Dietary differences and health in India versus the U.S.

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I was never a big fan of vegetarian food. As part of my everyday diet since I was a child, I would consume at least some meat (either beef, pork or chicken). However, when I arrived in Mumbai, I found very few non-vegetarian places to eat, and learned that beef or pork is not sold in the markets. Only chicken is available for purchase at markets, and sometimes, fish.

Although I have been in Mumbai for almost two months now, I still find the respect cows receive here fascinating. In this city, they live freely in the streets and are not threatened by human presence.  Hinduism (which is the main religion in India) preaches that human beings should care for everything that lives and the cow falls into the highest honor category as a sacred beast. Some people believe that cows play a big role in daily life because the cow provides people with milk and the dung may also be dried and burned to cook or warm the house during cold season. Across the state of Maharashtra, indeed, selling beef is prohibited and killing cows is a major offense by law. Those who violate the law face up to five years in jail.

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In these past two months in India, I have been eating very little chicken, and no beef at all. My appetite for eating chicken has substantially being fading over time, particularly after seeing a chicken butcher at work in a market near the place where I am staying. Contrary to my beliefs, I have noticed a substantial improvement in my health over the past weeks, although at the beginning I was feeling constantly weak. I have also learned to appreciate the large and exquisite variety of vegetarian food that is available in the streets of Mumbai, and now enjoy three vegetarian meals per day.

I do not miss eating beef, and I don’t know whether I’ll continue my vegetarian diet once I return to the United States. What I do know for certain, though, is that having an entirely vegetarian diet has allowed me to experience a new lifestyle that makes me feel stronger and healthier every day.

Pablo Nunez

Pablo Nunez is working out of Mumbai, India, with Swadhaar FinServe, an Accion partner and microfinance institution, on a small and medium enterprise lending project.

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