The Hindu Nudge?

by on December 15, 2012 at 11:13 am in Food and Drink, Travels | Permalink

On the plane to Chennai, the stewardess said to the man next to me: “Sir, are you the one who ordered the non-vegetarian meal?”

OneEyedMan December 15, 2012 at 11:49 am

I recommend ordering a non-standard meal if one is available. In general they taste much better. Probably not the case here though because meat sources in India aren’t generally up to western standards.

Sanjay December 15, 2012 at 11:51 am

I guess I’m a bit stunned that you of all people did! I mean, the vegetarian meal isn’t going to be anything to write home about on a plane. But I’m betting in this specific event it’s going to be better than the non-vegetarian one. Indeed so many Indians fly out of Frankfurt that I’ve discovered that when I fly Lufthansa through Frankfurt to Eastern Europe the planes offer “vegetarian,” “non-vegetarian,” and something called “Asian vegetarian,” so when I preorder the last, I get envious glances from all my neighbors: it’s harder for the airline to really kill those prefab spiced chickpeas, man.

Willitts December 15, 2012 at 12:33 pm

Hindu and Muslim meals are WAY more appetizing, in my opinion, than the bland chicken and turkey they throw at us typical Americans. You might be right that that stuff is harder to kill, but more generally it is made with more flavorful ingredients.

Coriander and cumin are a lot more aromatic than ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise. They might not be anything to write home about to the person who eats it regularly, but in comparison to the standard fare it is exotic.

prior_approval December 15, 2012 at 1:06 pm

Strange – a comment seems to be have deleted, when I remarked that United employees prefer the ‘Indian’ meal to the ‘East Asian’ one, especially when flying from Frankfurt (United, like Lufthansa, being a code sharing part of the Star Alliance), then noting that the general director of the Mercatus Center, for all his travels, seems unaware of this, while further noting that airline food is about endurance.

And the comment even appeared after reloading – not a typical glitch.

Anon December 15, 2012 at 3:01 pm

Probably the Mercatus center Koch Bros censoring your thoughts again

prior_approval December 16, 2012 at 2:17 am

Nope- at least I know why my reply was never posted. (A detailed reply to the specific point is below, however)

This comment section has automatic filters – it is simply not possible to post a Pirate Bay Physibles link here, for example.

And it seems as if the general director of the Mercatus Center show depths of humility which surprise me – linking to anything at the Mercatus Center (such as job openings, ironically enough) involves the same filtering.

Which means that no one can accuse the general director of the Mercatus Center of extolling the center he directs in his own blog, unlike so many of the other things he extols. He even apparently avoids mentioning his connection to other Mercatus Center scholars, associates, etc. when posting links to their work.

I’m sure humility is the answer, because the idea that someone who directs such a center feels the need to hide that connection is just depressing.

different anon December 16, 2012 at 5:23 am

I’m sure humility is the answer, because the idea that someone who directs such a center feels the need to hide that connection is just depressing.

You are spending a lot of time introspecting about blog comment filters. Too much time probably.

Tyler Cowen December 15, 2012 at 11:53 am

I didn’t order or eat any meal, I rarely do on planes…

Ray Lopez December 15, 2012 at 12:03 pm

Like the Far Side cartoon once said: “Eat Mor Chikin”. TC, we look forward to your food reviews. In general, the rule of thumb for Indian in the USA is: “OK for lunch but not for dinner”. Too many spices and for some strange (?) reason people who eat Indian in the USA tend to mix everything in a smorgasbord–I don’t know if that’s kosher in India (sorry for my mixed metaphors).

Steko December 17, 2012 at 3:25 pm

Most people aren’t aware of the full range of special meals available. Always go with the fruit plate.

axa December 18, 2012 at 10:00 am

fly airberlin next time, order something

jeffn December 15, 2012 at 12:01 pm

on a flight from delhi to bangkok in 2006 i was denied a vegetarian meal because the real vegetarians had to be served first. it felt like a reverse-nudge.

Saturos December 15, 2012 at 12:10 pm

More like South-Indian Hindu nudge, Northerners aren’t quite so big on vegetarianism.

Feisal December 15, 2012 at 12:14 pm

more like the upper-caste Hindu nudge, most backward castes eat meat.

Mike December 15, 2012 at 12:13 pm

I spent a month in India and a lot of time in Mauritius, which also has a very significant Hindu population. The question at meal time was always Veg or Non Veg?

I chalked it up to the large percentage of vegetarians in the populations. But I will admit I was amused by how the question jarred my “sensibilities.”

Another thing I was amused at in Mauritius, a country where the population is over 70% Hindu and Muslim, about the only packaged sliced meat in the groceries was ham.

JSIS December 15, 2012 at 12:22 pm

Nah. Veg vs Non-Veg isn’t as politicized as it is in India.

Willitts December 15, 2012 at 12:26 pm

Depending on how you want to frame that, it could either be a subtle insult or a reasonable question for dealing with a special case.

In my flying experience, the “special” meals always get served first. I presume that there is something efficient about that. Let’s carry by hand the 5% of meals that are special and then roll the cart with the other 95% of meals down the aisle.

You could be right about a nudge. It could be an insult. But absent any additional evidence, I grate at the notion that things like this are per se deliberate slights.

Would this story be different if it were a gluten free or a diabetic meal?

Tyler Cowen December 15, 2012 at 12:48 pm

People, the nudge is that the default is vegetarian.

LP December 15, 2012 at 12:58 pm

On top of that there is a strong social norm being communicated. You are “the one” who didn’t order vegetarian.

Andrew' December 15, 2012 at 1:17 pm

Then shouldn’t it be “sir, did you order the fleshy meal?” or “This is the captain speaking, who ordered the fleshy meal?”

Miraj Patel December 16, 2012 at 11:07 am

Is it a nudge though? Is someone in the US asking “did you order the vegetarian meal?” a nudge?

rpenm December 17, 2012 at 12:15 am

This seems like just a network effect. Vegetarianism dominates South Indian food preferences (for a host of economic, cultural and religious reasons), so there are economies of scale (in food production and service) for vegetarianism relative to U.S. norms. On the flip side, median meat consumption in the U.S. is high; more infrastructure exists to support meat distribution and consumption, raising the (social and monetary) cost of vegetarian consumption.

I tend to think of a “nudge” as a purely exogenous factor – designed to shift social behavior to another equilibrium. Hinduism is pluralistic and anti-proselytism, so I don’t buy this as a moral/religious nudge.

axa December 18, 2012 at 10:05 am

like that special moment when the waiter comes and says “here’s your horse steak, red inside”

Johan Folin December 15, 2012 at 1:02 pm

When I went to the United States with Jet Airways (Indian arline) there were two main courses to choose from and, in smaller writing, a third non-vegetarian, alternative. I tried the non-vegetarian dish on the way to the US and one of the vegetarian dishes on my way home. Both were very good, by airplane standards at least.

Claudia December 15, 2012 at 1:16 pm

OMG, defaults affect choices. And double-OMG, those defaults differ across settings when the majority has different preferences. Too bad this wasn’t in JMP form. As is clear from the blue bar, the query from the stewardess featured in the post is not the nudge. Nudges need to come before you make a choice (here: meal selection). One parallel to the post…the nudge is rarely clear ex ante.

Ashok Rao December 15, 2012 at 1:23 pm

Yes, but is it really a “nudge”…? My understanding of nudge is something that’s intended to make the overall situation better, like implementing an opt-out rather than opt-in system for organ donor in Netherlands etc.

Of course, there’s a really strong argument that eating vegetarian is better for you (and the world) than non-vegetarian, but that’s not necessarily the reason the airline is doing it. They just find on that particular flight most people would be veg anyway.

Cliff December 15, 2012 at 11:40 pm

I don’t know if there is a strong argument that eating vegetarian is better than eating non-vegetarian per se. Lots of sweets and desserts are vegetarian or can be, and getting enough protein is often a problem on vegetarian diets. Grains are pretty poor foods for the most part. Meat is some of the best, if you can avoid farmed cattle and swine. Historically, many have lived very healthy lives with diets of ONLY animal products (including Inuits to this day). One of the advantages of the Mongols was their purely animal product diet, in comparison to the porridge diets of their opponents, which stunted them.

John David Galt December 15, 2012 at 1:44 pm

Who do you think is behind PETA (and its front groups PCRM and HSUS)?

Petar K December 15, 2012 at 2:20 pm

Speaking of defaults, I had see a “non-veg burger” as a menu item in India

Brad Allen December 15, 2012 at 2:37 pm

Yeah, I don’t believe this is a nudge either. “Veg” and “non-Veg” are pretty standard options here in Bangalore. It’s important because many are pure veg – and don’t want their food cooked with utensils that have touched meat. Thus, the distinction is important to them. It’s not about nudging.

Ashok Rao December 15, 2012 at 4:11 pm

Exactly, it’s just more convenient. Especially when it comes to burgers which commonly have beef, which is a big no for many Hindus.

freethinker December 15, 2012 at 6:53 pm

There is nothing Hindu about Vegetarianism. The great majority of Indians are non-vegetarians … and Hindu. Indeed the great Hindu thinker and apologist Vivekananda advocated meat eating, though the guys who run his monastery today are vegetarians . Why there is evidence of beef eating among ancient Hindu saints

Ashok Rao December 15, 2012 at 10:43 pm

Hindu’s tend to be far more vegetarian than Muslims. Brahmins are certainly vegetarian.

Anshu December 15, 2012 at 7:24 pm

The flight attendant is most likely not a native English speaker and there was probably no intention of any kind behind her phrasing of the question. I bet the person who trained her is also not a native english speaker and I bet they don’t have a clue about how the phrases they picked are coming across to native english speakers.

rec1man December 15, 2012 at 9:36 pm

In India, inquiring about whether a person is vegetarian is a quick way to find out the caste status

Higher castes with the exception of Rajputs are vegetarian
Lower castes eat fish, chicken, lamb
Untouchables eat beef and pork, The religious reason for untouchability was beef-eating by untouchables, and extended to non-Hindus

Many landlords wont rent to a non-vegetarian, which is also a convenient way to reject muslims and christians

In South India, the only vegetarians are brahmins, who are about 4% of the population, and non-vegetarianism starts very soon below brahmin caste

In North India, even many peasant castes like Patels are vegetarian, and non-vegetarianism starts much much below brahmin, and slightly above untouchable. 30% of North Indians are vegetarians

shrikanthk December 16, 2012 at 12:18 am

Not entirely true.
While it is correct that there are more vegetarians up north, the vegetarian proportion in South India is not as low as 4% (probably around 10%). Lots of non Brahmins even down south are vegetarians. Especially in TN and Karnataka.

Moreover, even the so-called non-vegetarian population in India (be it North or South) are not habitual meat eaters.
Most non-veggies in India typically eat meat once in a week or once in two weeks, or perhaps even more infrequently.

So this is largely a vegetarian country, though a majority of the population do eat meat occasionally.
Proportion of Indians who eat meat everyday is very small (perhaps only in parts of coastal India where fish is a daily food item)

Ashok Rao December 16, 2012 at 11:23 am

Another important thing to consider is that in India it is usually quite a bit more expensive to be vegetarian than not. In the USA, it’s more expensive to be a vegetarian than not.

rpenm December 18, 2012 at 5:14 am

In belated support to shrikanthk’s reply:
Polling puts vegetarians ~40% of the national population (including egg-eaters). Average meat consumption in India is the lowest in the world – 3kg per person annually – so clearly most non-vegetarians don’t eat meat regularly. Low GDP per capita is not sufficient to explain this.

This also jives with my anecdotal experience. My extended family is mostly well-off Rajus from Andhra and many keep vegetarian for reasons of piety, health and thrift. Meat consumption by the non-vegetarians is quite low and tends to be fish. Meat preparation is also just viewed as laborious – it tends to be done mostly for special occasions.

prior_approval December 16, 2012 at 2:04 am

Let us see if this variant handles the glitching, including removing a single link (automatic filters are provably used here – try entering a Pirate Bay address, such as a Physibles link) –

And in reply to the Anon above –

Of course not – but anyone who thinks this is not a heavily monitored web presence is exceedingly naive. Including 24 hour tech support, as my posting most certainly does not follow EST patterns.

And to be honest, back when writing about just how well financed the ‘Youtube and 4 buck app” MRU was (1250 project hours is not cheap), and talking about how when I interviewed people at GMU, I always had to assure them that what GMU wrote about itself was always positive, regardless of how obvious the problems with the truth would be if it became public, my posts here became subject to review, for a while.

Though only at this web address (I access the internet through more than one IP), which is interesting in itself, as this profile is a ‘standard’ one – cookies, javascript, flash, and all the other garbage I delete/turn off on any system I own. What was most interesting was the fact that the I would post a couple of times, with slightly changed text to avoid that filter, but by the 3rd or 4th time of the same post (like an hour later, pretty much excluding the idea of system problems), I was writing to the person doing the screening (it felt so mid-2000s). Then, an hour or two later, only one post of the series would appear.

Fascinating stuff, but since if something hits too close to a nerve here (like the idea that maybe somebody connected to Mason PR would be revealing more information that would not help the carefully constructed edifice accompanying MRU – like revealing how silly it was for anyone to write that MRU was just a Youtube channel and an app, instead of being the extremely well financed and undoubtedly metrics oriented site that it provably is, the terms of use showing just how aggressively information is collected), it may well be subject to review, or disappear. (And yes, the disappeared post did tweak our gourmand’s nose a bit, pointing out that someone doing as much flying as he has recently should know about such things.)

However, discussing such practices at a website tends to be a waste of time. On the one hand, it is boringly clear to insiders. No one actually involved ever thought of MRU as anything but a major project, including the hiring in the fall of a GMU Econ grad student to hande the site – he being the one that answered about a student’s Youtube question, back in the days when signing up at MRUniversity involved sending an e-mail to the Mercatus Center. And just look at the current employment and fellowship opportunities at the MC, Dec. 2012 – (I removed the link to the Mercatus Center event-associate page) Speaking as someone with actual professional experience in the area, I would say that some project there is expecting a pretty major ramp up requiring more than a simple 4 dollar app to handle. But at the same time, since MRU actually has no real existence outside of a web address, it is hard to tell what the center’s general director has in mind, or what synergies can be used to enhance a free education in the vision of the free market that the center supports.

And on the other hand, outsiders just don’t realize how the game is played.

GMU and its various aspects interest me. Koch is someone whose name I pretty much can only pronounce in German – I’ve never heard it spoken in English. I haven’t lived in the U.S. for 20 years, after all. But watching how GMU ‘associated’ groups are wielded has fascinated me ever since learning of the practice – well within the first ten years of GMU’s putative grounding as an institution of higher learning. And it paid me better than those interns are likely to be – since only a couple of positions are noted as being paid at all.

Claudia December 16, 2012 at 9:19 am

prior_approval, eine Pause machen, bitte? It is the diversity of ideas and clever quips that makes this comment section worth reading. You certainly contribute a perspective, but the repetitive attacks on Mercatus/GMU/Koch are not so constructive. It is totally within your right to fire away, but you venting in a hosted (not a public) space. The moderation here is pretty lax, sometimes frustratingly so, which runs contrary to your accusations of grand manipulation. I am impressed, and pleased, that you are not blocked altogether (I admit I miss CBBB some) but maybe there’s a better venue to focus your critique on this topic. Besides you often have interesting insights on many other topics, so why not focus on those? Free disposal…no need to tell me why I am wrong, economists usually are, I hear.

Eric Hancock December 16, 2012 at 2:14 pm

With airline food, I’d be quite nervous to insist on something out of the ordinary, particularly meat on a typically veg flight.

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