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Indian Minister To Schoolkids: No Eggs For You!

Maria Fabrizio for NPR i
Maria Fabrizio for NPR
Maria Fabrizio for NPR
Maria Fabrizio for NPR

I recently learned about a decision to ban eggs in school lunches — the main meal of the day — in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. The state's chief minister, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, has vetoed a proposal to include eggs in children's school lunches in government schools. Even though eggs are an excellent source of nutrition, he said eggs would not be served because they are not a vegetarian food, and that milk and bananas would be offered instead. Like many Hindus, Chouhan is a vegetarian and reportedly vetoed eggs in school lunches because vegetarians often will not eat them. I can respect an individual's decision not to eat eggs. But I'm sad to think that Chouhan is depriving children of a nutritious — and delicious — food.

I grew up in India in the early 1980s in an egg-eating family, I loved eggs. I still do. In India, when I was about 10 years old I saw an advertisement on TV that promoted eggs. "Sunday ho ya Monday, roz khao Ande," was its punch line. "Eat an egg every day, be it Sunday or Monday." "Sunday or Monday, make every day an egg day."

It was a catchy tune, and it remained in my head. When my parents told me I'd had enough eggs for the day, I'd remind them of the advertisement.

Because I liked eggs so much, my mother always packed an egg in my lunch for school. Sometimes she'd give me two pieces of toast along with an omelet — fried in plenty of oil, flecked with purple onions and bits of hot green chili. That lunch provided me with the energy I needed at school. The smell of the omelet in my backpack distracted me while I was in class. I looked forward to recess.

I was one of the few kids who brought eggs to school every day. Those who didn't were either vegetarians or came from families that couldn't afford eggs on a daily basis. I had friends in both camps. Sometimes my mom packed more than one egg, because a lot of my friends liked to share my food. They enjoyed my mother's omelets.

I knew vegetarians who were moderate to very strict. Some didn't consider eggs to be in the same category as meat. Others ate no eggs as well as no meat — and even no onions and garlic. Hindus, especially the upper-caste Brahmins, believed these foods would give them violent thoughts.

The non-egg eaters didn't influence me, but I did — unknowingly — convert a few of them. One particular family told me not to come to their house to play with their son anymore.

I heard one parent say to their egg-craving children, "Tomorrow you'll demand meat." I responded by singing the line from the ad, "Sunday ho ya Monday, roz khao ande." It was my way of reminding them that I was not the only one who thought there was nothing wrong with eating eggs, and that they were good for your health. This irritated the parents for more than one reason. First, advocating eggs defied the practices of their family and possibly their whole caste group. Second, their kids joined the chorus.

Coming back to the topic of the banning of eggs in school lunches, I wonder what it is about. Is it about cutting costs? Or is it about high-caste Hindus depriving economically disadvantaged kids, a lot of times who also happen to be of low-caste, of good-quality food? Economist Jean Dreze, writes in Times of India, that it "is essentially an upper-caste affirmation that 'what we say goes.' "

Whatever it is, it makes me sad. I couldn't imagine a life without eggs as a child. Thank goodness my family was not dependent on the government for eggs.

It makes me want to tell all the kids in school in Madhya Pradesh to sing, "Sunday ho ya Monday, roz khao ande," until the government lets them eat eggs if they want.

Deepak Singh is a writer living in Ann Arbor, Mich. He tweets as @deepakwriter

Correction July 9, 2015

In a previous version of this story, Shivraj Singh Chouhan was misidentified as the governor of Madhya Pradesh. In fact, he is the state's chief minister.

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