The next time you stumble upon boards in sprightly colours blithely announcing that they sell ‘proteins', or peculiar names pop-up when you are searching for meat shops in the city online, do not be misled. This curious addition to the names of meat shops in the city has become popular with owners of many meat shops for reasons that are hard to put a finger on — some obvious, some veiled, and some most bizarre.
“I moved to Chennai a few months back and was quite amused when I saw ‘protein' shops. I would say it is quite unique to the city,” says Roli Y. While most owners justify the nomenclature saying everything from chicken to fish that is sold in these shops is rich in protein, for Prakash Irudaoaraj, Proprietor of Sizzler Proteiins in Alwarpet, this reason, he says, struck him as an afterthought. “My shop was called Sizzler Chicken Centre and then Prakash Broiler. I recently changed it to Sizzler Proteiins for numerological reasons,” he says.
For P.S. Manavalan, Proprietor, Priya Proteins, it is about not being perceived as a ‘butcher shop'. “I have been in the industry for close to two decades, and when we have a name like ‘proteins' and maintain high standards of hygiene, we not only get more customers, but also a lot more employees who are educated,” he says. “All our operations are computerised and we wanted to move away from the image of a ‘chicken shop',” he adds.
Journalist Sadanand Menon terms coinages like these, a means of survival. “In a city like Chennai where meat eating is not a public activity, coinages like these are a way of softening the impact and a strategy of survival. For instance, if you have a liquor shop near a school, which is not permitted by law, the shop is called ‘spirits' instead of ‘wine shop',” he says. Also, he adds, “With the arrival of consumerism of a particular kind, every shop is trying to find more interesting ways of naming themselves. What is happening with meat shops is in that line,” he adds.
Sadic Basha whose father started Sadic Proteins 20 years back points out that this is no recent trend. “My father started this shop more than 20 years back, and the name has not changed since. A lot of people may be adding ‘proteins' to the names of their shop now, but my father did it back then.” Finding this move both astute and amusing, Jash, a resident, says, “When you see names like these for the first time, it amuses you with its shock value. It also makes it sound sophisticated,” he says. Many of these shops over time have designed flexes with photographs of dolphins and the ocean instead of the display of meat.
Another peculiar phenomenon is that of naming certain non-vegetarian hotels, ‘military hotels'. To that, Mr. Menon says, “Iyengar Bakeries are places where no egg is used, similarly a military hotel is a place where beef is served unlike certain other places where beef is not served.” Names like these, however, Mr. Menon says makes no real difference to meat-eaters.