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No eggs on their plates

Akshaya Patra violates government’s nutritional guidelines by not providing eggs in school mid-day meals. It’s a tussle between religious belief and science that needs resolving

Be it a Sunday or a Monday, these disadvantaged children do not get eggs in their mid-day meals as it is against the religious beliefs of an organisation. NGO Akshaya Patra, run by International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), had earlier refused to provide eggs in the meal saying it can only provide a satvik diet — a diet based on Ayurveda and yoga literature.

This is not the only time that the foundation has refused to follow recommended nutritional guidelines in the government scheme.which has been providing mid-day meals (MDM) to 4.43 lakh school children in Karnataka. It recently refused to sign a memorandum for 2018-19 following a directive by the state government to include onions and garlic in the food prepared for the meal, based on recommendations from the State Food Commission.

Experts have written to the Ministry of Women and Child Development seeking inclusion of eggs to meet the nutritional needs of children. Right to Food Campaign and Jan Swasthya Abhiyan have sought that all contracts to Akshay Patra be stopped immediately for supply.

Dr Sylvia Karpagam, a public health doctor, is among those campaigning for eggs. “Eggs have to be provided to children at least three times a week.

The purpose of midday meals is to give children nutritious food and this is also region-specific. Majority of the students studying in government schools consume eggs,” she said.

“We demand that all contracts to Akshaya Patra for supply of MDM be immediately terminated, eggs be supplied in all schools to the children of communities that are accustomed to eating them and MDM be prepared through SHGs and other CBOs in accordance with nutritional norms and cultural practices, using fresh local products,” the letter read.

Akshaya Patra, which claims to supply mid-day meals to 1.76 million children from 14,702 schools across 12 states in India, has flouted these norms, failing to cater to children from disadvantaged communities, almost all of whom eat eggs and are culturally accustomed to garlic and onion in food.
The foundation has a religious prerogative of “advocating a lacto-vegetarian diet, strictly avoiding meat, fish and eggs” and considers onions and garlic in food as “lower modes of nature which inhibit spiritual advancement”.

The National Institute of Nutrition recommends consumption of at least three eggs per week for children. But in Rajasthan, Akshaya Patra claimed that eggs are “not permissible”. Rights-based campaigns have maintained that mid-day meals should be locally prepared, culturally relevant and should not be provided through a centralised agency, especially one that puts religious sanctions on food.