Food insecurity

Indians need their protein where they can get it – especially from meat and eggs

A health ministry tweet clubbing meat and eggs with unhealthy food ignores the problem of protein deficiency across the country.

When the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare sent out a tweet on Monday asking Indians to choose what they eat wisely to live well, it seemed to have overlooked a key aspect of malnutrition in India. Many Indians suffer from protein deficiencies and foods like meat and eggs are the best complete sources of protein.

In its tweet, the health ministry shared an image comparing two body types. One was an outline of a the body of a curvy woman within which were illustrations of unhealthy foods like chips, donuts, fries and soft drink and also of meat and eggs. The second body type was that of a lean woman within which were drawings of fruits, vegetables and grain. The tweet was deleted later in the day but not before social media pointed out that the ministry seemed to be promoting vegetarianism and calling meat unhealthy, even as it also indulged in some casual fat-shaming.

The image itself has been lifted off a website that offered stock images, as one Twitter user pointed out, and so has not been designed for a health ministry nutrition campaign. But whether the ministry expressly intended to or not, it ended up sending out a message that vegetarianism is healthy and meat and eggs are not.

Here is a problem with such a message.

Proteins are essential building blocks of the human body necessary for growth and repair. Protein energy malnutrition has been a major public health problem in India for decades. Protein energy malnutrition, according to the World Health Organisation, is an imbalance between the supply of protein and energy and the body’s demand for them to ensure optimal growth and function. It particularly affects young children showing up as stunting underweight (low weight for age), stunting (low height for age) and wasting (low weight for height). The latest round of the National Family Health Survey shows that 36% of India’s children are underweight, 21% are wasted and 38% are stunted. Protein deficiencies not only affect physical growth but also cognitive development and can lead to permanent impairment in later life.

Protein energy malnutrition also affects adults. A consumer survey in 2015 found that the diets of nine out of 10 Indians is protein deficient. Pregnant women across India also suffer this form of malnutrition, which not only affects their health but the health of their children.

A variety of foods are sources of protein – pulses, legumes, milk, eggs, meat and fish. However, as the dietary guidelines of the National Institute of Nutrition, Hyderabad points out, animal proteins are of high quality as they provide all the essential amino acids in right proportions, while plant or vegetable proteins are not of the same quality because of their low content of some of the essential amino acids.

This is not to say that a person cannot get their protein requirement from a vegetarian diet but that such a diet will have to contain a combination of cereals, millets and pulses to provide all the amino acids that build better quality proteins.

In fact, eggs are the best sources of protein having a very high biological value – the metric used to measure protein content.

Biological value of protein in different foods

Food
Biological Value
Whole egg 93.7
Milk 84.5
Fish 76
Beef 74.3
Soyabeans 72.8
Rice (polished) 64
Wheat (whole) 64
Corn 60
Beans (dry) 58
Source: FAO

The existing protein deficiencies threaten to get worse since protein content in both plant and animal food in India seem to be declining. A report from the National Institute of Nutrition in 2017 showed that, for example, in 20 years since between 1993 and 2013 protein levels in beans fell around 60%, brown lentil by about 10% and in goat meat by about 5%. Some of the depletion may be due to more intense agriculture practices and changing climate that is leaving soil nutrient deficient.

Given the severity of protein malnutrition in the country, Indians should get their protein from whatever sources are available to them making the health ministry’s willful or inadvertent labelling of high protein sources like eggs and meat as unhealthy a bad move.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.