The humble egg -- or, more accurately, the lack thereof -- has been whipping up a bit of a storm in the Indian press.
The story has emerged over recent days -- and been picked up by the BBC and generated pages of fervent comment in discussion groups -- of the decision by the chief minister of the state of Madhya Pradesh to turn down a proposal to include eggs in a pilot scheme to feed poor children.
The central Indian state, sometimes known as the “Heart of India,” is home to 75 million inhabitants and, according to Scroll.in, has at least 800,000 malnourished children.
The state’s chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan is said to agree with the Jain religious community, who believe that eggs can harm children. His decision not to allow eggs in nutrition schemes has been strongly condemned by food campaigners.
According to the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef), there are close to one in two children in India under the age of five suffering from moderate or severe malnutrition.
At least 15 states across India already serve eggs to undernourished children, although some only do so reluctantly, and in the majority of states, eggs are not included. In those states that do include eggs, it is often under the Integrated Child Development Scheme or the Midday Meal Scheme for schools. The latter is thought to serve more than 1 billion eggs annually.
Attempts to introduce eggs more widely into child nutrition schemes have often been beaten by those opposing non-vegetarian food, Scroll.in continues, adding that those groups that most need additional protein sources are, on the whole, non-vegetarian and that, in any event, what is being called for is egg inclusion in food scheme, not that children be forced to consume eggs.
Estimates of the number of vegetarians in India range between 20 and 40 percent of the population. Attitudes are slowly changing, and there is some evidence to suggest that, among certain groups, eggs are becoming more acceptable, yet there are also reports that some have called for the growing number of supermarkets to be meat free.