Who is Jean Dreze? Economist under fire on social media for remarks on eggs

In picture: Jean Dreze. Picture credit: Twitter

Noted economist Jean Dreze has created a storm on social media by claiming that eggs being non-vegetarian is only a religious belief.

He said in an interview to News18: “As [Mahatma] Gandhi himself pointed out, ‘He who can take milk should have no objection to taking sterile eggs.’ The notion that eggs are non-vegetarian but not milk is a religious belief, not a rational idea.”

He was speaking about malnourishment among children in India. He said including eggs in mid-day meals in schools could solve this problem to quite an extent, and that states should do it.

He also said: “The resistance [to this move] comes mainly from a minority of upper-caste vegetarians. As a vegetarian myself, I am dismayed at their narrow-mindedness.”

Not the first time

This is hardly the first time that Dreze, also a food activist, has claimed egg being non-vegetarian is a religious belief.

In a blog for the Times of India in 2015, he called eggs “a kind of super-food for growing children” because they contain “all essential nutrients except for Vitamin C.”

He made several other arguments in support of eggs being served at mid-day meals in government schools.

He wrote: “First, most children (especially those from poor families) love to eat eggs. Serving eggs with the midday meal helps to boost school attendance and create a nice environment for children.”

Dreze added: “Second, eggs could give a new lease of life to the Integrated Child Development Services, still a fledgling programme in many states.”

He also wrote: “Third, poultry is a useful source of local employment for rural households and women’s self-help groups.”

Pointing out problems with bananas and milk being touted to replace eggs in mid-day meals, he said: “…[B]ananas do not come close to eggs in nutritional value, and milk raises serious safety issues. Being a perishable food, it is also difficult to distribute efficiently.”

Broken eggs
[Representational image] | Photo credit: Creative Commons

Who is Jean Dreze?

Dreze was born in 1959 in Belgium to an erudite family. His father, economist Jacques Dreze, founded the Université catholique de Louvain, which is Belgium’s largest French-speaking university.

His brother Xavier Dreze was a scholar in marketing and consumer research at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Dreze himself studied mathematical economics at the University of Essex in the UK. This was the 1980s. He earned a doctorate in theoretical economics of cost-benefit analysis from New Delhi’s Indian Statistical Institute.

Dreze, who started coming to India in the late 1970s, became a citizen of the country in 2002. Having lived in Delhi in the 1990s and in Ahmedabad from 2002 to 2014, he is currently a resident of Ranchi.

On the work front, Dreze has been a part of several high-profile research texts in India. His co-authors include Nobel-laureate Amartya Sen.

Dreze was reportedly the brain behind several Indian social policies when the UPA was in power from 2004 to 2014.

His research on minimum income is believed to have directly impacted the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme’s structure.

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