Gourmet Foods

All over the world gourmet foods due to their marketing hype of “superb luxury affordable by a select few” are consumed with relish by the snobbish. They include items such as caviar, oysters (from Kerala too), bêche de mer (sea cucumber), salmon, tiger prawns (and prawns from Chilka, Orissa the world is now clamouring for, despite environmental concerns), turbot (fish), fruit bat (entire bat is cooked into a soup in Guam – its consumption can result in neurological diseases), fugu (Japanese puffer fish which is lethally poisonous if prepared incorrectly), loin/tenderloin/sirloin steak (horse/pig/cattle – particularly Kobe beef from Japanese Wagyu cattle), pâté de foie gras, bird’s nests, milk-fed lamb from the Pyrenees, honey, saffron and truffles: all non-vegetarian, except saffron and truffles. But truffles are gathered from the wild by specially trained pigs or dogs giving them a background of animal exploitation.

 

Gourmet, exotic or what ever, the strongest religious belief against eating flesh is that of pigs, considered unclean. Non-religious but cultural taboos against eating some other animals also exist, but are no longer as strong because people have migrated. For example, the flesh of dogs, cats, horses and monkeys has been consumed in Western societies that have earlier vehemently opposed eating these animals.


A new trend is to mix exotic items to produce dishes and add expensive gold leaf (non-veg gold varkh), champagne, sugar with a touch of ambergris (from sperm whale), or even holy water, then garnish with a sparkling diamond or throw in a platinum coin so that the price rises sky-high. The spenders obviously have more money than brains, and couldn’t care less about other living creatures.

Molecular gastronomy is yet another trend. Bizarre combinations and techniques are utilised to cook and present food whose taste and texture has been changed into foam, bubbles, dust, sauces that change colour on the plate, chocolate that explodes, and so on. Veg and non-veg could as well be combined for an attractive presentation. It is nothing short of a sensationary gimmick.


Disgusting Non-Veg Snobbery


Foreign companies and trade commissions have begun aggressively promoting their country’s products and exotic non-vegetarian foods have been widely introduced into India. Disgustingly, the latest being corn-fed chickens and organic pork and lamb from French farms. Five-star hotels and restaurants organise food festivals focusing on cuisine from different lands and serve up a cornucopia of gourmet foods for “discerning customers” willing to pay whatever be the price. They utilise the services of foreign chefs and imported ingredients including meats like veal (calf meat) and beef, as well as unsuspected non-vegetarian items like cheese containing calf rennet. It is surprisingly how these items are passed off when calf slaughter is prohibited in India. Also magazines such as Hello get away with publishing recipes for veal.

The Indian arms of sea food trading entities sell a wide array of seafood products in ranges such as raw frozen, ready to fry and marinated. The “fresh frozen” (contradicting words) category consists of products like Atlantic salmon, Alaska Pollock, sear fish steaks, barracuda steaks, squid rings, scampi, black tiger prawns, silver and black pomfrets.

Also, luxury food retailers (like Nature’s Basket, Le Marche and Food Hall) continue to offer exotic and high-end products to consumers and despite rising prices there is a growing demand. This is probably due to frequent cookery shows and competitions that are telecast with certain programmes utilising the flesh of foreign creatures which some Indians feel fascinated and attracted to and therefore are tempted to consume and show off to friends.


In 2013 the Minister of Information & Broadcasting and the Indian Broadcasting Foundation were informed by BWC that several TV channels were telecasting gruesome cookery demonstrations that depicted raw bloody flesh of animals, birds and fish; and that some times live creatures were torn apart, beaten or scalded in boiling water. Such scenes were repulsive to viewers, particularly if vegetarian or religious. The Ministry promptly assured BWC that the channels would be advised suitably. We hope the advisory is linked to a fine.


Bêche de mer/Sea Cucumbers


Marine creatures called sea cucumbers/sea slugs/trepang/gamat which were found in abundance in the Palk Bay and Gulf of Mannar till the 1990s have almost become extinct due to international demand as food and medicine as an aphrodisiac. Bêche de mer a high-value delicacy is prepared by boiling, drying or smoking sea cucumbers. Although listed under CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) instead of imposing a total ban the CMFRI (Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute, Kochi) is trying to introduce sea ranching of hatchery produced offspring.

Furthermore, it is quite surprising that under India’s Import Policy 2012 aquatic invertebrates (like sea cucumbers, sea urchins and jellyfish) are allowed (marked “free”) to be imported for human consumption.

For detailed information on Sea Cucumbers please read
www.bwcindia.org/Web/Awareness/LearnAbout/SeaCucumbers.html


Caviar and Fish Roe


Contrary to the popular notion, caviar and fish roe are never ever found floating in the seas. Fish are killed for these eggs, and their flesh also consumed and can therefore never be labelled even ovo-vegetarian. (Unfortunately caviar has, knowingly or unknowingly, been served at vegetarian banquets in India.)

Caviar is internationally considered a delicacy. It comprises of millions of eggs taken from inside the body of a fish before they are laid. The fish is knocked out (clubbed on its head) to accomplish this and, while it is still alive, its belly is split open to remove the eggs. It is obtained from sturgeon, caught mainly in the Caspian Sea. As the sturgeon is the largest species of freshwater fish, it is difficult to be farmed.

Depending on the size of the sturgeon, Caviar is also known as Beluga, Osetra, Asipenser/Imperial Caviar, Payusnaya, Sevruga, Ikra/Ikura and Malossol which appears on Russian Caviar tins indicates “little salt” has been added. However, Red Caviar is from salmon.

For years caviar has been synonymous with Russia and Iran’s erstwhile royal families. The Iranian Beluga called Almas is from the infinitesimally rare albino sturgeons that are 60 to 100 years old and found in the Caspian Sea – sold in 24-carat gold tins, in 2012 100 gms of the Almas caviar was priced at $920.

With the wild sturgeon facing extinction, farmed caviar is becoming more accepted. The French have cut prices to target a wider global market and claim that caviar from farmed sturgeon is less salty and can be kept longer.

Imitation caviar is from other fish like cod, burbot, vendace/whitefish, lumpsucker/lumpfish, paddlefish, and hackleback. Caviar from Ukraine and Russia also called Ikra (meaning roe) refers to an eggplant spread. Other vegetarian alternatives are lentil or algae-based.

Hard roe is the fully ripe internal egg masses in the ovaries of marine animals such as shrimp, scallop, sea urchins and squid and is consumed either raw or cooked. Soft/white roe or Milt is the male genitalia of fish and is utilised in Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Romanian, Russian, Sicilian and British cuisine.

An experiment found that mushy green peas given to blind folded tasters, passed off as caviar! In fact, mushy peas are occasionally referred to as Yorkshire caviar.


In India, Shad fish roe is consumed fresh or salted. It is as much a part of the fish as its flesh. In some regions, it is called Garabh or Gaboli. It is obtained from different fish species such as Hilsa in Bengal and Bhing or Pala in Maharashtra.

Quinoa (pronounced “keen-wah”) a high protein grain from the Andes region that resembles caviar in looks is promoted by celebrities as “veg caviar”.

When nail art refers to caviar embellishments it is not fish derived, but tiny coloured glass beads sprinkled over wet nails that look like doughnut sprinkles. By the way, actual caviar (and placenta) is also used to make skin cream.

Crustaceans


Crabs, lobsters, crayfish, shrimp, prawns, krill and barnacles are a few familiar crustaceans. They have exoskeletons which aid movement and give protection.

Lobsters have existed for a hundred million years and have instinctively learnt to guard their own bodies. Few people care to know that like humans, their pregnancies last 9 months, and again like us some are left-handed – and believe it or not, have been seen walking hand-in-hand! They have a long childhood, use complicated signals to explore and establish social relationship with each other, and even flirt. That’s not all they live for over 100 years, although less than 1% of them are actually allowed to survive that long.

India’s 400 crab species are found almost every where in the country and crab meat is eaten by communities living near lakes, rivers and sea. There is no such thing as “killing them kindly”. They are plunged alive into pots of boiling water – tortured to death. Lobsters thrash around literally shrieking as they are unable to escape death, whereas crabs shed their claws and legs as defence mechanisms and are usually submerged in water for eight hours, after which they are cooked and often served whole in the shell and therefore the creature needs to be dismembered on the plate. A cookery show telecast in India had a live crab’s upper shell being torn off and the creature’s flesh scooped out.


Crayfish are generally frozen to put them in a comatose state and then “dispatched”. Some are stabbed in the head with a knife. A contestant on the Master Chef NZ show received many threats from the public for boiling a crayfish alive.


Aided under the United Nations Development Programme along with the Ministry of Environment, Maharashtra government and with support from the Global Environment Facility, fisherwomen of Sindhudurg on the Konkan coast, are farming crabs and oysters. 5,000 mangrove saplings have also been planted under this project. For years the women used to spear the wild crabs with an iron rod, but since 2013 they have been farming them. During low tide they catch the crabs in the mud by poking a stick to locate them. Although the survival rate of the crabs is only 60% they feel crab farming is lucrative.


The Central Institute of Brackishwater Aquaculture is with the help of Aqgromalin (a research and development unit also situated in Chennai that introduces breeding of black soldier fly larvae for aquaculture) is encouraging farmers of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Karnataka to breed mud crabs (like Sri Lanka), quail, ducks, and obtain fish seeds as well as mushroom spawn.


Scientists from Queen’s University Belfast, UK, have stated in the Journal of Experimental Biology (2013) that crabs and other crustaceans feel pain which calls for the food and aquaculture industry to start thinking of their welfare.

For detailed information on crustaceans please read
www.bwcindia.org/Web/Awareness/LearnAbout/Shells.html


Emu Meat


Beauty Without Cruelty was the first animal rights organisation that brought to light the first emu farm set up by an individual in Andhra Pradesh in the late 1980s – from there it spread to other states.

The slaughter of emus in India is illegal because killing can only take place in abattoirs, not on farms. Emu meat is considered an oddity in India and therefore there are few takers – even though touted as “low on cholesterol, high on protein” and so sold as a costly meat at hypermarkets and served at special restaurants.

An emu farm of Tamil Nadu that had claimed of having learnt 23 varieties of emu dishes from Australian chefs completely collapsed in August 2012. Emu meat was not as popular as projected. The promoters of this and other farms of the state abandoned thousands of birds and went underground following an investment fraud. Maharashtra’s farmers have suffered financial losses too with promoters disappearing.

Let us therefore hope it won’t be long before the hype surrounding emu farming is totally exposed all over the country and it is banned by the government. Meanwhile, it is unfortunate that the birds are suffering… and humans who eat the meat could also suffer because ratites, like cattle, can get BSE (mad cow disease).

For detailed information on Ratites please read
www.bwcindia.org/Web/Awareness/LearnAbout/Ratites.html


Fish


Sushi is commonly known Japanese preparation: it consists of a rice ball made with vinegar in which a raw fish/seafood is placed. A 2017 study published in the British Medical Journal Case Reports stated that sushi’s popularity in the West could be linked to a rise in parasitic infections.

Fugu
or puffer fish is a deadly delicacy of Japan. So much so that chefs undergo extensive training in preparing it and have to themselves taste the fish before serving.


Ikizukuri is also a Japanese delicacy. The fish is served live in order to prove how fresh it is. The fish is tortured to death on the plate. It endures great suffering with amputation after amputation – bits are cut off and eaten.


Yin Yang is a fish that is deep fried for no more than a few seconds – i.e. its skin in scalded but served alive. Although Taiwanese, it is prohibited in Taiwan and also in Australia and Germany.


Foie Gras (pronounced “fwah grah”)


In 2007 Beauty Without Cruelty began writing protest letters to the Government about pâté de foie gras (paste made of diseased liver of ducks, geese or guinea fowls) imported from France and sold in India.


The process of producing foie gras is called gavage and is extremely cruel: the birds are force fed two-three times a day with a funnel pushed down their throats. A tube fed by a pneumatic or hydraulic pump could also be used to force food down the bird’s oesophagus. Those that survive the force-feeding resulting in their livers becoming 10 times their normal size and their abdomens expanding so much that they are unable to stand, walk or breathe normally, are after 100 days of torture slaughtered for their diseased livers to be made into pâté de foie gras.

A few years ago, as a result of Beauty Without Cruelty’s presentations depicting force feeding of geese to produce foie gras, the Sevilla at Hotel Claridges and Smoke House Grill, high-end restaurants in Delhi, struck it off their menus. Dorabjee & Co Pune’s leading department store stopped stocking it and Air India stopped serving it to their First Class passengers in 2008. But many others continued to import, sell and serve it. For example, top restaurants like the Taj Mahal hotel refused to take it off their menu.


Foie gras has been banned in many countries: Austria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Norway, Poland, Sweden, Switzerland, Israel and Argentina. And, in July 2012 American animal activists managed to ban its sales in California; earlier the cities of Chicago and San Diego banned it. Beauty Without Cruelty therefore hoped that the Government of India would also ban it. Eventually, that’s what happened: BWC wrote to the then new Prime Minister, in response to which the Government of India promptly prohibited the import of Foie Gras in July 2014.


Despite this, a March 2018 Indian Express food review of the Baoshuan restaurant at the Oberoi, New Delhi recommended “Cantonese honey roast pork with grated foie gras” as a must try dish. BWC wrote to the General Manager informing him that the import of Foie Gras was banned by the Government of India in 2014 (a BWC achievement) and since it was not allowed to be produced in India, serving it was illegal. We also sent a flyer depicting how ducks were force fed several times a day with a funnel pushed down their throats till such time as their livers get 10 times their normal size. They were then slaughtered and their diseased livers turned into a paste called Foie Gras. A week later the Oberoi e-mailed BWC that “we would like to state that Foie Gras is no longer served at our establishment."


Foie gras is produced in France, Hungary, Bulgaria, USA, Canada, China, Belgium and Spain. In 2014 with the view of dodging China’s ban on import of foie gras, a French firm set up a farm to produce it within the country.


Frogs’ legs


Beauty Without Cruelty relentlessly spent over a decade convincing the Government of India to stop exporting frogs’ legs, an exotic food (French cuisine) in the West. The ban finally came into force in 1987 when BWC publicly appealed to the late Bhajan Lalji, the then Union Minister for Environment & Forests, at a political rally in Mukkam (Rajasthan) and put pressure upon him via the Bishnoi community. (For decades the Bombay Natural History Society and the Blue Cross, Madras, had also been campaigning for the ban, but this strategy by BWC eventually worked.) Facts such as the barbaric manner in which the frogs’ hind legs were chopped off and the ecological imbalance created were stressed.


Beauty Without Cruelty has heard of frogs’ legs being served all year round at certain big restaurants of Goa who stockpile them in their freezers by purchasing live frogs from village youth for amounts ranging from Rs 75 to 250 each. They are sold as “jumping chicken” but every one knows it is frog meat. Also, in Kerala frogs’ legs are an illegal delicacy but fried and served by the innumerable toddy and arrack (liquor) shops particularly in central parts of the state. And, live frogs are sold in Dimapur, Nagaland because Nagas relish them, saying they taste like chicken. Frogs’ legs are eaten by the Sikkimese too.

For detailed information on frogs please read
http://www.bwcindia.org/Web/Awareness/LearnAbout/Frogs.html


Honey


In India a substantial quantity of honey is obtained from forests by setting fire to entire beehives consisting of thousands of rock bees which are smoked out and die.

Apiary honey is another source. Apiculture in India often faces epidemics when entire colonies are destroyed. The bees are farmed in boxes and although they are not killed for obtaining honey we must remember that honey is the food they save for themselves. In order to increase output of this honey, quite often queen bees are killed and replaced with younger ones; also, the queens are artificially inseminated and tricked into laying more eggs by adding large wax cells to the hive.

In view of the above, there is no such thing as ahinsak honey – more so because for a teaspoonful of honey, a bee has to make about 10,000 trips to a flower.

Bee larvae are consumed by Nagas and so one finds huge quantities being sold in the weekly bazaar at Dimapur.

For detailed information on honey please read
www.bwcindia.org/Web/Awareness/LearnAbout/HoneyandotherBeeProducts.html


Kopi Luwak Coffee and other Beverages


Kopi Luwak is civet coffee – famous in Indonesia. (Kopi is coffee and Luwak Asian palm civet – a small mongoose like creature, also called toddy cat.) It is brewed from the beans that civets excrete after eating pulpy, ripe coffee berries which the cats supposedly love to consume. Collecting and salvaging the excreted beans from wild civets is so laborious that civet coffee, known for centuries, has been very costly to produce. But, cruel battery-cage civet farming in coffee-growing areas has, due to mass-production, brought down the price of civet coffee making it a little cheaper, but expensive nevertheless. Each civet is jailed in a 2x1½ metre dark wooden cage with cement flooring. Since authentic Kopi Luwak fetches $50 online for a sample of 2 ounces, scientists have developed a test to determine it has not been mixed with other coffee beans. However there is no way of knowing if the Kopi Luwak is from farmed or wild civets. Undercover investigations have revealed that farmed coffee is passed off as wild coffee because it commands a higher price.


Sumatra, Jawa, Bali, Sulawesi, Philippines and Vietnam are places where Kopi Luwak is also produced. In the Philippines the palm civet is not known as Luwak but Alamid so the final product is called Kape Alamid. In Vietnam, weasels eat the coffee berries but the difference is that they regurgitate (bring up) the beans in the forest from where they are collected, then processed and marketed as Weasel Coffee or cà phê Chồn in Vietnamese.


In Brazil, the Jacu birds eat ripe coffee berries and like civet cats defecate in the wild from where the beans are collected to obtain Jacu Bird Coffee.

In 2012 Thailand began marketing at an exorbitant price coffee beans gathered from the dung of elephants and called it Black Ivory Coffee. The beans are said to thus acquire a unique taste of being smooth without the bitterness of regular coffee.

India is no better! An estate in Siddapur, Coorg is investigating extraction of coffee seeds from elephant dung.


As if this were not enough, Kari Beck or Beckoo in Kanada, the Indian version of Kopi Luwak is sold mainly to hotels at Rs 15,000/- to Rs 20,000/- a kilogram. Estates in Biligiri Rangan Hills of Chamarajanagar district in Karnataka have begun gathering civet cat droppings, washing and processing them during the end of the harvest season when the wild civets visit coffee plantations. (Luckily the marapatti (meaning tree dog but actually the civet cat) of Kerala has not been exploited thus simply because it is detested due to its unbearable stink.)


We should not forget that when a small commercial venture of less than 4 kilograms starts doing well and is so paying as in this case, marketing will make demand definitely increase. That’s when the animals are bound to be bred and fed in captivity – let’s face it, no businessman is going to patiently wait for wild animals to visit his plantation, eat the coffee beans and shit! No wonder, in September 2014, two palm civets that had been hunted in the Maadhalli Reserve Forest and kept in a cage at Mysore, were confiscated and the owner arrested. (Of the 4 civets found in the state, 3 fall under Schedule II, and the Malabar Civet is placed under Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act.)


Our apprehensions were right… in 2017 a start-up firm, Coorg Consolidated Commodities, under the brand name of Ainmane, began selling civet coffee alongside local spices at the Club Mahindra Madikeri Resort. This Coorg Luwark Coffee will be promoted alongside Cappuccino, Expresso and other varieties at their café. Luckily they are unable to export due to their low production and high cost for the necessary certification. But, for how long we wonder will they continue this way gathering coffee beans from the civet poop deposited on plantations near forest areas and not farm civet cats in cages to easily gather their droppings.


Feeding coffee beans to civet cats, weasels, birds and elephants is cruel. Moreover, they are sales gimmicks aimed to lure humans with more money than brains.

Panda tea, said to have a mature and nutty taste, is grown from the excrement obtained from a panda breeding centre in China.


Octopuses


Every one remembers Paul the oracle octopus who possessed psychic powers. No doubt, the species are highly intelligent – in fact, the most intelligent among invertebrates.


The octopus is a cephalopod mollusc. It has a beak with its mouth at the centre point of its arms which are boneless. There is scientific evidence that octopuses experience pain, suffering, distress and lasting harm.


Octopuses live in abandoned shells or even empty cans. Believe it or not, babies are so innocent and fearless that they permit to be touched smooth and close their eyes in pleasure, and, just like cats, they are happy to rub themselves against human legs.


White colour “attracts” octopuses (like red for bulls) so hunters show them a white cloth and lure them out of hiding. When suddenly stabbed with a long sharp knife between their eyes, they squirt venomous ink. They are then beaten, literally 100 times, to death so their flesh gets tenderized. A Master Chef TV cookery show had a contestant objecting to beating the creature but was forced to continue.


Octopuses feature in Japanese, Hawaiian and Portuguese and Korean cuisine where they are some times sliced up and eaten alive while still squirming on the plate. For a South Korean dish called Sannakji the octopus is washed, cut up and served with the tentacles still wriggling. A variation includes consuming a living baby octopus. Incidentally, the suction cups on the tentacles can stick to the human food pipe!


Oysters


True oysters, called edible oysters in India, are incapable of making gem quality pearls. They live in oyster beds that cover the floor of the sea. Artificially created oyster beds are used to farm oysters.

The oyster is a shell fish that is a favourite exotic, expensive food, eaten on special occasions and considered an aphrodisiac too. As soon as its shell is pried open, it dies.

Oysters are usually consumed “fresh” or eaten raw by opening the shell with a shucking knife, adding a lime juice or vinegar dressing and scooping out the flesh. Not every one likes to kill and eat raw oysters thus, so some are cooked. The heat opens the shells and kills them.

Fisherwomen of Sindhudurg on the Konkan coast who undertake crab farming as mentioned above, are also interested in oyster farming. The Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (CMFRI) says the demand for crabs and oysters is on the rise. Way back in the 1970s the CMFRI developed the oyster culture technology but it was not put to use till Maharashtra decided on doing so at Sindhudurg. Thus bivalve farming projects began in Wadatar, Taramumbri, Achra and Devbag villages along the coast. Like crabs, oysters do not need to be fed. Bamboo poles were erected in the creeks and empty oyster shells strung up on ropes. These make resting places for oysters so that they can collect here instead of flowing away into the sea. The estimated production from a single raft of 150 sqm is 187 kgs in 15 months. In the first round 6,000 oysters were killed for 125 kgs of meat worth Rs 50,000/-.


In 2011 wild oysters were found to be “functionally extinct”. A survey of 40 oyster habitats of the world undertaken by the University of California (Santa Cruz) said that the molluscs were disappearing fast and 85% of their reefs had been lost due to disease, over-harvesting and oil spills.

Pule Cheese and Moose Cheese


Cheese made from milk obtained from the 100 Balkan donkeys residing in the Zasavica Special Nature Reserve in Serbia is the most expensive in the world because it takes about 25 litres of milk to make just 1 kg of Pule cheese. (Pule is the Serbian word for foal.)

Another expensive cheese is made from milk of moose. In Sweden tamed moose are milked between May and September – each time the process takes about 2 hours so one can imagine the stress the poor moose undergo.

Quails


Quail meat is also eaten across North India covering Punjab, Rajasthan and Bihar, particularly during winter although its consumption is fast increasing in other parts of the country like Telangana. And, in North-East India, Japanese Quails are found in the wild.


Way back in 1974 the Union Ministry of Agriculture’s Central Avian Research Institute (CARI) started popularising Japanese quail farming, rearing them like poultry: boiler for meat and layer for eggs, as a rural development activity.

Then in 1997, realising that Japanese quails (Coturnix japonica) were protected under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 (WLP Act), the Ministry of Agriculture requested the Ministry of Environment & Forests to delete the specie from the purview of the WLP Act. Although they refused to do so because the birds were found in the wild in North East India, atrociously bending laws in the interest of quail farming, the two Ministries decided to delegate the power of issuing licences for Japanese quail hatcheries to the Officer of the Department of Animal Husbandry, Government of India, under the WLP Act.


There was no difference between farmed quails and those poached from the wild listed as an endangered species. Since it was difficult for an untrained person to differentiate between hybrid and wild bustard quail/bater/lava, almost all Chandrapur restaurants began serving the so-called tastier flesh of the small, “protected” wild bird, hunted and supplied by the Pardhi community of Maharashtra. The hybrid variety, which came from the poultry farms of Nagpur were legally sold, so, if questioned by the Forest Department, restauranteurs said the quails they were serving were not from the wild.


BWC was therefore very happy to know that in September 2011 the Ministry of Environment & Forests issued a circular to the Forest Secretaries and Chief Wildlife Wardens of all States and Union Territories pointing out prohibition on farming of Japanese Quails (Coturnix japonica) as the specie was listed in Schedule IV of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, and that such animals/birds (both wild as well as captive bred) can not be killed/hunted or captured, in view of which, no new licence for farming or permission for expansion or augmentation of existing farming facilities, was to be granted.

Unfortunately, the Union Ministry of Environment & Forests’ directive to totally ban quail farming and close down all quail farms was not implemented. As the saying goes, the left hand knew not what the right hand was doing because the Animal Husbandry Departments under the Union Ministry of Agriculture were on one hand promoting Japanese quail farming, whereas on the other hand the Union Ministry of Environment had imposed a ban on it.


Consequently, in February 2012 the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court, in response to an NGO challenging the Union Ministry of Environment & Forests’ above mentioned circular order, restrained the Ministry from interfering in the business of quail farming since the Japanese quail germplasm was being supplied to farmers by the CARI and quail farming was being promoted by NABARD and ICAR (Indian Council of Agricultural Research) for commercial production.


Eventually, in December 2013 a Notification was issued by the Union Ministry of Environment & Forests making an exception regarding quails as listed under Schedule IV of the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972, so that entry No 57 read “Quails (Rhasiandae) – except Coturnix japonica (Japanese Quails) of farm bred variety.”


As a result of this permission, rearing of Japanese Quails, locally called Kamju Pitta in places like Khamman district of Telangana and Krishna district of Andhra Pradesh, has since flourished and continues to expand as backyard farms of villages from where quails’ eggs and meat are supplied to traders and restaurants. In fact, a number of outlets sell live quail birds, frozen quail meat and quail eggs. Similarly, a number of quail farms have sprung up in and around Bengaluru. Quails are known here as gowjala hakki.


For detailed information on Quails please read

www.bwcindia.org/Web/Awareness/LearnAbout/Quails.html

Sharks’ Fins


Sharks’ fins are derived by “finning” or cutting off fins from live sharks. Shark meat is worth much less than the fins and so the fin-less sharks are usually thrown back into the ocean – fishermen need space in their boats to collect more fins. Unable to move, the sharks sink to the ocean floor or are consumed by other sea creatures. Weight-wise fins are 7%, but value-wise 40% of the shark.


Sharks’ fin soup that costs over $100 a bowl, is a Chinese culinary delicacy and popular in Hong Kong, Thailand, Singapore and Taiwan. China, Japan and Singapore demand the most. India is one of the major (illegal) suppliers of sharks’ fins. The CMFRI (Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute) has stated that India collects 70,000 tonnes of shark fins and one tonne represents 650 dead sharks.

A ban imposed in 2001 by the Union Ministry of Environment & Forests was partially lifted soon after due to pressure from the industry. The loop hole for the flourishing trade in sharks’ fins was that some shark species were allowed whereas some were banned and the fishermen did not know the difference although they sold the fins they cut off to exporters for a pittance. Consequently one found shark fin soup on high-end Indian restaurant menus, especially in Goa. But overall consumption of shark fins was never high in India. This indicated illegal export: quantities of shark fins exported from India did not match the annual catch of over 70,000 tonnes.


The good news however was that in 2006 Morari Bapu, the Guru famous for his Ram Kathas, appealed to the Kharwa community to stop catching sharks and they abided by his request. He told them that the sharks migrated to the Arabian Sea to breed just like a daughter came home to give birth. Each year when they visited between January and March, around 250 sharks used to be killed off the coast of Saurashtra by fishermen who modified their boats to carry harpoons weighing 8 to 10 kgs and ropes were tied to empty plastic barrels. The Veraval and Bhidiya harbour used to turn red with their blood. Fins were not the only attraction for these fishermen because export firms would pay them up to Rs 1 lakh for a 40 foot whale shark weighing 8 to 10 tonnes. Liver (from which oil is extracted) and meat was also bought.


Gujarat celebrated its first Whale Shark Day on 25 January 2011 after having till then rescued 240 vhali or whale sharks. Although a decade back these creatures were brutally hunted for their liver oil to waterproof boats and their meat was exported, for some years, conservation initiatives had been put in place to the extent that the state government provides relief for the loss of fishing nets up to Rs 25,000/- and Tata Chemicals Ltd funds the project.


Tamil Nadu and Andaman & Nicobar Islands also fish sharks. In mid-2011, Traffic stated that indiscriminate shark-fishing in Indian waters to feed markets abroad may be driving the shark to extinction. 18 of the 70 shark species found in India and of these several including the Ganges Shark and Pondicherry Shark were critically endangered. India was ranked second (was third in 2008) on a list of the top 20 shark-catching nations. Indonesia accounted for 13%, India 9%, and Spain 7.3% of the global catch.


Meanwhile on cruelty grounds (an estimated 73 million sharks are killed annually by the horrific practice of “finning”) 65 countries banned “finning”. Several states in America have passed laws banning the sale, trading, distribution and possession of shark fins, while similar legislation is pending in some of their other states.


In 2014 Etihad Airways and Jet Airways promised not to carry shark fin cargo. The Emirates, Philippines Airlines, Asiana Airlines, Quantas and Air New Zealand had already stopped doing so.


In 2011 BWC wrote to the Ministry of Environment & Forests saying the Government of India also needed to protect sharks by imposing a ban on fishing, catching, killing, “finning” and consumption of shark products in India, and for export.

 

Two years later, in August 2013, in a bold move (given that India was one of the highest shark-hunting nations) the Government announced a ban on “finning” sharks at sea – meaning they must be landed with their fins. The Ministry of Environment & Forests declared: “The policy prescribes that any possession of shark fins that are not naturally attached to the body of the shark would amount to “hunting” of a Schedule I species…” Therefore, fishermen found with fins risked a 7-year prison sentence for hunting an endangered species. Again this attracted a number of objections like the earlier short-lived 2001 blanket ban on catching sharks.

 

No wonder sharks continued to be caught and their dried and salted fins and flesh sold by numerous companies openly on indiamart.com, tradeindia.com, etc. Their skin is processed into leather and oil is extracted from their livers. And to top it off Taiwanese, Cantonese and similar cuisine restaurants in the capital served shark fin soup! These facts were passed on to the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau by BWC in 2014.

BWC was glad to have been instrumental in influencing the Government of India to prohibit the import of shark fins, and the export of shark fins of all species of shark in February 2015.


Silk Worms and Others…


Fried or boiled silk worms are consumed as a winter snack in Meghalaya. The eri/era worms which produce Assam silk and are known in the Khasi-Jaintia Hills as Niang Ryndia from which the Ryndia shawls worn by men there are made, are the particular variety of worms that are eaten. They are sold by worm-vendors in Lewduh (Bara Bazaar), one of the biggest markets of the North East. The cooked silk worm pupas or eri polu in Assamese are served with fermented bamboo shoots called khorisa. Whereas fried polu leta (silkworm chrysalis) is considered Assam’s star dish. In Assam jikaburi (a grasshopper-like insect) found in fish ponds are also considered a delicacy, and ants as well as their eggs are eaten during festivals. In fact, 29 species of insects are regularly dried and consumed by the Bodos: caterpillars, termites, grasshoppers, crickets and beetles. The Assamese also consider johamol or civet cats a delicacy.

Beondegi or boiled silkworm chrysalis/pupae are commonly sold on the streets of Korea. Witchetty grubs are larvae which feed on the wood and roots of the Witchetty bush of Australia. They are eaten by Aboriginals and are also used as fishing bait. Palm grubs are edible weevil larvae. Mealworm is a worm, and Mopainie worms are caterpillars.

Ants and their eggs are not only eaten in Assam, but in several other parts of India. Leaf bundles of ants’ eggs are sold at tribal fairs in Bihar. The Dhruva tribe in Chattisgarh consume red ants: they ambush, handpick and grind them to death along with their eggs together with spices to make chutney called chaprah. Similarly, in Jharkhand a spicy condiment made of red ants is consumed. The Adi people of Arunachal Pradesh also eat ant eggs, bee larvae and a stink bug called koroi puk. In Brazil, icas or queen ants are hunted and consumed as a rare delicacy. Mexicans call the larvae of ants that they eat escamoles.

All these creatures, and grasshoppers, crickets, locusts, cicadas, beetles, bugs, bees, wasps, termites, dragonflies, flies, beetles, cockroaches and other insects, butterflies and moths included, are eaten some where around the world. Globally, the most commonly consumed insects are beetles (31%), caterpillars (18%), bees, wasps and ants (14%), grasshoppers, locusts and crickets (13%), cicadas, leafhoppers, plant-hoppers, scale insects and true bugs (10%), termites (3%), dragonflies (3%), flies (2%) and miscellaneous others (5%).

Indians who have tasted such street-food in Thailand say the insects taste just like fried bhindi or ladies fingers. Thailand is famous for “the original cricket bar”.

Laithwaite’s Wine of UK created the world’s first insect and wine-matching guide, while Belgium (the first in the EU) officially approved insects in food following which a mealworm spread is sold in supermarkets. And, in America grasshopper tacos and silkworm soup are marketed as “super-foods”.

Unfortunately attention drawing articles of bizarre foods periodically appear in Indian publications. For example, one showed the picture of a chocolate-dipped grasshopper. Another article showcased Sardinian casu marzu, a cheese that contains live maggots said to leap into the eyes of the person eating it – moreover if consumed, these maggots are poisonous.


Snails


Escargot (pronounced es-ka-go) is French for snails and is one of the highlights of French gastronomy imported into India. The snails are “hygienically grown” being fed on a special diet of ground cereal, then “cleaned and gutted and made ready for cooking” in garlic butter with parsley and wine or cognac. Escargot caviar or pearls of Aphrodite consists of processed (pasteurised to preserve) eggs of land snails.

In fact, heliciculture or land snail breeding has for centuries been producing escargots and escargot-pearls (snail eggs, a type of caviar) popularly eaten in France. But a high demand for snail slime used as an ingredient in cosmetics has resulted in a 325% rise in production of snails in Italy alone where 44,000 tons of snails are bred annually.

Closer home Nagas consume river snails which are cooked with daal and sucked. They are purchased by the kilogram from the Dimapur bazaar.

 

Manipuri cuisine also includes river (fresh water) snails. Their “faces” are individually scooped out and discarded. This is followed by cutting off their tapering ends on the third ridge or band so their meat can be sucked out easily. Then to kill them they are placed in a pot, a large quantity of salt is dumped on them and water is poured so they get submerged in the solution. After some time they are thoroughly rinsed, only after which they are said to be clean enough or ready for cooking.

The Central Inland Capture Fisheries Research Institute also sees nothing wrong in breeding Giant African Snails so that they can be converted into “gastronomic delights”. This is another form of exploitation ending in two thousand snails being packed into a one square metre tray without any nourishment for two to three days for their final journey to the place where they are to be killed for food.

For detailed information on snails please read www.bwcindia.org/Web/Awareness/LearnAbout/Snails.html


Swift Bird’s Nests


Beauty Without Cruelty has confirmed from the Forest Department officials that the nests of Indian swiftlets or swift birds were removed from remote caves in places like an island off Vengurla in Sindhudurg (Maharashtra) along the western coast of India and illegally smuggled out from Chennai. Poaching of nests had resulted in an 80% decline in the swift birds’ population because more often than not chicks and eggs are thrown out.


These nests made of saliva are turned into soup – bird’s nest soup – a rare delicacy in Chinese cuisine and one of the most expensive animal products consumed by humans – a bowl of soup is sold for around Rs 3,000/-. Male swift birds have a gelatinous substance in their saliva which they use to build their nests and this is why the bird’s nest soup is perceived to be an aphrodisiac and also said to boost immunity. Shockingly, there was an article in a leading newspaper by an Indian dermatologist promoting edible bird’s nests consumption.


In 2008, Beauty Without Cruelty requested the Indian Customs authorities to intercept the smugglers. Consequently we were shocked when the National Board of Wildlife de-listed the “edible nest swiftlet” found in the Andaman & Nicobar Island, from the Wildlife Protection Act for three years commencing August 2009. The justification for legalising this activity, thereby helping poachers, seemed ridiculous: how would the authorities ensure that the nests, which fetch between Rs 1.50 to 7 lakhs per kilogram in international markets, would not be stolen and the eggs or chicks contained therein thrown out, before the birds vacated them voluntarily? BWC therefore felt that de-listing was bound to encourage the sale and consumption of these nests while commercially benefiting poachers posing as protectors. Poaching did continue to occur, but only in places where the unique conservation plan was not in force.


In 2011 it was reported that the population of the swiftlet in 201 of the 290 dank caves where the programme involving human intervention was undertaken by conservationists with local help, was turning out successful. Swiftlets build their nests around December, lay eggs in February-March, and re-use their nests for breeding in monsoon. That’s the time of the year when water seeps into them, they fall and the eggs get destroyed. So before they fell, the nests containing eggs were removed and kept in specially constructed conservation houses before transferring them to nests of an unprotected species of swiftlet also found in the region (these birds’ nests are built of twigs) which acted as surrogate parents. The survival rate of the original swiflets thus increased from 60% (in natural conditions) to 90%.

Trout and Carp


Several restaurants in major cities of India have trout on their menus. In Jammu and Kashmir trout and carp fish are being farmed since about 2008. Tourists are taken for a fortnight on a special tour to trout and carp fish farms in Himachal Pradesh. Initially the mandate of these farms was to produce the seed and stock in rivers and reservoirs with the aim of replenishing fish in the water bodies, but now the fish are bred for sale.


Truffles


Truffles are special tubers found at the root of chestnut and oak trees mainly in Mediterranean regions – and also claimed to have been found in Chikmanglur – which are gathered from the wild with the help of pigs or dogs specially trained (in places like Roddi, a town in Italy) to sniff out the fungi.


The use of pigs and dogs does not absolve the end product from being free of animal exploitation. The vegetarian-ness of truffles is therefore questionable.


It is believed that the natural hormones of the male pig and the truffle smell alike. A female pig is therefore trained on a leash to locate truffles as much as three feet underground. They are called truffle hogs. Similarly there are truffle hounds or dogs, also trained to locate truffles. Truffle hunting dog schools exist.


Truffles are a seasonal delicacy, typically available in October, November and December. Alba’s white truffles are more expensive than Périgord black truffles. Although the price of white fell considerably, in 2014 they cost as much as €220 for 100 grams in Italy.


Truffles are usually fried in goose fat and used as a condiment for potatoes/eggs. And in recent years they have been introduced as a topping on pizza.


Other Creatures

A market is also being created for other exotic meats of animals such as that of turkey, snail, sarus crane, partridge/tittar, francolin/tittar, quail/bater/lava, migratory birds, bustard, pelican, grey leg goose, flamingo, common pochard, egret, monitor lizard/ghorpad, emu, ostrich (volaise), kangaroo, wallaby, pangolin, peacock, rabbit, hare, deer (venison), porcupine, wild boar, bison, dolphin, shark fin, pipefish, seahorses, sea cucumber, sea cow, dugong, civet cat/johamol, turtles (flesh, eggs and calipee) — name them and they are made available as novelty foods. For example, 64 discarded heads of flamingos were found scattered amid feathers in Venasar village of Gujarat’s Rann of Kutch just before New Year 2012.

In July 2019 several dhabas and hotels on the outskirts of Aurangabad were openly and illegally selling the meat of Grey Francolin (protected bird specie, also called tittar but not partridge). Environmentalists strongly suspected that the Forest Department was hand in glove with the eateries because they had put up hoardings to sell the meat.

One doesn’t need much imagination to realise the conditions under which poor creatures are specially bred, housed and slaughtered (in India or abroad), or, if they come under the purview of the wild life laws, illegally hunted and sold at exorbitant prices for the table. For example, the Forest Department has caught immobilised monitor lizards/ghorpads with their tails wound round their necks, after a newspaper reported chunks of ghorpad meat was being sold; they also frequently catch people who poach peacocks for their meat.

In April 2014 hundreds of monkeys were slaughtered at Ambagarh Chowki of Rajanandgaon district about 80 kms from Raipur, the capital of Chhattisgarh state. The animals had been killed, cut into pieces, boiled and packed. The meat (including monkey brains) is illegally exported to countries such as Africa, Japan, Korea, Taiwan and China. The Forest Department is to blame for negligence because monkeys, foxes, jackals and mongooses are poached every summer by nomadic tribes from Andhra Pradesh who visit Bastar and kill snakes too. In June 2020 at Junnar two adivasi hunters were caught red handed eating langur meat. Upon arrest they disclosed having chased the langur and killed it with a slingshot.


The more the risk of getting caught and the bigger the punishment (fine and imprisonment) the higher the price of the carcass which never comes down, only goes up! In mid 2015 a leading Sunday newspaper carried an article on game meat focusing on regional gourmet options like silkworm pupae, red ant eggs, goose and pigeon meats of Assam. Exotic di
shes made from the flesh of rabbit, emu, quail, turkey and duck were promoted, saying that for food festivals restaurants and food studios (read home kitchens) tied up with farms, butchers and importers to obtain such meats.

 

It is believed that gypsies in India kill and eat cats. For example, the Narikoravas around Chennai consider cat meat a delicacy (cat biryani is served for their weddings) and have been caught with scores of cats trapped by them near MRTS stations and bus depots with nets, drugged and stuffed in gunny bags. They keep the stolen cats hungry in dirty cages. A large number of carcasses and cat skins have been recovered at the Kotturpuram gypsy colony. Cat meat is sold at the Pallavaram Friday market too and in February 2015 the newspapers reported that cat meat was being sold as mutton in roadside eateries of Chennai. The capture and killing is compounded by quacks who prescribe cat meat for impotency, asthma and arthritis.


Several tribes trap rats to eat them: Irulas (TN) Musahars (Bihar & UP), Mishmis (AP) and Gonds (MP, Vidarbha area of Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, UP, AP, Bihar and West Odisha).

Meanwhile, our neighbours the Chinese eat dogs, cats, bats and rats, in addition to the widely consumed chickens, pigs and cows. The country’s appetite for flesh covers Australian kangaroo meat, some thing that few Australians would eat. However, following the outbreak of COVID-19, China declared a new list of livestock, i.e. animals allowed to be bred and slaughtered. Dogs and cats were not included although the Dog Meat Festival was due a couple of weeks in June 2020. It was good to know that dogs had been placed under the category of companion animals.

 

Dogs are also eaten in Vietnam; but in South Korea dog meat is no longer as popular and boshintang (dog stew) restaurants have been closing down mainly due to no young customers. The trade is neither legal nor explicitly banned under Korean laws.

Skins of animals that have been slaughtered for meat and not wanted for leather production, are fried or roasted and sold as cracklings or crispy snacks, like gribenes (chicken or goose skin with fried onions), rambak (sun-dried cattle skin), and rinds & scratchings (small hard pieces of fried skin/fat of pig) in several countries.


Nagas and Meat


Meat is consumed all over the country, but North-East Indians not only eat the most, but they eat any and every living creature, particularly Nagas who relish all animals, birds, reptiles and insects – snail stew and steamed hornet larvae and silkworm curry is famous street food.


No one seems to have ever bothered to stop wild, and even pet, animals being hunted, butchered, and eaten in Nagaland. At the Keeda Bazaar in Dimapur, Nagaland, live creatures like dogs, cats, frogs, worms and snails, are sold for a couple of hundred rupees.

Nagas rear pigs, dogs, cats, chickens and buffaloes for meat, and also eat cows, bulls, goats, sheep, snakes, rats, frogs, squirrels, birds, monkeys, stags, deer, bison, spiders, crabs, shrimps, snails, bee larvae, red ants and worms. The meat of all wild life, elephants included, is what they relish the most, more so, if they themselves have hunted the animals.

They slaughter the animals themselves and collect the blood in a big bowl. When cold it gels and is cut into pieces and put into a curry. The meat is smoked over a fire and to create a typical aroma, axone which is fermented soya bean or anishi which is made of dried yam leaves is applied over it. Different spices are utilised for different meats including the hottest chilly in the world called bhut jolokia.

Whereas no Naga eats tigers and leopards due to an old belief, women are forbidden from consuming monkeys, and pregnant ones from eating bear meat.

BWC has written to the Ministry of Environment & Forests to take appropriate action in Nagaland to stop the hunting and consumption of wild life and also slaughtering of other animals themselves.

After China removed dogs from being classified as livestock (May 2020), BWC again approached the state government of Nagaland to also ensure that the rearing of dogs and cats for meat and their consumption stops. A copy of the FSSAI order which clearly stated that Ovines (sheep), Caprines (goats), Suillines (pigs), Bovines (cattle), Poultry and Fish can only be slaughtered for their meat and no other animals was attached for implementation. Within a month of our appeal, the state cabinet decided to ban commercial import and trading of dogs and dog markets and also the sale of dog meat, both cooked and uncooked. We then got to know that in March 2020 Mizoram had also dropped dogs from the list of animals allowed for slaughter. (Article 371(A) of the Constitution of India bestows special status to protect customary traditional practices of the people of north-eastern states therefore dog meat consumption was allowed.)

Unfortunately in November 2020 the Kohima bench of the Gauhati High Court on hearing a petition by licensed dog meat traders stayed the Nagaland government’s ban until the next returnable date since there was no response from the government.


Disgusting Food Museum in Sweden


In 2018 the Disgusting Food Museum opened in Malmo, Sweden. They displayed bizarre foods and permitted visitors to not only gag at the food but smell and taste the items. Tickets were vomit bags.

 

The 80 truly disgusting food items displayed consisted mainly of smelly delicacies such as putrid & fermented herring (surstromming), maggot infested cheese (casu marzu), duck fetus (balut), baby mice wine, sheep eyeballs in tomato juice, sheep heart, liver & lungs cooked inside the animal’s stomach (haggis), century eggs, spicy rabbit heads with eyeballs, tongue & brain visible, little auk birds stuffed in a disemboweled seal (kivak), civet coffee (kopi luwak), bat soup, bull testicles, frog smoothies, insects, and even lab grown meat.


The idea behind the museum to let people know that disgusting food is produced worldwide.


Food and Flavours


One of the common arguments non-vegetarians give for eating animals is that they are addicted to the taste of mutton, chicken or sea food. It is moreishness, a food craving – not just eating to satisfy hunger.


First and foremost, they rarely associate what is on their plate with a living creature. There is a mental block as far as this is concerned. In fact, they rarely want to talk about it.


Enjoying eating something begins with one’s senses, other than taste. Sight and smell, texture and expectation, even hearing contributes towards it. It has been established that flavour is derived from a combination of these multi-sensory feelings that register in the brain, not from taste buds alone.


True, the tongue detects tastes – sweet, salty, sour, bitter, astringent, pungent, harsh, and umami – but, the nose smells the food before eating, when chewing and swallowing. Together with other senses, they trigger a flavour memory. So it’s a combination of movement, sight, smell, sound, touch and taste that merge to create an enjoyable food flavour in the brain.


A child’s food preferences are inborn, usually influenced by the mother’s diet during pregnancy. However, children prefer sweet foods because human milk, that contains lactose, is sweet. Interestingly, our tongues have two dozen receptors to detect bitter tastes. This proves we instinctively know what is harmful or poisonous and so we spit it out. No wonder toddlers initially refuse to eat flesh. It is only after much cajoling that they finally agree, and usually continue to do so. Again this is because they are conditioned in their minds not to associate meat with slaughter of animals.


Our response to tastes is mostly inborn but our perceptions of smells are learnt. The food industry is therefore increasingly using ingredients such as oil, fat, sugar and salt which we have evolved to crave. Humans have probably lost their ancestral receptors except for starch and sugar preferences. And, unfortunately they have been conditioned into eating animals, something they do not need for survival.


Meat or flesh in itself is not flavoursome. It is the manner in which it is prepared, that gives it its flavour, even if just boiled and eaten with side dishes containing vegetables. The mode of cooking, the spices utilised, and the presentation is what results in a flavour memory as mentioned above.


When non-vegetarian recipes are cleverly tweaked to be vegan, the result is quite satisfactory and acceptable for meat eaters. For example, soy meat or unripe jackfruit can replace mutton, mushrooms can replace prawns, brinjal can replace fish, an omelette can be made with chickpea flour/besan and contain no egg, and so on. The other ingredients and basic method of preparation of recipes should not be changed and you can’t go wrong.


Lastly, non-vegetarians can always learn to love new flavours and tastes of vegan dishes. It is a matter of introducing them to such delectable fare.

Page last updated on 16/12/21