk or bananas. In rural areas, with decentralised kitchens and where refrigeration facilities are non-existent, this is a pretty useful thing. Eggs cannot be diluted or adulterated like milk or dals. Equally important, as Arti Ahuja (the IAS officer who brought the Integrated Child Development Services  to life in Odisha) pointed out, provision of eggs can be monitored easily. Even a child can tell you whether she got her full quota of eggs, so corruption is easier to control. Finally, eggs are hugely popular among school and anganwadi children. For instance, watch this video clip from a government school in Shimoga.

3. Indian children are undernourished and food intake is very poor
The last reliable all-India nutrition data dates back to 2005-'06. According to the third National Family Health Survey, every second child under the age of three is undernourished. This is relatively well known now. However, few people realise how poor dietary intake in India is. Among children aged 6 months-23 months (for whom breastmilk is to be supplemented with semi-solid foods), the National Family Health Survey finds, less than 15% consume milk products (such as yoghurt), or meat or eggs, or pulses on an average day (see table below). In the same age group, among those children who were no longer being breastfed, the numbers are slightly better but still under 20%.

Consumption of nutritious food by children aged 6 months-23 months the day or night before the NFHS (2005-'06) survey.

Source: Table 10.9, p. 283, National Family Health Survey India report.

4. A large majority of Indians are non-vegetarian: There is a widely held belief that a majority of Indians are vegetarians. However, as this article by Yogendra Yadav and Sanjay Kumar shows, “pure vegetarians” are a minority, only in one-fifth families were all members vegetarians. Nine percent were vegetarians who ate eggs. Nearly 70% families were non-vegetarians. According to the same survey, even in Madhya Pradesh, where the proportion of vegetarians is high, it is only 35%. Finally, there is the question of whether eggs are vegetarian or non-vegetarian.

5. Quite likely, some people are vegetarians out of compulsion rather than choice
Sometimes data on low consumption of non-vegetarian food (eggs, meat, fish, poultry) is interpreted as evidence of vegetarianism in India. In fact, this is likely a reflection, not of choice but compulsion. For instance, Rukmini S shows that monthly consumption of eggs is closely associated with income levels. This strengthens the argument for provision of more nutritious food through government programmes. Given that it is largely poorer children who enrol at government schools, the programme has an element of self-targeting.

6. Making a case for eggs, does not mean one is a meat-fundamentalists
One must recognise that the problem is not just the absence of eggs from the menu at schools and anganwadis. The menu is woefully lacking even in nutritious vegetarian options (such as milk, soyabean, bananas) in many states. Here is a beautiful photo-essay of school meals around the world. Many egg-resisters shout loudly about nutritious vegetarian substitutes for eggs, but fail to mention that in fact many northern and western states provide none of these. In any case, even if eggs are served, vegetarian options are (and ought to be) available for those who don’t want eggs.

7. Thinking about animal rights
Some groups have been opposing eggs as they are concerned about animal rights, especially the inhuman conditions in which chicken are reared. In fact, the same concern applies to milk too – calves are separated too early from their mothers, cows are given oxytocin injections and subjected to painful milking. The solution is not to stop consuming these items, but rather thinking about ethical solutions. For example, eggs could be procured from local women who rear free-range chicken on a small scale. That would even create employment opportunities for such women. In any case, as mentioned earlier, there is no compulsion as far as consumption of eggs is concerned.

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As India turns 70, London School of Economics asks some provocative questions

Is India ready to become a global superpower?

Meaningful changes have always been driven by the right, but inconvenient questions. As India completes 70 years of its sovereign journey, we could do two things – celebrate, pay our token tributes and move on, or take the time to reflect and assess if our course needs correction. The ‘India @ 70: LSE India Summit’, the annual flagship summit of the LSE (London School of Economics) South Asia Centre, is posing some fundamental but complex questions that define our future direction as a nation. Through an honest debate – built on new research, applied knowledge and ground realities – with an eclectic mix of thought leaders and industry stalwarts, this summit hopes to create a thought-provoking discourse.

From how relevant (or irrelevant) is our constitutional framework, to how we can beat the global one-upmanship games, from how sincere are business houses in their social responsibility endeavours to why water is so crucial to our very existence as a strong nation, these are some crucial questions that the event will throw up and face head-on, even as it commemorates the 70th anniversary of India’s independence.

Is it time to re-look at constitution and citizenship in India?

The Constitution of India is fundamental to the country’s identity as a democratic power. But notwithstanding its historical authority, is it perhaps time to examine its relevance? The Constitution was drafted at a time when independent India was still a young entity. So granting overwhelming powers to the government may have helped during the early years. But in the current times, they may prove to be more discriminatory than egalitarian. Our constitution borrowed laws from other countries and continues to retain them, while the origin countries have updated them since then. So, do we need a complete overhaul of the constitution? An expert panel led by Dr Mukulika Banerjee of LSE, including political and economic commentator S Gurumurthy, Madhav Khosla of Columbia University, Niraja Gopal Jayal of JNU, Chintan Chandrachud the author of the book Balanced Constitutionalism and sociologist, legal researcher and Director of Council for Social Development Kalpana Kannabiran will seek answers to this.

Is CSR simply forced philanthropy?

While India pioneered the mandatory minimum CSR spend, has it succeeded in driving impact? Corporate social responsibility has many dynamics at play. Are CSR initiatives mere tokenism for compliance? Despite government guidelines and directives, are CSR activities well-thought out initiatives, which are monitored and measured for impact? The CSR stipulations have also spawned the proliferation of ambiguous NGOs. The session, ‘Does forced philanthropy work – CSR in India?” will raise these questions of intent, ethics and integrity. It will be moderated by Professor Harry Barkema and have industry veterans such as Mukund Rajan (Chairman, Tata Council for Community Initiatives), Onkar S Kanwar (Chairman and CEO, Apollo Tyres), Anu Aga (former Chairman, Thermax) and Rahul Bajaj (Chairman, Bajaj Group) on the panel.

Can India punch above its weight to be considered on par with other super-powers?

At 70, can India mobilize its strengths and galvanize into the role of a serious power player on the global stage? The question is related to the whole new perception of India as a dominant power in South Asia rather than as a Third World country, enabled by our foreign policies, defense strategies and a buoyant economy. The country’s status abroad is key in its emergence as a heavyweight but the foreign service officers’ cadre no longer draws top talent. Is India equipped right for its aspirations? The ‘India Abroad: From Third World to Regional Power’ panel will explore India’s foreign policy with Ashley Tellis, Meera Shankar (Former Foreign Secretary), Kanwal Sibal (Former Foreign Secretary), Jayant Prasad and Rakesh Sood.

Are we under-estimating how critical water is in India’s race ahead?

At no other time has water as a natural resource assumed such a big significance. Studies estimate that by 2025 the country will become ‘water–stressed’. While water has been the bone of contention between states and controlling access to water, a source for political power, has water security received the due attention in economic policies and development plans? Relevant to the central issue of water security is also the issue of ‘virtual water’. Virtual water corresponds to the water content (used) in goods and services, bulk of which is in food grains. Through food grain exports, India is a large virtual net exporter of water. In 2014-15, just through export of rice, India exported 10 trillion litres of virtual water. With India’s water security looking grim, are we making the right economic choices? Acclaimed author and academic from the Institute of Economic Growth, Delhi, Amita Bavisar will moderate the session ‘Does India need virtual water?’

Delve into this rich confluence of ideas and more at the ‘India @ 70: LSE India Summit’, presented by Apollo Tyres in association with the British Council and organized by Teamworks Arts during March 29-31, 2017 at the India Habitat Centre, New Delhi. To catch ‘India @ 70’ live online, register here.

At the venue, you could also visit the Partition Museum. Dedicated to the memory of one of the most conflict-ridden chapters in our country’s history, the museum will exhibit a unique archive of rare photographs, letters, press reports and audio recordings from The Partition Museum, Amritsar.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Teamwork Arts and not by the Scroll editorial team.