Climate Change

‘Carbon neutrality’ – giving the term meaning

Alisha Bhagat | Jun 05, 2017


This article was originally published on and is republished with permission

In preparation for a recent trip to Mumbai, I started following several Mumbai food instagrammers to anticipate the new restaurants and dishes that awaited me. Having lived in Mumbai 10 years ago, I’m familiar with Mumbaikers’ obsessive love of food. However, once I arrived, I realized that dining in Mumbai had changed a great deal. For one, there was a lot more meat on the menu, specifically, items such as beef and pork which were much less common in India ten years ago. Additionally desserts were everywhere, bigger and more chocolaty than ever before. The fresh fruit milkshake that my grandparents used to treat me to seemed pitiful in comparison to the giant chocolate ice cream waffles and overloaded burgers that trendy spots had on offer. This change is indicative of the dramatic shift in Indian diets taking place over the past several years. As the middle class in India continues to grow, and move to cities, changing diets and their health and environmental impacts will become increasingly significant.

India faces a double dietary burden – there are those who lack proper nutrition (17% of Indians are undernourished) and those who have access to an abundance of calorie dense food and processed foodstuffs – a typical Western diet. For some of those fortunate enough to be able to afford a Western diet, the impact has been higher rates of obesity and diabetes (India has the highest rates of type 2 diabetes in the world). Surprisingly, despite the fact that Indians are embracing Western dietary patterns, most Indians are deficient in key nutrients – one of which is protein. According to a survey of both vegetarian and non-vegetarian Indians conducted by the consultancy firm IMRB, 9 out of 10 people consume less than the recommended daily amount of protein. There is a huge gap between the amount of protein Indians should consume and the amount they do consume.

At Forum we have been spending a few years working on the Protein Challenge, a project that looks at how we can sustainably feed 9 billion people enough protein in a way that is affordable, accessible, and good for the environment. In India the implications of the Protein Challenge are vast. What would it mean for all Indians to consume sufficient amounts of protein? Where would this protein come from? How can healthy diets persist in the face of Western processed foods? The project is currently being implemented in the US and UK, but what is the scope for sustainable diets in India?

In the US, much of the discussion around sustainable protein centers on technological solutions. We tend to focus on reimagining plant-based meats, attempt to grow meat in a lab, or encourage the eating of novel foods such as insects. In India, this manifests somewhat differently as the issue is scarcity rather than abundance. Eating certain foods is tied up in longstanding religious, class and caste issues. Given the protein deficiencies among many Indians, the issue is protein distribution. Is there enough protein for everyone and if so, can they access it?

While diets are changing in India, the changes are not necessarily towards protein rich options. According to data from the FAO, between 1961 and 2013 Indian diets diversified and so did protein consumption. During that period egg consumption increased eightfold, and consumption of tree nuts and animal fats increased. Yet even though these categories increased, there was relatively little change in the proportion of protein consumed as there was a small decline in pulse consumption and red meat consumption. Pulses, meat, fish, milk, eggs, and offal comprised 22% of per capita food supply in 1961. By 2013 they were at 23%. Total per capita food supply increased during this period but the share of proteins in the diet remained roughly constant. It is also worth pointing out that 23% is an average – there are those consuming much more and much less.

So while some Mumbaikers might be ordering burgers, many Indians are consuming protein at low levels. Dietary diversification has meant an increase in in starchy, fatty, and sugary foods rather than bringing an increase in protein-rich foods or fruits and vegetables. To meet the protein challenge in India, it will be essential to consume healthy amount of protein and also to ensure that the protein comes from sustainable sources. To feed a projected 1.6 billion Indians by 2040, significant changes are needed across the Indian food system to ensure proper nutrition for all. Mumbai foodies in 2040 will likely be chasing the next biggest trend, but let’s hope that those trends include foods that positively impact our bodies as well as the planet.

If you’d like more information on the Protein Challenge see here or contact Alisha Bhagat


Your subscription has now been confirmed. We look forward to keeping you up to date on the latest news around sustainable development in your chosen fields.