efe-epaNew Delhi

In India, people are classified by their eating habits as vegetarians and non-vegetarians, a clear indication of the high-regard vegetarianism enjoys in the country, a topic explored by EFE on Sunday on the eve of World Vegetarian Day.

While "upper caste" Hindus are prohibited from eating meat on religious grounds, poorer people adhere to a green diet because it comes down to a matter of cost.

In New Delhi, long queues outside some of the popular vegetarian restaurants are a common sight, while establishments with a "mixed" menu have abundant vegetarian options and flag up dishes containing meat with a warning to help religious vegetarians avoid them, as a mistaken choice could almost be considered blasphemous.

"The Shastras (Hindu religious texts) say your soul will be what you eat. If you eat well, your soul will be good. If you eat wrong food, consume alcohol and meat, your soul will be bad and you'll do stupid things," Hindu priest Acharya Brijesh told EFE outside one of the biggest temples of the monkey-god Hanuman in the capital.

Brahmins, a caste associated with priesthood and power positions, are largely vegetarians due to religious reasons and tradition, while the lowest sections of society, the so-called "untouchables," are known to eat the cheapest meats (buffalo or pig).

As the world prepares to celebrate World Vegetarian Day on Monday, data shows that India is a leader in eating "non-violence based food," yoga instructor Ramdev told EFE.

According to the latest survey of eating habits in the country - carried out in 2015-16 by the Indian Health Ministry - around 30 percent of women and 22 percent of men said they were strict vegetarians.

Around 90 percent of the population said they eat vegetables every day, while just 6 percent eat meat daily. 36 percent of women and 43 percent of men admitted eating meat at least once a week.

"Yes, we are vegetarians, Indians, but some people are not vegetarian so there is a choice. But by nature, India is vegetarian country," said Ramdev.

In a country where 23 percent of the population lives on less than $1.25 a day according to a 2011 United Nations report, food prices are also an important factor in deciding the household diet.

While one kilogram (2.2 pounds) of the most commonly eaten meat, chicken and lamb, costs 240 rupees ($3.3) and 460 rupees respectively, a kilo of rice and lentils is sold at 100 and 200 rupees each.

New Delhi, with a population of around 18 million, has one of the biggest fruit and vegetable markets in Asia, where around 13,000 tons of products arrives daily, Anil Ghildiyal, the secretary of the Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee at the market, told EFE.

By Elena Granados