Entangled Tastes: Zomato’s ‘Pure Veg’ Dilemma and Caste Dynamics

In the tapestry of Bharat’s culinary domain, the choice of sustenance transcends mere alimentary preference. Zomato, in its latest venture, has elected to navigate a societal schism, leveraging it towards capitalistic gains.

A historical echo reverberates through the annals of March 20, 1927, as B.R. Ambedkar championed the Mahad Satyagraha, advocating for the “untouchables” to partake from a communal reservoir in Maharashtra’s Mahad.

Fast forward ninety-seven cycles around the sun, a renowned application promulgates an exclusive "pure veg" edict, ensuring the sanctity of vegetarian fare remains untainted by profane elements prior to its delivery. This instance serves to underscore a peculiar variant of Indian myopia - a steadfast denial of caste’s insidious tendrils within the mundane fabric of our choices.

Zomato's 'Pure Veg' Dilemma and Caste Dynamics

Zomato’s initial foray into the ‘Pure Veg’ echelon was marked by a chromatic bifurcation. Founder-CEO Deepinder Goyal, in a missive dated March 19 on X, unveiled, “Pure Veg Mode shall encapsulate a meticulously curated selection of eateries, purveying solely vegetarian delicacies...

Our consecrated Pure Veg Cadre [adorned in verdant attire] shall exclusively cater to these vegetarian sanctuaries. Hence, a carnivorous repast, or even a herbivorous fare from a carnivorous establishment, shall not sully the viridescent carriage destined for our Pure Veg Legion.”

However, a subsequent communiqué from Goyal signified a retraction. He articulated: “Whilst our dedication to a vegetarian cadre persists, we have opted to dissolve the terrestrial demarcation of this brigade by eschewing the verdant hue.”

Zomato proffers the rationale behind the Pure Veg cadre, elucidating that Bharat’s vegetarians harbor distinct expectations regarding the culinary and handling processes of their sustenance.

Yet, what looms on the horizon? Zomato orchestrating an environment where “pure veg” individuals exclusively man the culinary stations of these “pure veg” establishments? That the “pure veg” couriers refrain from desecrating their palms with impure sustenance within their own luncheon receptacles?

The veneer of “choice” serves as a bastion for many defending Zomato’s stratagem - an autonomous decision to solely patronize establishments devoid of flesh offerings.

At first glance, this appears equitable. Yet, genuine autonomy thrives in an impartial milieu, a scenario conspicuously absent in Bharat’s context. Vegetarian fare is synonymous with sanctity and virtue - saatvik - whilst flesh consumption is perceived as tamsik, impure, an indulgence in carnal delights. Carnivorism is erroneously associated with “inferior” castes and a specific creed.

The very construct of “pure vegetarianism” also bears the stain of casteism and discrimination. When one mandates that not even the specter of flesh should overshadow their nourishment, their predilection transcends dietary preference.

This insistence unveils a desire for untainted sustenance, resonating with the untouchability that has marred this land for epochs.

Evidence of such ideology permeates society: Flesh consumers frequently encounter housing discrimination, juveniles in educational institutions rebuff meals prepared by lower castes, and individuals have faced lynching over mere suspicion of their lunchbox contents. Viewed through this prism, vegetarianism scarcely seems an innocuous choice.

Ironically, the rhetoric surrounding choice and the free market emanates from quarters advocating for prohibitions on flesh trade on specified days or the outright illegality of certain meats.

The counterargument posits the acceptability of halal fare, yet “pure veg” stands accused. The crux here is segregation, not choice. And not a single delivery service has proclaimed a “halal-exclusive” cadre for “pure halal” sustenance.

Another line of reasoning acknowledges the existence of “pure veg” patrons, affirming Zomato’s entitlement to cater to this demographic. Indeed. Yet, what the “pure veg” initiative illuminates is the recognition of a societal fault line - one that has recently precipitated lethal outcomes - and its exploitation for profit.

Through the ages, social reformers have endeavored to dismantle caste’s fetters by facilitating communal dining experiences. Contemporary Indian enterprises, in contrast, pledge allegiance to enhanced segregation for those who can afford it.

Goyal, through numerous posts on X, questioned the necessity of segregating the fleets, attributing it to instances where spillage contaminates the delivery receptacles, transferring aromas from one order to another.

Thus, a division was mandated for vegetarian orders, prioritizing the vegetarian’s dismay over residual odors, a stance that smacks of discrimination. In the Occident, objections to the scent of curry are rightfully condemned as racial bias. Yet, in Bharat, we shirk from interrogating why certain olfactory sensations are deemed objectionable by specific factions, swiftly accommodating their preferences.

Particularly reprehensible was the ‘kapdon se pehchan leejiye (identify them by their attire)’ directive for delivery personnel. Zomato has since retracted the distinctive uniform, yet the “Pure Veg Fleet” initiative still imperils delivery agents. Can Goyal assure that Muslim men tasked with delivering “pure veg” fare will not fall victim to allegations of ‘delivery jihad’?

In 2019, Goyal was celebrated for championing “the diversity of India” when he rebuffed a customer’s cancellation over the delivery person’s Muslim identity. Did this precedent escape Zomato’s strategic considerations when crafting the new policy?

This predicament begs a reflection on the policy formulation process within Bharat’s emergent enterprises. Did none within Zomato grasp the implications of purity and contamination inherent in their “pure veg versus simply veg” proposal, especially following the backlash against their “kachra” advertisement?

Thus, we circle back to the discourse’s inception - our obstinate obliviousness to caste dynamics. Acknowledging caste’s influence represents a formidable challenge for many, particularly the upper echelons, even those attuned to other discrimination forms, including gender.

Does this stem from the discomfort of confronting caste’s legacies or the reassurance that caste, unlike gender, will never disadvantage them?

For an ideology or practice to endure, it must possess the capacity for evolution, for morphing. Brahminism has thrived through the millennia, assimilating into the fabric of society under various guises - merit, preference, choice - camouflaged in plain sight. Alas, no application exists capable of delivering enlightenment and cognizance in neatly packaged containers.


Q: What is Zomato's 'Pure Veg' Scheme?

A: Zomato's 'Pure Veg' Scheme is a specialized initiative introduced by the popular food delivery app to ensure that vegetarian food remains untainted by non-vegetarian elements during the delivery process. It involves segregating restaurants that serve only vegetarian food and assigning a dedicated fleet of delivery personnel specifically for these orders.

Q: Why did Zomato introduce the 'Pure Veg' Scheme?

A: The CEO of Zomato, Deepinder Goyal, explained that the scheme was introduced to cater to the preferences of Indian vegetarians who are particular about the cooking and handling of their food. The aim is to provide a solution for customers who wish to enjoy pure vegetarian meals without any risk of contamination from non-vegetarian sources.

Q: What measures are included in the 'Pure Veg' Scheme?

A: Initially, Zomato proposed a color-coded segregation system where a distinct fleet of delivery personnel, adorned in green uniforms, would exclusively handle orders from vegetarian restaurants. However, this system was later revised to remove the on-ground segregation based on feedback and criticism.

Q: Is the 'Pure Veg' Scheme discriminatory?

A: Some critics argue that the 'Pure Veg' Scheme perpetuates discrimination by reinforcing caste-based stereotypes associated with food purity. The insistence on segregating vegetarian and non-vegetarian food could be interpreted as discriminatory, especially considering the historical context of caste dynamics in India.

Q: What are the implications of the 'Pure Veg' Scheme on society?

A: The scheme has sparked debates about societal attitudes towards vegetarianism, caste, and discrimination. It raises questions about the intersection of food choices with social hierarchies and highlights the need for greater awareness and sensitivity towards these issues.

Q: How does Zomato address concerns about discrimination in the 'Pure Veg' Scheme?

A: Zomato has responded to criticism by revising certain aspects of the scheme, such as removing the color-coded segregation of delivery fleets. However, concerns remain about the potential discriminatory impact of the initiative, particularly regarding employment practices and customer perceptions.

Q: What can customers expect from the 'Pure Veg' Scheme?

A: Customers who opt for the 'Pure Veg' mode can expect their orders from vegetarian restaurants to be handled separately by a designated fleet of delivery personnel. This is aimed at ensuring that their food remains free from any contamination by non-vegetarian sources during the delivery process.