By Dr Deepak Pawar
I am a reformed non-vegetarian. I have given up on meat products, and consume only a vegetarian diet.
I am happy that I AM NOT CONTRIBUTING TO THE KILLING OF INNOCENT ANIMALS JUST TO FILL MY STOMACH. If that makes me a vegan, lacto-vegetarian, grass-eater, eggetarian or whatever else, I don’t really mind, because I am now living a guilt-free life, and am all too happy for it.
And the way things are progressing, I find myself naturally veering towards veganism – that is, the practice of not using any animal part or product in one’s diet, clothes or cosmetic products.
My family members, friends and relatives have been ranting and groaning in protest, but I have stood by my decision.
Why, you ask?
Because I don’t feel right about it. See, that’s the thing about dharma: it involves doing the right thing at the right time. Not what I or others like doing, but the right thing.
It is not for nothing that the Mahabharata proclaims ahimsa paramo dharmah, sarvapranabhrutaam smrutah (the highest dharma is nonviolence, look upon all creatures equally).
Especially when I hear or see news items about cruelty towards any living being: animals being skinned alive, or the streets of my hometown teeming with goats and sheep that are to be sacrificed during the festival next day, I become more acutely aware of the need for veganism.
I am aware that this is a controversial topic for many. I am aware that there are cultural, religious and ethical issues at play in determining one’s lifestyle and dietary habits.
Therefore I will address this issue by attempting to answer some of the barbs that I have seen meat eaters hurl at animal rights activists to justify their gastronomic indulgences.
Non-vegetarianism has existed for centuries. Early man subsisted on a diet of animals that he hunted in the forest. Isn’t it a natural tendency for me to continue this dietary habit?
True, the prehistoric man hunted and killed animals to feed on them. But he had no choice. He lived in jungles and had to forage and hunt for food every day. He also killed so that he could defend himself and his group from wild animals.
But you have a choice. You are an evolved being, aren’t you? You have plenty of vegetarian options to select from. Why then do you have to kill animals that can do no harm to you?
Animal sacrifice has been sanctioned in certain religions. Meat eating is part of the rituals of certain religious festivals. How dare you insult the religious sentiments of others by suggesting they should give up this practice?
The Jains have a saying: the faith that requires you to kill a living being cannot be a true faith at all. What kind of god derives satisfaction from the blood of innocent animals? Isn’t it sheer hypocrisy to proclaim your religion to be full of compassion, love and mercy, and on the other hand slaughter so many innocent animals that the roads of your towns and villages are flooded with their blood?
Besides, killing animals is an ethical issue, and if your religion is bereft of ethical values, then something is seriously wrong with it. Does your faith in god diminish if you do not kill an animal? Surely, it should be possible for you can keep your non-violent religious rituals and yet maintain an ethical way of life.
You are only focused on saving the cow because of your religious affiliation. Beef-eaters are being targeted because of this. Why are you being selective about which animals to protect?
Hardly. Sanatana Dharma believes that the Supreme Life-force is inherent in every living being. Yes, the cow has been accorded a special place in the pantheon, but that does not mean that other life-forces are to be harmed or sacrificed. There is also no such concept as a ‘dirty animal’ in Sanatana Dharma as all living beings are considered to be a manifestation of the divine.
Whatever is said here applies as well to meat consuming Sanatana Dharmis. There is a reason why seers like Mahatma Gandhi and Sadhu Vaswani were staunch advocates of vegetarianism. Our texts extol the virtue of ahimsa (nonviolence) and anrishamsya (compassion) towards all living beings.
I get my meat products from the supermarket. Why should I bother about how it is sourced?
Yes, somebody is doing the dirty job for you. I am also aware that you do no tell your children that the chicken wings and legs that come neatly packaged in supermarket shelves came from a living, breathing bird that once roamed free.
Studies have also shown that meat-eaters use a plethora of psychological defence mechanisms to justify killing animals to feed themselves. One of the common ones is that animals do not suffer or feel pain while they are being slaughtered.
The term ‘humane killing’ is oxymoronic. Animals such as cattle, sheep and goat, and birds such as hens, roosters, turkeys and ducks are raised specifically to snatch their milk and eggs from them, deskin them and pluck their feathers even when they are alive, and cut them up piece-by-piece only to satisfy our selfish needs.
Just visit the local abattoir to see the barbarity at display. You don’t have to understand animal language to recognise the pain and suffering from their panicked grunts and shrieks.
Or, take your children to the slaughter house, and let them decide whether they want to continue eating meat or not. Children are naturally more compassionate, and may even help you turn a new leaf.
Hey, I am an animal lover too! So what if I consume non-vegetarian diet? I still love my cats and dogs and fishes and birds.
You are already a hypocrite if you are saying this. Why is your love for animals confined only to your pets? Because you keep them for your amusement and companionship? How can you shower your love and attention on one type of living being and slaughter another? Why do you get so annoyed when in certain countries people consume dog meat? After all, your companion is their meat!
And as far as pets are concerned, cats and dogs might have adapted to your domiciliary life, but have you asked the fishes in the aquariums and the birds in the cages if they are happy? They best thing that you can do to them is to set them free.
You vegetarians conveniently forget that plants have life too. They too suffer and die when you consume them. Aren’t you being hypocritical by accusing us of torture?
True, plants have life and are living beings like animals. It is also worth pointing out that it is impossible to consume a diet totally devoid of plant ingredients, unless we evolve towards consuming mud and stones. In other words, we are talking about the degree of pain and suffering inflicted here.
The crucial difference between vegetarianism and non-vegetarianism boils down to this: unless you uproot the plant or tree totally, they still stand erect and alive when you pluck the leaf, flower, fruit or vegetable from them for your daily needs and consumption. Not so with animals. You cannot cut of a goat’s leg and say, I have spared its life. Actually you have caused it immense pain and suffering, and crippled it for life.
A plant or tree, on the other hand, can regrow the leaf, flower, fruit or vegetable that you have taken from it. Besides, an over-ripe fruit or vegetable drops off from the plant so that new ones can grow. So you are actually doing it a favour by taking it from the plant, and giving back its unconsumed seed to nature so that it can grow again.
Why do you kill insects and pests? Aren’t they living beings too?
They are. It is painful to do so, but we kill rodents, cockroaches, houseflies and mosquitoes because they spread diseases. Rodents can spread plague, cockroaches and houseflies can spread food infections such as typhoid, and mosquitoes can spread malaria, dengue and chikungunya.
Pest control is a preventive measure against the spread of these and other communicable diseases. By the same measure, we take antibiotics when we have any of these diseases. Antibiotics kill the disease causing bacteria and viruses, which are also living beings.
So we are controlling their growth or killing them for our own health and safety. The same goes to animals that physically attack you.
It is not against dharma to protect your own life by eliminating the threat to your existence. The Mahabharata also quotes thus: ahimsa paramo dharmah, dharma himsa tathiva cha (nonviolence is the highest dharma, so too is violence in service of dharma).
This, I hope you realise, is entirely different from killing innocent animals to fill our stomachs or to wear their skins.
I need non-vegetarian diet for the proteins and good health that it can provide. How can I get the same measure of nutrients through plant diet?
You can. This is a fallacy that sellers of meat products spread, or gym instructors tell aspiring bodybuilders. In actual fact, the average daily requirement of proteins is about 50 gram, of which 8 gram can be readily obtained from half-cup of lentils, and 10 gram from a cup of chopped tofu. Likewise, omega-3 fatty acids that are essential for heart and brain health can be sourced from flaxseed oil and walnuts, instead of fishes and seafood.
While we are on the subject of health and nutrition, did you know that the human body is not designed to consume non-vegetarian diet? Our teeth are mostly incisors and molars, which are designed to cut and chew food. This is different from the teeth of carnivorous animals such as a tiger, which are predominantly canine so that they can tear into the flesh of another animal.
Further, our digestive tract is not designed to deal with flesh, which is why constipation, and in the long run, bowel cancers are more common among meat eaters. Something as simple as gout (a painful inflammatory joint swelling) can be a direct consequence of excess meat consumption.
So you want the livestock breeders to shut shop? Don’t you think that millions will lose their jobs if the meat industry is to shut down?
All for the better. Environmental research has shown that feeding grains and fodder to farm animals, killing them, transporting their meat, and using refrigeration to preserve their meat are contributing significantly to global warming. Not to mention, forests are being cut down to make room for pasturelands, and the livestock themselves are emitting greenhouse gases through their manure.
Farmhands working with livestock are prone to developing zoonotic diseases such as brucellosis and leptospirosis. So, all things considered, it is probably better that meat industry workers find something more ethical and fulfilling to make money out of.
You are merely trying to impose your views on others. Why should I ever listen to this holier-than-thou nonsense and change my lifestyle because of what you say?
You don’t have to. Nothing should be imposed on anybody. Nothing should be compulsory, whether it is a lifestyle choice or a religious practice. I am merely pointing out what I feel is unethical and wrong. I am merely suggesting that there are health and moral benefits to leading a vegetarian lifestyle, especially with the availability of so many vegetarian products.
I have found that giving up non-vegetarianism has given me peace of mind and contentment, which I know can contribute to a healthy body and mind, and ultimately a more fulfilling life.
The choice, as ever, is yours. The choice, that is, of giving up an unethical practice to become a better human being. Surely, this is the only type of conversion that matters.
Blogs at dgvpawar.blogspot.in