The Case for a Vegetarian’s delight

Why a liberal forward-thinking atheist vegetarian is happy about the beef ban in Maharashtra

Butter Chicken. In a cashew-based tomato gravy with rich spices like fenugreek and turmeric, paired with some piping hot naan. How can anyone resist this? At least I couldn’t. Every Friday, without fail, this is what I grew up eating in Oman. The rest of the days, there was all kinds of rich north-Indian vegetarian food – but then there was also a significant chunk of chicken burgers, chicken nuggets and chicken sausages. This was your typical less-conservative Hindu family’s extent of meat eating. But all of this was true for me until the age of 10. Something changed then.

For the majority of my early childhood, I suffered from a severe migraine; it was my biggest horror that my parents often shed tears for. For years, the finest doctors failed to prescribe medication that would give me temporarily relief, let alone cure it permanently. Finally, a popular malayali homeopathic doctor visiting Oman highlighted meat as a potential symptom. While I don’t think anyone in my family actually believed homeopathy to be a real form of medicine (we were wrong – thanks, Deepa Raman aunty), at least I found some internal comfort from this diagnosis, almost as if a latent desire were being aided. That’s strange – my close friend Neha still recalls and reiterates how fond I was of sausages growing up. Why, you wonder, a butter chicken loving 10-year-old would like to stop eating something he loved so much? Now this remains a mystery to me – but from my best recollection, my mind and beliefs were evolving quicker than my peers*. And by around this time, I was developing a deep sympathy for animals, holding a strong principled and polarized view of what on earth is created to be eaten and what is not, and enjoying my moral and health high-ground. And while my family continued to exercise their “natural” omnivore traits, supported by an independent medical diagnosis, I became a vegetarian. Specifically, an ovo-lacto vegetarian.

Cows, courtesy The Hindu

In late February of this year, the populous Indian state of Maharashtra, governed by the national Hindu party in alliance with a local Hindu extremist party, banned sale of beef. Now, usually when some government in a country I care about does something as outrageous as this, I don’t really care about voicing my opinion on any form of media, because I trust my friends to take care of that. But this time around, my very honest gut instincts were opposed to that of most of my friends. While everybody thrashed the government for its lack of respect of basics of democracy, this is what I had to say:

 


And obviously, I drove you nuts on how I could be so narrow-minded. How could I support such dictatorial and baseless laws? How could I be so Hindu (lol)? How could I support the robbing of freedoms in broad daylight? Why did I care? To be clear, I am a highly liberal atheist free-thinker who runs around protecting freedom of several kinds and advocating openness living in the most liberal part of the world (California). Heck, I work in a job that cannot be performed without the highest degrees of empathy. You can also rule out any potential fanaticism or fetish I have for Bal Thackeray.

So have patience. By reacting angrily, you are giving up the opportunity to understand me, and everyone who has a view of the world like mine. By saying unproductive things like “plants are also living beings” – you are moving too far away from a healthy debate. But now that you care to know, hang on and read ahead.

For you to be able to understand me, you need to understand the difference between passive vegetarians and, lets just call us, reformist vegetarians. [Note: these aren’t always mutually exclusive]. Passive vegetarians are usually born into vegetarianism, either through their family or other circumstances. They are mostly god-fearing people who do not eat meat because their religion forbids them to. The rest of the passive vegetarians happen to discover a meat-free living as a form of maximizing self-health and purity. They refrain from being near meat – but they aren’t all in-your-face about quitting meat. It’s also true that there are a lot of passive vegetarians who naturally transition to being reformists.

That brings us to reformists. Reformist vegetarians, on the other hand, are the more extreme kinds, and have their own version of jihad against meat, going on somewhere in the back of their minds. We hit ‘Like’ on PETA’s Facebook campaigns. We aren’t excited by the idea of debating if humans should or should not eat meat – nothing will change our mind. We usually move to vegetarianism because of one or more of the following reasons:

  • We believe man should not eat animals.
  • We believe animals deserve to live, and the parts of the “food chain” where man eats animals is a ridiculous concept that we have made to justify killing animals
  • We don’t think we struggle with finding protein (haha)

It’s really as simple as that.

_________________

 

To bring it back to topic, I am a reformist vegetarian – and so are a lot of my quieter vegetarian peers. We are fighting a peaceful never-ending fight against the idea of meat eating for survival. Neither are we Hindu extremists, nor are we irrational. We are not bad people. We don’t hate you or want to steal your freedoms. We just have a world view that is fundamentally different from yours. We realize the idea of eating meat is so natural to you that you are ridiculed by our opposition to it – and so we don’t try, because you don’t listen to us. We struggle to have meaningful debate. My joy didn’t come as a result of your loss. My joy came from advancement of a cause I belong to – whether it happens by force or through peaceful consensual debate over decades. A consensual debate, which as I have pointed out, you had closed the doors on.

 

EDIT: I have explicitly chosen to not talk about the political failure that’s given a rise to this situation. In no way am I justifying the political and religious landscape that has led to the ban. That’s a different matter.

*No, it doesn’t mean I was smarter or had a higher IQ or quicker puberty. I just have had a knack for understanding the world around me faster than others.

Thanks to Zaid Haque for reading a draft of this

2 thoughts on “The Case for a Vegetarian’s delight”

  1. Hey Varun,
    The piece is brilliantly written- the English language- the way you have used makes me your erstwhile English teacher proud of you.no you have not made me a reformist vegetarian. I remain too lazy to change or give up old habits.but I agree with your support of the cause.
    RJ

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