Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Slaughter of Innocents

Happy New year, folks! So how good have you been with your New Year resolutions so far? Are you about to give in to the seductions of that cigarette you’ve spurned for a week? Or are the mornings too cold to venture out for the workout you’d promised yourself? Chances are, your resolutions must’ve eloped with last week’s hangover, so let me find you a new one… one that might help you save both your heart and your world… I say, go veg!

Now, before you dismiss me as a sentimental extremist, you’ve got to give me a fair hearing, so don’t go about turning the page just yet. You just love the flavour and the aroma of a slice of juicy steak or the greasy deliciousness of some well cooked butter chicken, don’t you? I can imagine… in fact, why imagine… I can remember… Till about five years ago, I loved eating meat. Chicken, beef, turkey, duck, veal, mutton, lamb and pork… and I liked the last one best… roasted or cured, as salami or bacon, pork was my meat of choice, just ahead of turkey and veal. At the same time, I was also an active conservationist and an animal rights activist. I loved animals… it’s just that I loved some animals on the plate too. When I would be asked how I could possibly lobby for the conservation of tigers and the prevention of cruelty to draught animals over a plate of pepperoni pizzas or lamb chops, I would reply that the tigers are endangered by commercial greed, not hunger and while it maybe a goat or a chicken’s natural purpose to be eaten (since their wild cousins are classified as prey species), it was never a bull-buffalo’s or horse’s natural purpose to be flogged to death under the yoke of a heavily overloaded cart. Moreover, I would tell them, “I owe it to my genes to eat meat”, for I’d heard (and I hope I remember correctly….) on tv that if we hadn’t started eating animal proteins at a certain stage of our evolution, we might not have developed the brain capacity of modern humans. The space in our skulls that is taken up by grey matter today would’ve been reserved for powerful chewing muscles and thick jawbones for masticating tough plant matter which is harder to digest and low on nutrition. Also, this simple evolutionary decision of consuming other animals instead of plant stems had liberated proteins from the onerous task of strengthening the digestive system (as in the case of herbivores) and given them the freedom to aid the growth of the most magnificent of organs – the super-sized human brain. So, eating meat, I told them, wasn’t my decision but nature’s… I was just acting in accordance with an evolutionary master script, inspite of my great love for ‘all creatures great and small’.

So, what happened? Well, to answer your question, I’ll have to take you to a small seedy lane in south Delhi that connects the affluent islands of Defence Colony and South Extension. This dirty lane, hidden behind dusty woodwork stores, characterised by open drains on one side and tiny boxy butcheries, huge strips of marbled ham hanging from the rafters like forbidding curtains, on the other, was my cycling shortcut to my office in South Ex. Once, while returning from office on a summer afternoon, I heard terrible ear splitting squeals piercing through the dull din of the traffic. I followed the sound to an open patch behind the row of meat shops where a group had tied a tiny piglet’s legs and were about to skewer it alive. I had never seen a pig being killed before and while I understood that a bit of bloodshed might have been necessary, I had no idea, that deliciously pink meat reached me through such violent cruelty. I bought the little animal before they could kill it and took it with me to an animal shelter nearby called Friendicoes. As the piglet was released in its holding area, it nuzzled up to me, refusing to budge from where I stood. The traumatised little animal refused to trust any environment beyond the security of my presence and squealed pitifully as I walked away after giving it a cuddle. I still remember its big ears and long lashed beady eyes following me as long as they could… begging me to stay…

I did order a pepperoni pizza once after that but I couldn’t eat it. I felt like I was betraying the memory of those eyes expressing their trust and exhorting my protection. And I swore off meat altogether. I didn’t want to be a hypocrite and say that it was okay for me to eat mutton and chicken but not pigs, or dogs, cows or whales, just because of cultural biases. The ethics of eating an animal ought to be a question of morality not culture, or religion. So it is either okay to eat animals or it isn’t. It is unfair to crinkle our noses at cultures that eat dogs, whales or other people just because we don’t and prefer goats and birds instead.

The question is, now that evolution has done its bit and man has found access to various kinds of proteins that allow him the fulfilment of his genetic potential without having to kill other creatures for food, where does he draw the line, if any?

I don’t need meat to survive or evolve. That is a fact. But why give up on one of the greatest joys in the world… the primal pleasure of biting into protein rich meat? I gave up because I couldn’t answer the questions in the eyes of that piglet. But for you, in future columns I’ll try and bring you more compelling reasons. Meanwhile, before you eat meat ever again, I urge you to go to a slaughterhouse and witness firsthand ‘the slaughter of an innocent’, so that you could savour the flavour of that flesh… you owe the animal at least that much…

Vegetarians are easy meat?

“You don’t win friends with salad… you don’t win friends with salad,” teased Bart and Homer Simpson, when Lisa pledged vegetarianism in America’s favourite dysfunctional family. As it turns out for vegetarians, you not only don’t win friends with salad, but you can’t be too sure of salad itself now. Ever tried looking closely at those Good Day cakes – soft and spongy cakes promising the wholesomeness of milk and other nutritious flavours? The wrapper has a tiny red dot in a red square denoting non-vegetarian ingredients, in this case, animal gelatin. Not many notice. But what’s worse is the countless other food items consumed by unsuspecting vegetarians, for lack of adequate warning on animal product ingredients used. Think ice creams and cookies. They not only have eggs beaten in, but even gelatin which is a nice sounding name for protein extracted from the bones of animals. French fries? Once upon a time McDonald’s fried those potatoes in 93% beef tallow (fat). The innocuous cheese on the breakfast table is curdled with rennet, or enzymes obtained from the stomach lining of calves. And beat this: the fresh sweetmeats that you bring home from the halwai and often even offer to the gods (diet preferences unsure) are covered in fine silver foils which again are hammered casings of cattle intestines. Are there any vegetarians still in the room?


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