Bengaluru: Beef is back in controversy in Kerala following its deletion from the menu for fresh recruits who began training at the state police academy last week.
Beef is a staple food item widely consumed in Kerala, but it is contentious in some other parts of the country because cows are held sacred in Hinduism, the faith practised by the vast majority of Indians.
Kerala is among select states where cow slaughter is legal.
But it’s not just beef. The new menu for the five training centres under the Thrissur-based Kerala Police Academy — accessed by ThePrint — doesn’t include any red meat and only lists chicken, fish and eggs among its non-vegetarian offerings.
Senior officials engaged with the academy have dismissed the controversy over the removal of beef, saying the new menu draws from health recommendations that discourage red meat consumption.
It is only indicative in nature, they claim, and individual training centres remain free to offer any food item they manage to source.
Beef served twice a week earlier
The controversy broke out when the new menu was issued on 15 February, a day before 4,000 recruits started training at five camps under the Kerala Police Academy.
The earlier menu comprised fish, chicken, beef, mutton and egg. Beef was served twice a week.
The menu for police trainees, a source in Kerala Police said, is reviewed on a regular basis by a health expert to ensure they follow a nutritious and healthy diet.
V.P. Pramod Kumar, the deputy director of public relations for Kerala Police, said they had not “omitted beef at all”. “The food committees of the training centres have been asked to decide the menu based on locally available material,” he added.
A senior officer in the state force said the training centres were “free to include beef in their menu if they want”.
“The menu is just an indicative one, in order to ensure that the trainees get the adequate calories to keep themselves fit,” the officer added.
“It’s not just beef, but mutton has also been taken off the list… The dietician who works with police felt it was necessary to remove any food item that could hamper the fitness of police personnel.”
A second police officer said the decision might be driven by “studies that show red meat is not healthy”.
“They have removed pickles and papad too. This is all an unnecessary controversy,” the officer added.
Asked about the argument regarding its ill effects, Dr Hema Arvind, chief of nutrition and dietetics at the Bengaluru-based MS Ramaiah Memorial Hospital, noted that “red meat usually has high levels of fat and and cholesterol”.
“One could opt for lean, white meat like fish or chicken, which provides the same amount of calories without the harm that red meat could cause,” she added. “Also, the way red meat is cooked could add to cholesterol levels. So, the dietician must have kept all this in mind while making the recommendation.”
Not the first controversy
This is not the first time beef has been dropped from the menu for trainees at the Kerala Police Academy. In 2014, an “unofficial ban on beef” was allegedly ordered by the then Inspector General of Training, Suresh Rajpurohit.
However, when the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Democratic Front came to power in 2016, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan intervened and lifted the two-year-old “ban”.
The new controversy comes close on the the heels of another storm over the meat, triggered by a Kerala Tourism ad promoting the state’s famous beef fry. The ad, released on a day that marked the harvest festivals of Makar Sankranti, Pongal and Bihu, triggered immediate outrage among some users. They especially took issue with the timing of the tweet, pointing out that people in other parts of India celebrated the aforementioned festivals by worshipping cows.
In 2017, self-styled cow vigilantes reportedly barged into Kerala House in New Delhi and began distributing cow milk as a mark of protest against beef consumption in the state.