Sunday, January 25, 2009

Flesh and blood

Last week, I’d promised to offer concrete logic as to why we ought to consider vegetarianism as a serious lifestyle choice, and here’s what I’m going to try… I could tell you how great a strain a non-vegetarian diet places on the planet’s stretched resources; how each morsel of meat you put in your mouth, turns the heat up a notch on the global temperature scale, but I won’t…

I could also tell you about the cancers and the cholesterol, possible by-products of your violent dietary habits, but I won’t…

..for then all I’d have told you is why it is wrong to kill to eat, but what I really want you to know is why it is right NOT to kill…

I could tell you about the unimaginable suffering that a living creature endures as it’s dragged onto the conveyor belt that conveys it from birth to your plate, which I will, but that suffering isn’t half the reason why you might consider ignoring another helping of a blood-meal….

It was an early winter morning and the sunbeams had drilled their way through the morning mist and opened up the highway to Ghaziabad. After driving past apartment blocks, malls and marshes, we finally reached the killing fields. You don’t need signs to this place. Long before you reach the slaughterhouse, you smell it - a revolting waft that heralds both the stench of rotting flesh and human waste from the land fill next to the slaughter house. The strange mix assaults your nostrils and clings to your clothes and sears itself into your memory of this place. As I moved closer, I was guided by some more emissaries of death… dark shadows in the sky, hundreds of them… Pariah Kites. Big brown birds, hunters and scavengers, that ride the thermals, waiting to swoop in for the scraps that remain after the day’s bloodletting. The place is almost surreal… in the drains run rivers of blood and through the dusty haze and stench, strewn around like dirty snow flakes lie blood soaked feather balls, rolling in the wind and clinging underfoot… the kites fly so low and bold that you can hear them flap their wings … and in corners there are dogs playing tug of war with the entrails of slaughtered animals. The abattoir is the axis of this world, be it beast bird or man. I asked a young boy for directions, and as the lad gestured with his hands red with blood, a drop fell on the car’s sill. My colleague shuddered and looked away. ‘Your hands are as red as his, you know…’, I told her. Melodrama? Perhaps… but you’ve got to concede that there’s some truth to what I’d said… The bakra mandi where goats are slaughtered has a sanitised appearance and while I could hear the plaintive bleating of the goats and the frantic kicking of their legs as they were hung upside down and slaughtered, this place was off limits and so I headed for the murga mandi.

Here, once we’d made it past the rows of live caged broilers, cockerels and turkeys and the intense stench of the birds, their remains and their droppings and reached the slaughtering yard, we were struck by a sight that could’ve made Genghis Khan blanch. Along the yard’s walls and in the centre, there were different ‘wards’ where chickens were being slaughtered.

You could tell one ward from another by looking at the different heaps of blood soaked corpses, some nearly five-feet high. It was a grisly sight. And then, I saw it being done. One man picked a rooster from its cage and tore the feathers off its wings as it struggled. There was fear in its eyes, and those who say that an animal doesn’t know what is happening to it lie, for I saw the fear of pain and death in the eyes of that rooster as I did in the eyes of that goat… there is that physical agony of death to follow, but far greater is the mental agony as it awaits that death… it doesn’t matter how the animal is butchered and what the butcher’s religion might be… a living being had to endure untold agony for your pleasure. I’m telling you this to remind you that these animals suffer, and it is a suffering that is undertaken on your account… because you demand death for your pleasure.

There are those amongst us who feel that these animals need to be killed and eaten, otherwise there would be too many for their own good. But they know that they’re just lying to themselves. These animals are bred because we buy them… and it is our demand that regulates their supply. The question really is, that though undoubtedly cruel, is this bloodshed justified simply because the creature killed is another species, a species that our ancestors had forever hunted?

To feel that a certain act, no matter how heinous, is justified as long as it happens to one who is ‘not one of us’ is a feeling that once justified the enslaving of blacks by whites, the gang rape and murder of a lower-caste woman by upper-caste men, riots, the annihilation of one nation by another and the Holocaust- racism, casteism, communalism, Nazism and the ism in question, speciesism (having different moral standards for species other than our own). These aren’t my thoughts alone. I’m echoing the thoughts of thinkers who have shaped mine, from Gandhi to Coetze and Singer to Pollan. Most agree that while it may have been a part of our animal inheritance to kill and eat, this animalism needn’t be our destiny too. Suspended between our animal instincts and our humane potential for divinity, the food we eat today might decide whether we veer one way or another. There was a time when cannibalism, rape, slavery, apartheid, the inferior status of women were all accepted practices of life. But with each passing century, we’ve learnt to understand what’s right, what’s wrong and learnt to let go of prejudices and pleasures that we now recognise to be perverse. I don’t doubt for a moment that perhaps not long after our time, meat-eating too would be consigned to this pit of historical and evolutionary crimes that were shed even though they might have shaped us once. The question is, at that point in time, how would you rather be remembered…

The Slip Stream

Get veginspired!

Even the “non-vegetarian” jokes, as risqué humour is often referred to, is more fun. So how do we sex up “veg” for the recent converts or the aspiring ones? Here’s inspiration…

Website: It doesn’t get more direct than this. But seriously, here is where you’d find every reason to turn vegetarian, including celebrity veggie testimonials, great recipes and incriminating evidence of cruelty which that “pork-on-your-fork” involves.

Expert: One of the oldest patrons of vegetarianism, Rose Elliot’s first book ‘Simply Delicious’ in 1967 was described to have been to veg cooking what “the Ford Model T was to transportation”! Author of best-sellers like ‘Not Just a Load of Old Lentils’ and ‘The Bean Book’, she has even been awarded the Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) for her contribution to making veggies chic again.

Book: Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian Cookbook. Queen of Curry – renowned culinary expert – Madhur Jaffrey brings fascinating veg recipes from around the world – oriental, Mediterranean, Hispanic and many others – for any occasion you name: fine dining, or the weekend picnic. Beetroot will never be the same again…


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