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The rise of India's meat culture
02:25 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

India is now one of the fastest growing markets for chicken in the world

Indians are developing new tastes because their incomes have grown, says top food writer

But there's also a lot more food available in India these days

Mumbai, India CNN  — 

I live in Malabar Hill in Mumbai, an area of the city whose residents are drawn mainly from the Jain and Gujarati communities and where vegetarianism is a big part of their cultural identity.

I, however, eat meat. Am I an exception in my neighborhood? Not anymore.

It turns out many more people are abandoning vegetarianism in India, which seems to run counter to what is happening in many other countries where people are turning away from meat.

India is now one of the fastest growing markets for chicken in the world. The appetite for chicken here is growing at around 12% a year, according to India’s National Sample Survey Office – that’s faster than any other type of meat.

This is a big deal because India is still among the lowest meat consumers in the world.

“They aren’t just eating it, they are also talking a lot more about it,” says Rushina Munshaw Ghildiyal, a popular Indian food writer and consultant. “It’s cooler to talk about being a meat lover than a vegetable lover!”

Economy drives meat appetite

She says Indians are developing new tastes because their incomes have grown – India’s economy is slowly heading in the right direction again; people are earning more, they are traveling more and are being exposed to new, international cuisines.

There’s also a lot more food available in India these days. When I was growing up in Kolkata, food options were limited to chicken, goat meat and whatever fish was available in the Hooghly River that ran through the city. Today, I have a food delivery service that will drop off everything from tuna and salmon to sea bass. Local grocery stores stock premium quality ham and meats. And chicken – there are multiple companies selling chicken in all forms and cuts: chicken sausages, chicken nuggets, chicken salami.

“Business has boomed, we are growing larger and larger as the day comes,” says Perizaad Zorabian, marketing head of Zorabian chicken, a premium niche poultry business. It’s become so busy that Zorabian has put her Bollywood acting career on hold to focus on the family business.

Healthy option?

There are many reasons Indians are turning to chicken. Top of the list is the perception that it’s healthy. People are generally more conscious about eating right and eating healthy foods – especially the younger generation, Zorabian says. Given that 100 grams of chicken gives you more protein than 100 grams of cooked lentils, many people are turning to the white meat.

It was a chicken curry that tempted Nikhil Merchant to take his first bite.

A vegetarian all his life, he went to a restaurant with his cousin one day. His cousin – who eats meat – ordered a plate of butter chicken curry. “It just looked so tempting,” Merchant says. “I took the first bite with a roti and I got used to it.”

He’s finally broken the news to his parents who maintain a strict vegetarian diet. His father tried to talk him out of his chicken eating ways but there’s no going back for Merchant. “I said it’s part of my life.”