Shailesh Kapoor: In Support of an All-Vegetarian MasterChef India

21 Nov,2014

By Shailesh Kapoor

 

The contempt our social media elite have towards mass Indian television is well-known. Barring an odd Bade Achhe LagteHain, all fiction content on Hindi GECs (and most non-fiction too) is frowned upon by the upper echelons of Twitter. Even then, I was surprised by the attention MasterChef India going vegetarian in their latest season received over the last week.

 

MasterChef India has never got media attention in the past. But earlier this week, a story in The Economic Times suggested that the show going vegetarian this season could have much to do with one of its two principal sponsors – Amul and Fortune (The Adani Group).

 

Anyone who knows how Indian television works would laugh that conspiracy theory off. MasterChef India is not an ‘advertiser-funded programme’, where the creative control is shared between the channel and the advertiser.

 

Twitter picked up the news, and soon, it was the hot topic of discussion, with a largely negative sentiment surrounding it. Not that Star Plus would be bothered. They would know that those commenting are not the target audience, and more importantly, they have little understanding of the real target audience.

 

When we see the decision of turning the show vegetarian from the viewership lens, it makes perfect sense. I must clarify that I’m as non-vegetarian as one can get, and would have personally liked to see a non-vegetarian-only MasterChef. But TV shows are not made for individuals, are they?

 

If you’ve been brought up in a progressive, cosmopolitan environment, it would be impossible for you to understand the issue at hand. That would have been the case with me as well. But over the last five years, we have conducted extensive research on food and lifestyle television. The disgust that the sight of meat can generate in certain audiences (and by “certain”, I mean 30-40%) has to be seen to be believed. We have had live examples of upper middle class housewives instinctively turning their faces away from the screen when something as basic as a bowl of chicken pieces is shown. We’ve seen this happen across India, city after city.

 

I know there are studies that suggest that the consumption of non-vegetarian food is increasing in India. But there are many caveats on how to read that data. A lot of this consumption is infrequent, once in a fortnight, for example. Also, a lot of it is ‘out of home’. When we talk Hindi GEC, we are talking of ‘family viewing at home during dinner time’. All three parts of that phrase (family, at home, dinner time) support a vegetarian idea.

 

In MasterChef Australia, meat is called ‘protein’ and if you fillet a fish well, you are ‘respecting’ it. In an episode a couple of seasons ago, a trout was called ‘lucky’ because it was going to be cooked on the show. In the latest season, when there was a vegetarian challenge, where all ‘protein’ was removed from the pantry, half the contestants cooked Indian!

 

It’s easy to argue that Indian television channels should be ‘progressive’ and help India’s outlook evolve towards a more global one. I would totally support that point when it comes to issues related to woman empowerment, education, health, gender equality, sexuality, racism and the likes. But maybe we can leave food out of this? It has no social impact whatsoever. And there is a deep, religious aspect to this all, which should not be questioned in all fairness.

 

Like always, the choice of viewing or not viewing is with the one who controls the remote. I think we may do well to respect the viewer before respecting the ingredients.

 

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One response to “Shailesh Kapoor: In Support of an All-Vegetarian MasterChef India”

  1. apurva tank says:

    Sirji so true what you have written….I would like to share my personal experience as you know 2 years back my wife cleared all the rounds of Master Chef still she backed out bez in the final round she was asked whether she would cook non-veg to which she said a clear nooooo. Which became the primary reason to back out from such a prestigious show. This season she could not participate bez of my daughters board exams….Veg hai toh next year participation toh banta hai.

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