Food festivals can be pretty great. It’s where you discover new food preparations, dip into exotic flavours and put stuff into your mouth till you’ve maxed out on all those foodgasms. Except when a company tried to organise a beef-based food festival in Kolkata, West Bengal, they were compelled to cancel it.
Now, beef is banned in several states in India, but West Bengal is not one of them. So when Arjun Kar—founder of an event management company —posted on Facebook, asking his friends if they would come for a “crazy meat extravaganza” and the RSVPs poured in, he decided to hold the Kolkata Beef Festival. The festival was scheduled to be held on June 23 at the city’s Cafe Sudder, and promised to serve up dishes like tenderloin, beef bolognese, and other delicacies that weren’t too common in Kolkata.
The idea was to bring people together to pig out and "celebrate good food". Instead, despite the enthusiastic response, they were barraged with calls and comments from people hating on the idea that a food festival could be fashioned around beef. The organisers, in turn, first tried to reason with them and even renamed the event to ‘Kolkata Beep* Festival’. But even turning the festival’s theme into censored slang wasn’t enough to appease the offended.
“Our motive was to organise a food festival,” Kar told The Indian Express. “Apart from beef delicacies we had planned to keep pork dishes too in the event. It was never a political or any other event. However, we have received a number of calls since we put out the event in social media. Some of the calls were a direct threat. Since we cannot ensure the security of the visitors we have decided to cancel it.”
Kar’s company received over 300 calls threatening and abusing them for daring to organise a beef festival. “Even after the event is cancelled I am getting calls from strangers abusing us," Kar said. "I fear that these people may harm me or my team members physically. I may approach police soon. The motive was to have a good event where people can enjoy."
From eating it to talking about it, beef as a food item has found itself in hot water for a while now. Since cows are considered sacred in Hinduism, beef’s been pushed back to being illegal. Not only has the ban deeply impacted India’s meat production industry, it’s also led to a lot of cow vigilante violence and mob lynchings. Whether it’s arresting an Adivasi professor for posting about it on Facebook or hacking the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party website into a beef-lovers blog, the dissent on the beef ban is currently on. And even though West Bengal has no restrictions on the consumption beef, this isn’t the first time a pro-beef festival to protest the ban is taking place in India.
At the end of the day, this festival was more about sinking teeth into a good old beef burger, and not a political agenda.
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