Food Politics Hits India’s Most Malnourished Children

Friday, July 10, 2015

Clutching battered metal plates, the children waited patiently in a remote central Indian village for the two small flat pieces of bread and scoop of boiled potato curry that would be their only full meal that day.

They are among the 120 million malnourished children across India who depend on a government-run program serving lunch five days a week.

Still, the modest menus are clearly not enough to make up for the calories and nutrition that poverty has denied. All 35 or so children gathered on the dirt floor of their preschool in Madkheda, a village in the state of Madhya Pradesh, show the telltale signs of malnutrition — coarse hair lightened to a sandy brown for lack of nutrients, limbs stick thin, and bellies swollen from chronic hunger.

More than half the children in Madhya Pradesh state, with a population of nearly 77 million, are underweight and malnourished.

So last month, it was suggested that eggs — a key source of protein — be added to the lunch program. But that idea was rejected by Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, the state’s top elected official, a member of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party and a strict vegetarian. He suggested that milk and bananas be given to children instead.

“As long I am the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, eggs will not be introduced,” Chouhan declared in the state capital, Bhopal. “The human body is meant to consume vegetarian food, which has everything the human body requires.”

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