Less cereals and more bread, fewer potatoes and more meats, fewer bidis and more cigarettes, less country liquor and more beer — food habits in India are sharply circumscribed by class, new data shows.

The newly released 558th round of the National Sample Survey Office, India’s official source of consumption, employment and others statistics, shines a light on India’s consumption habits as of 2011-12. An analysis of data on food and non-food consumption by income group reveals how much of an effect class has on what Indians eat.

The top 5 per cent of urban India spends Rs. 3,000 per capita per month on groceries and eating out on average. This class spends nearly Rs. 800 per head per month on eating out (“served processed food”) and another Rs. 206 per person per month on chips, chocolates and other packaged processed foods. At the other end of the spectrum, the bottom 5 per cent of India spends just over Rs. 400 per person per month on food, over a quarter of this on cereals alone.

“On the whole, there is a general decline in the consumption of cereals but this is in line with ongoing, expected trends,” an official at the NSSO explained to The Hindu, asking not to be quoted. “The share of the household budget that goes towards food is also declining, as expected,” he added.

“As countries get richer and as individuals have more money and are in less strenuous activities, consumption of carbohydrates goes down, and the intake of fruits and vegetables as well as foods with other micronutrients including milk products and meat rises,” says Laveesh Bhandari, economist and director of the research firm Indicus Analytics.

This trend is evident in urban India, where the richest 5 per cent consume the fewest cereals and the most derivatives of cereals like bread and noodles. However in rural India, the richest 5 per cent still consume the most cereals.

At higher ends of the income distribution, the consumption of milk, eggs, meat and processed foods rises. On average, fish is India’s most popular non-vegetarian product; the average Indian household consumes 1.14 kg of fish in a month, with Kerala being India’s fish capital. Nagaland eats the most beef while Jammu & Kashmir eats the most mutton on average.

As incomes rise in urban areas, toddy and country liquor consumption falls while beer, wine and foreign liquor consumption rises. However on average, toddy is rural India’s most popular tipple (nearly 100 ml consumed per person per month) and country liquor urban India’s (42 ml per person per month).

As incomes rise, Indians both in rural and urban India begin to first smoke more bidis and more cigarettes, and then bidi use falls while cigarette use rises, The Hindu found. In only the top 5 per cent of India, cigarettes are more popular than bidis, with over seven cigarettes smoked per person per month on average.

Among non-food items, as Indians get richer, they spend a higher proportion of their money on fuel. Urban Indians begin to spend more on domestic servants and on private tuition. Rural India begins to spend more on medicines.

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