Srinagar: About 85 percent of Kashmiris eat non-vegetarian fare - but exactly how much? Official statistics say Jammu and Kashmir annually consumes a whopping 51,000 tonnes of mutton worth worth Rs.12.06 billion (over Rs.1,200 crore), of which 21,000 tonnes is imported from outside.
"The 21,000 tonnes is in addition to 30,000 tonnes of mutton produced locally and costing Rs.7.02 billion (Rs.702 crore) which also goes into the local consumption each year," a senior official of the animal husbandry department here told reporters.
Despite having some of the best meadows and pastures in the world, all the mutton imported into Kashmir comes from Rajasthan, which has some of the most arid deserts in the country.
In addition to mutton, poultry and poultry products are also imported into the state from neighbouring Punjab and Haryana.
"Chicks, broilers, layers and eggs amounting to Rs.1.2 billion are imported each year for local consumption," said another official of the state animal husbandry department posted with the poultry production wing.
"This is in addition to the local poultry production worth Rs.1.8 billion that also goes into local consumption."
The officials say 84 percent of the state`s 10 million population is predominantly non-vegetarian.
Some say the high consumption of meats could explain the wide prevalence of certain ailments.
"My god, these are Herculean figures and they explain the reason for high blood pressure, obesity, high cholesterol levels, heart ailments, gout, kidney stones, liver ailments and a host of other diseases the locals are vulnerable to because of their dietary habits," said Kaisar Ahmad, a general practitioner here.
The sheer amount of mutton and poultry that goes into the preparation of the traditional Kashmiri cuisine called `wazwan` is mindboggling.
"An average middle class marriage requires about five quintals of mutton and one quintal of poultry. Those who haven`t seen the extended wazwan feasts where courses over courses of dishes are served in an unending pageant are really flabbergasted by the extravaganza when they experience it the first time," said Sujeet Kumar, a police officer belonging to Haryana told reporters.
"It is common in the Valley for people to ask if anyone in the family had taken ill, if they find a local carrying vegetables or fruit home!" said Bashir Ahmad War, a retired veterinarian here.
Fortunately, with growing healthcare awareness, especially among youth, the dietary habits of locals are gradually changing for the better.
"It was very unusual to see a Kashmiri jogging or attending a health club earlier. In the past, locals would do something like this only under medical advice," said War.
"Now more and more locals are doing daily exercises, attending health clubs and are seen doing brisk walking in the mornings. This is accompanied by a change in eating habits as vegetables and fruits are now getting into our menu.
"But there is still a long way to go before mutton and poultry are used in moderation," said War.