To (m)eat or not to (m)eat! A non-vegetarian’s dilemma

To (m)eat or not to (m)eat! A non-vegetarian’s dilemma

By Avik Chattopadhyay

To eat veg or non-veg, to eat meat or not, to eat fish or not – These have been the dilemmas for many for a long time. In the recent past, there has been a section of society advocating for veganism, while a section is seeking a complete ban on non-vegetarian food. Despite being a matter of individual choice, there have been attempts of food policing by the radical sections of society.

I am strictly non-vegetarian. That is how my parents have diligently brought me up, as a good Bengali boy. Sunday afternoons were looked forward to for the mutton curry with rice polished off with some mishti doi. Anything extra was a mere distraction. And anything vegetarian was…well, vegetarian. One argued that the mutton was cooked with all vegetarian ingredients and had aloo (potato) as an accompanist.

As a child visiting my paternal home in Central Kolkata during Durga Puja, I was exposed to something called “niraamish mangsho”, which means ‘vegetarian mutton’ on Navami (ninth day of the festival). It was the same good old mutton curry but without onion and garlic making it pure enough to be vegetarian!

AFT

The school lunchbox used to typically be vegetarian fare as the priority was to play every extra minute of the recess than spend time cleaning out chicken bones. Food in college used to be in the canteen where no one ever questioned the ‘samosas’, ‘aloo bondas’, and bread ‘pakodas’. Hostel life in a business school was an eye-opener. Lots of myths were broken there. South Indians were more non-vegetarians than the ones in the North and West. But the overall bonhomie did not allow such matters of the palate to create fissures.

Touring on work showed the divides deep and wide. People in the north were perplexed when they found me belonging to a certain caste and yet enjoying meat. Being classified as a “Bengali” helped as the questioning reduced.

You will be surprised to know that according to ancient Hindu rites and rituals, a man cannot be a good Hindu who does not eat beef.

~ The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda’ (Vol.3, page 536)

Travelling overseas was really not a bother as the food was the least of my concern…in fact, I looked forward to trying varieties, right from fried snake to wildebeest biltong with frog and turtle soup in between. I must admit that my parents were totally okay with all of this except for beef. “Not that Hindus have never had beef,” my mother would comment, “it is just that now it is a holy animal and better be left alone.”

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The Rigveda (10/85/13) declares, “On the occasion of a girl’s marriage oxen and cows are slaughtered.” The Rigveda (6/17/1) also states that “Indra used to eat the meat of cow, calf, horse, and buffalo.”

Apastamb Grihsutram (1/3/10) says, “The cow should be slaughtered on the arrival of a guest, on the occasion of ‘Shraddha’ of ancestors and on the occasion of a marriage.” 

Vashistha Dharmasutra (11/34) writes, “If a Brahmin refuses to eat the meat offered to him on the occasion of ‘Shraddha’ or worship, he goes to hell.”

In ‘The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda’ (Vol.3, page 536), he is quoted as, “You will be surprised to know that according to ancient Hindu rites and rituals, a man cannot be a good Hindu who does not eat beef.”

Even Manusmriti (Chapter 5 / Verse 30) says, “It is not sinful to eat the meat of eatable animals, for Brahma has created both the eaters and the eatables.” 

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The objective is not to justify beef-eating but to impress upon society as a whole that habits are not always born out of ritual but out of need. When the population of cows dwindled coinciding with the increasing popularity of Buddhism, the decision-makers in Hindu society decided to make the cow holy/sacred. And that was only around 500 BC.

Only 30% of Indians above the age of 15 age vegetarian.

~ 2018 study by the Registrar General of India

There has been this traditional exchange of banter between vegetarians and non-vegetarians, the former considering the latter “impure” while the latter consider the former “weak”. But this banter has now turned into open hostility with a certain section of society and think-tank imposing their personal thoughts over all else.

The killing of a 52-year old commoner called Mohammad Akhlaq on 28 September 2015 in Dadri (Uttar Pradesh) on mere suspicion of slaughtering a cow and storing beef is a case in point. This incident cemented a distorted view of a group of people who wish to ‘purify’ society and the nation by turning us all into vegetarians.

Only 5 out of the 29 states are majority vegetarian. The South is far more non-vegetarian than the North.

But the mindset was always there, in the shadows, waiting to come out given the opportunity. I was quite repulsed by a specific Incredible India advertisement that obliquely alluded to non-vegetarian Indians being impolite and inhospitable. I thought it was in very bad taste and a sign of times to come!

Source: Incredible India via Twitter

The last published government study of 2018 released by the Registrar General of India shows that only 30% of Indians above the age of 15 age vegetarian. Only 5 out of the 29 states are majority vegetarian. The South is far more non-vegetarian than the North.

I can assign a mix of four reasons for such an outcome – faith, caste, poverty, and education.

High-caste wealthy Hindus are the ones who are typically vegetarian, not only driven by faith but also financial strength. They can afford to spend on dairy and other supplements than the cheaper options in animal meat. Which is the subsistence of the poor across the country. Beef in fact is consumed as much by people of certain faiths as it is by the economically and socially weakest sections. It is the cheapest source of protein.

In spite of the huge numbers making up these sections of society, India’s per capita meat consumption is one of the lowest in the world at just 2.9 kgs/person/annum as per the OECD 2015 data. That is an indicator of the deep-rooted poverty in our country.

In spite of the huge numbers making up these sections of society, India’s per capita meat consumption is one of the lowest in the world at just 2.9 kgs/person/annum as per the OECD 2015 data. That is an indicator of the deep-rooted poverty in our country.

The National Family Health Survey shows that ‘dalits’, lower-castes and tribes are the main meat-eaters. Interestingly, as people have economically progressed and gone up the social ladder over generations, they have taken up vegetarianism as a matter of ‘status’ and also a demonstration of financial well-being!

Education has a strong impact on taking up non-vegetarianism.

If J&K is the largest per capita consumer of mutton in the country, Himachal is the second largest, thereby smashing any correlation that spinmeisters might want to create of meat-eating with specific faiths.

Education also has a strong impact on taking up non-vegetarianism. Greater knowledge allows one to make more mature decisions driven by rationality rather than mere ritual. Also, the egg given at the mid-day meal scheme across many states exposes a child to cheaper sources of protein and nutrition, making the mind more open. Yet, some states have withdrawn the egg from the meal justifying that better pulses and greens will make up for the absent egg!

Reminds me of the notorious quote attributed to Marie Antoinette before the French Revolution of 1789, “If the people have no bread, let them eat cake!”

Also Read: Comfort food: Maggi, Milkmaid, and the Mess!

(Avik Chattopadhyay is co-creator of Expereal India. Also, he is the former head of marketing, product planning, and PR at Volkswagen India. He was associated with Maruti Suzuki, Apollo Tyres, and Groupe PSA as well.)

(Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the author’s and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Partnersincrave.com. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.)

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