On Ayurvedic Chicken and Vegetarian Eggs

It is usually righteous to ridicule right-wing politicians. They either purposely spread misinformation and/or are wilful liars.

Therefore it’s not surprising that Mr Sanjay Raut has been mocked for asking the Ministry of Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy (AYUSH) to decide whether chicken or eggs be classified as vegetarian. The Shiv Sena MP buttressed his arguments with references to ‘healthy’ Ayurvedic Chickens and Ayurvedic Eggs that he was lucky enough to encounter.

At first glance, this seems like a silly and contemptuous request. Neither is possible, and therefore in the greater scheme of things not something the Rajya Sabha should waste time on

However, while the logic of connecting Ayurvedic chickens to a vegetarian classification is faulty, the idea of an Ayurvedic chicken is in itself not illogical, or impractical. Also, if Mr Raut was actually serious he should have directed his demand to the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSSAI) within the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, which is tasked with issuing red and green dots on packaging which indicate a meat-based or vegetable-based origin respectively.

Let’s explore the idea of the Ayurvedic chicken more closely. As anyone working with the health food space knows, it’s not simply what you eat that’s important; what is eaten by what you eat is just as important. When we eat, we are not simply eating the food in front of us; we are also absorbing all the nutrients and chemicals hidden away deep inside the tissues or fibres. This is the basis of the organic movement.

It is therefore entirely possible that just as corn fed chickens are tastier than grass fed ones, a bird raised on a diet of Ayurvedic herbs could be healthier than a regular desi, or backyard bird. It would certainly be better than the antibiotic-rich broilers that we normally consume.

Irrespective of how healthy they might be, it would be foul play for any Ministry to classify chicken as a vegetarian product. Mr Raut is on safe ground if he insists that eggs be classified as vegetarian. There is no scientific evidence to suggest that commercially available eggs – whether produced industrially, cage-free or free-range, are anything but vegetarian.

Vegetarianism excludes all flesh foods from the diet, but not animal-derived products such as dairy, or honey. Vegetarianism is premised on the idea that a sentient life was taken to provide or, in the case of eggs, that something that could have come to life was destroyed. And this was not an incorrect position to hold in the period before the mass production of eggs. Chicks would emerge at any farm with a rooster provided they were allowed to incubate for 21 days. Culturally, eggs have naturally been associated with fecundity, resurrection and in multiple cosmogonies the primordial source of creation.

In the current scenario no life is ever going to emanate from these little packages of proteins and fat. Layer hens today live their entire lives untouched by a cock and therefore the eggs they produce are completely devoid of the potential for life. The hens can sit on them till kingdom come but no chick will ever emerge from these unfertilised eggs.

So why do hens produce eggs if no chicks will be born? Quite simply, because nature has made it so. Nature has created the potential for life, irrespective of whether life will emerge or not. So what women go through in a month, hens go through in a day. Ovulation starts four hours after the egg is laid and all that the hens require is adequate nourishment and access to light (not necessarily natural light). Much like humans, hens have a circadian rhythm that affects egg production. If the eggs were not collected daily the birds would continue laying till they had a ‘clutch’ of about 15 eggs after which they would attempt to incubate them. However, not all hens lay every day, industrial breeds lay more than 300 a year, most free-range and cage free around 150 – 200. All, without exception, are unfertilised eggs.

All three eggs – desi, free-range and industrial are sterile

And if no life is to be lost, how is consuming eggs any different from consuming milk, cheese, butter, yoghurt, or honey. On what grounds then is the FSSAI classifying eggs as a meat-based product and differentiating between eggless cakes, mayonnaise, breads and desserts and their tastier counterparts?

While the issue of aesthetics is trivial, banning eggs from Chattisgarh may still be debating the issue but Madhya Pradesh has already removed them from anganwadis. Eggs are cheap and complete form of protein and nutrition. To remove them from the diet of those who most need them on spurious grounds is utterly shameful.

If Mr Raut is indeed serious about this matter then there are sufficient arguments to push forward for vegetarian eggs.

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