By Swati Chopra
Vegetarianism is an ideal New Age lifestyle choice: not only is it healthier, it is also more humane
The twelve pigs were huddled together at the far end of the pen, standing quietly, looking apprehensive. One of the men in rubber boots pulled a metal chain down from the wall and advanced upon the nearest animal, approaching it from the rear. Then he bent down and quickly looped one end of the chain around one of the animal’s hind legs. The other end he attached to a hook on the moving cable as it went by. The cable kept moving. The chain tightened. The pig’s leg was pulled up and back, and then the pig itself began to be dragged backwards… the creature was suddenly jerked off its feet and borne aloft. Shrill protests filled the air.
‘Truly a fascinating process,’ Lexington said. ‘But what was the funny cracking noise it made as it went up?’
‘Probably the leg,’ the guide answered. ‘Either that or the pelvis.’
‘But doesn’t that matter?’
‘Why should it matter?’ the guide asked. ‘You don’t eat the bones…’
At this point, while Lexington was gazing skyward at the last pig to go up, a man in rubber boots approached him quietly from behind and looped one end of a chain around the youth’s own ankle, hooking the other end to the moving belt. The next moment, before he had time to realize what was happening, our hero was jerked off his feet and dragged backwards along the concrete floor of the shackling-pen.
‘Stop!’ he cried. ‘Hold everything! My leg is caught!’ But nobody seemed to hear him, and five seconds later, the unhappy young man was jerked off the floor and hoisted vertically upward through the open roof of the pen, dangling upside down by one ankle, and wriggling like a fish…
‘Hi there,’ the sticker said, smiling.
‘Quick! Save me!’ our hero cried.
‘With pleasure,’ the sticker said, and taking Lexington gently by one ear with his left hand, he raised his right hand and deftly slit open the boy’s jugular vein with a knife.
The belt moved on. Lexington went with it. Everything was still upside down and the blood was pouring out of his throat and getting into his eyes, but he could still see and he had a blurred impression of being in an enormously long room, and at the far end of the room there was a great smoking cauldron of water, and there were dark figures, half hidden in the steam, dancing around the edge of it, brandishing long poles. The conveyor-belt seemed to be traveling right over the top of the cauldron, and the pigs seemed to be dropping one by one into the boiling water…
Suddenly our hero started to feel very sleepy, but it wasn’t until his good strong heart had pumped the last drop of blood from his body that he passed on out of this, the best of all possible worlds, into the next.
In Pig, a grotesque tale by Roald Dahl, a youth brought up in idyllic bliss by a fanatically vegetarian aunt undergoes the horrors of slaughter in a high-tech city abattoir. Think for a moment, what if fiction was transmuted into reality? What if we, who never think twice before digging into succulent seekh kebabs or toothsome tandoori
chickens, were to experience firsthand the agony of being a chicken/pig/cow under the knife? What then? Or is it possible for us to empathize with all sentient beings by turning vegetarian without resorting to such drastic measures?
Dietary preferences might be an individual’s sole prerogative, but do you ever wonder how your body copes with food once it’s down your gullet after having been savored to the maximum by your taste buds? Well, if you haven’t, then do it now. For not only is your favorite chicken dish an invitation to serious health hazards; by consuming it, you also become party to the cruelty being inflicted on fellow living beings in the name of satiating perverse human appetites.
Perverse? I can almost see eyebrows forming question marks and lips curving into sneers as a barrage of arguments are readied to counter the ghaas phoosbrigade (a sarcastic epithet for vegetarians in India). But wait! Let me present my case and so, rest the poisoned chalice awhile.
Contrary to popular perception, there are no ‘merciful’ ways of killing animals. At least not in India. Chickens, exploited for both their eggs and flesh, are being brutalized and killed daily in sophisticated hatcheries and farms equipped with state-of-the-art machinery that aim to squeeze the best out of them at minimum cost. And that almost sounds good when compared to what a pig goes through in order to be incarnated as your breakfast bacon or the salami sandwich that you lovingly pack for your kid’s lunch.
Maneka Gandhi, Union cabinet minister of India and longtime animal rights activist, cites the findings of an international organization, WSPA in her book Heads and Tails. In Delhi, the pigs were burnt after having their necks sliced open. In Mumbai, they were stunned with electric shocks; in Tamil Nadu and Mizoram, an iron prong was shoved into the pig’s anus until it came out through the mouth, having sliced through its internal organs.
The ‘holy cow’ meets with a worse fate in this, the country where no devout Hindu can go through life without paying obeisance to au mata (literally, the cow mother) and where the Prime Minister does not file his election nomination without the mandatory gau poojan(cow worship). And yet appalling cruelty is meted out to this gentle animal in our country to cater to a flourishing (often illegal) beef and leather trade for overseas markets in the Middle East, Australia, Europe and the USA, People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), an international animal rights organization, has spearheaded a campaign to put an end to the brutal slaughter of cows in India, a cause that has found a vociferous champion in Hollywood action star Jackie Chan.
PETA’s president Ingrid Newkirk shares her horror at what she was confronted with during a recent visit to India. ‘The cows were beaten in order to force them from the truck, then all four feet were tied together and they were thrown on their sides on the filthy floor. Workers sawed back and forth with dull knives, often leaving fully conscious animals to bleed slowly to death. Other cows looked on as their companions died in pools of their own blood,’ she says. Dr Ted Dappner, veterinarian of the Washington Humane Society, who traveled to India with Ingrid, says: ‘The extent of cruelty toward these animals is truly astonishing. I have nightmares to last me quite some time.’
It is perhaps time that we declare what the malevolent Old Testament God did in The Book of Isaiah (1:11, 1:15-16): ‘I have had enough of the roasted carcasses of rams and of the fat of fattened beasts. I take no pleasure in the blood of calves, lambs and goats… I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood! Put away your misdeeds from before My eyes and stop doing evil.’
Is there a connection between what we eat and who we are? Dr Jasraj Singh has been conducting experiments at Gwalior Jail to determine the interrelation, if any, between our diet and personality traits. During the course of one such experiment, the prisoners were kept on a strictly vegetarian diet. Over six months, they developed a tendency to refrain from violent confrontations; some even denounced the life of crime that they had led. When they were reverted to a non-vegetarian diet, there was again a behavioral change, this time for the worse.
Endorsement for this comes from Georges Ohsawa who, in his book Zen Macrobiotics, prescribes vegetarianism for purely physiological reasons. Says he: ‘People who eat hemoglobin foods may become murderers, liars, cowards as a result and may not realize that their unhappiness is caused by wrong eating. This is because they are depending for sustenance on animals. Animal meat has the ideal composition of an animal; animal glands produce hormones fit for creatures that act instinctively and are unaccustomed to thinking.’
Ohsawa goes to the extent of maintaining that if Mahatma Gandhi had not eschewed all animal products in his youth, he would have become a cruel revolutionary instead of an apostle of nonviolence.
Explains Dr D.C. Jain, head of the department of neurology at Safdarjung Hospital in New Delhi, India: ‘When an animal is slaughtered, its body secretes large quantities of certain neuro-excitatory hormones. These are retained in their meat and possibly trigger traits like aggression and ill-temper in meat eaters.’ Moreover, kinesiology (an alternative system of diagnosis) believes that all events and emotions are recorded in cellular memory. So, when you tuck into animal food, you are unknowingly absorbing the animal’s pain which is stored in its cells.
What’s more, you also end up consuming a deadly cocktail of drugs that are regularly fed to the ‘factory farmed’ animal. For instance, to increase their weight as much as possible, chickens are fed a mixture of cheap fat-producing carbohydrates, antibiotics, sulpha drugs, hormones and nitrofurans. Egg-laying hens are made to consume arsenic compounds (carcinogenic to humans) to make their egg-yolks more yellow. Pigs, who fall sick in their unhygienic surroundings, are constantly fed tetracycline antibiotics.
Most of these animals are kept alive on drugs, or they would perish otherwise in the barbaric conditions that they are kept in.
Traditionally, an Indian’s caste or religion governed every aspect of his life, including what he could or could not eat. But the rapid rise of cities—those melting pots fostering a cross-cultural milieu—in recent decades has encouraged a movement away from parochial food habits. While this might be valuable for the existence of an unfragmented society, the cosmopolitanization of cuisine has also meant discarding simple vegetarian diets in favor of unhealthy, meat-based ones. Says Ed Ayres, editorial director of the Worldwatch Institute, in Will we still eat meat?: ‘Throughout the developing world today, one of the first thing people do as they climb out of poverty is to shift from their peasant diet of mainly grains and beans to one that is rich in pork or beef.’
If we shift our focus to man’s Darwinian origins, we are faced with the accumulated evolutionary history of a few million years. In those wild, prehistoric times before the dawn of civilization, on what did man (or his ancestral primates) survive?
Vegetarian Naturalism has consistently been of the view that man’s ‘original diet’ was plant-based. Palaeoanthropologists tell us that man embarked upon his evolutionary journey as an insectivorous primate over sixty million years ago. A few million years down the line and he had graduated to a largely herbivorous-cum-frugivorous (fruit-based) diet.
Homo erectus (the erect man) had to adapt himself to the onset of the glacial age and the consequent thinning of the Savannah 9,00,000 years ago by alternating between animal and plant foods. For Homo erectus to Cro-Magnon man, consuming animals became a way of coping with the vagaries of the earth’s environment that was constantly in flux. During the Ice Ages, the last of which was from 25,000 to 15,000 BC, vegetation all but disappeared, forcing man to hunt large mammals like mammoths, bison and caribou to survive. He was also a nomad, constantly moving in pursuit of animal herds. The Agricultural Revolution in the Neolithic Age (circa 10,000 BC) not only brought about a settled lifestyle but also made cereals and cultivable vegetation the main source of nourishment. Many animals, now domesticated, had become valuable for activities other than consumption. The plant vs. animal ratio in man’s food reached a high of 90:10 at this time.
As is obvious from the evidence of evolution, adaptability to natural circumstances has been the hallmark of humankind. It has always been a matter of survival, and not that of culinary taste, that drove animalistic man to an ‘omnivorous’ diet. Plant-based foods have always been his first and instinctive preference. The proof for this is inbuilt in our bodies in the form of our quasi-herbivoric digestive system.
Quite plainly, our digestive system is unfit for a carnivorous diet. We have teeth like blades and grinders meant for chewing plant food. There are no claws to tear flesh. The tongue is soft and the saliva, blood and stomach are alkaline to digest starches and carbohydrates, unlike carnivores who have acidic saliva to act on meat. Human intestines are long (26 feet) and convoluted—a feature diametrically opposed to carnivore intestines, which are smooth to allow easy passage to digested flesh.
Carnivorous food in herbivorous intestines spells disaster as the flesh might get trapped in the bowel pouches and putrefy. Smaller human livers are also unable to metabolize the large amounts of uric acid produced during meat digestion and, as a result, the uric acid ends up getting deposited in the joints leading to the onset of arthritis.
That is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg, the very least of what you, as a flesh-eater, inflict on your body. According to Dr Neal Barnard, president of the Physicians’ Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), there are five main health hazards that meat consumers expose themselves to:
Cholesterol conundrum: Animal products are high in cholesterol that enters the blood stream and coats arterial walls. The cholesterol-coated arteries begin to cause progressively less amounts of oxygen to reach the heart. Replacing animal protein with plant protein lowers blood cholesterol levels even if amount and type of fat in the diet remains the same.
High blood pressure: Studies since the 1920s have shown lower BP in vegetarians. When patients with high BP begin a vegetarian diet, many are able to eliminate their need for medication.
Diabetes: A diet high in complex carbohydrates (found only in plants) and low in fat controls diabetes.
Cancer: Death rates from cancer are about only one-half to three-quarters in a vegetarian population as compared to the meat-eating populace. Instances of breast and colon cancer are higher in non-vegetarians. This is due to their diet that has a high fat content but is low in fiber. Natural sugars in dairy products increase the risk of ovarian cancer in women. Conversely, the intake of plant pigment beta-carotene, higher among vegetarians, prevents lung cancer. Vegetarians also have more of ‘natural killer cells’ to fight cancer cells.
Calcium loss: A high intake of animal protein causes an excessive excretion of calcium through the urine, thereby encouraging the loss of calcium from bones, which in turn increases the risk of developing osteoporosis, kidney and gallbladder stones.
Dr Bimal Chhajer, a leading cardiologist and chairperson of SAAOL, agrees that the high-on-cholesterol, low-on-fiber non-vegetarian food is a major contributor to heart disease. ‘While researching various foods and their effects on the heart, I found meat and eggs to be the main culprits. All kinds of flesh foods are rich sources of cholesterol and triglycerides. Moreover, a lot more oil and ghee is required to prepare meat-based dishes,’ he says.
However, merely quitting meat may not automatically guarantee good health. Most neo-vegetarians make the switch without adequate planning and end up substituting meat products with vast quantities of paneer (cottage cheese). According to health columnist and nutritionist Anjali Mukherjee: ‘Ironically, most vegetarians do not eat vegetables. Most Indians prefer mish-mashed, refined, low fiber, predominantly grain-based vegetarian food like dal chawal, chhole bhature, dhokla, vegetable biryani, cutlets and baked dishes. In this situation, we need to focus on developing nutritious food habits more than on turning vegetarian.’
To counter such nutritional faux pas, Dr Neal Barnard has devised four food groups to be included in every vegetarian meal. These are:
Vegetables: Dark green, leafy vegetables such as spinach and broccoli are good sources of vitamin C, beta-carotene, riboflavin, iron, calcium and fiber. Dark yellow and orange vegetables like carrots, sweet potatoes and pumpkin provide extra beta-carotene. One cup raw or half a cup of cooked vegetables must be eaten at least thrice a day.
Grains: This includes cereals like wheat, rice, corn, millet, barley, rotis and bread. Grains are rich in fiber, complex carbohydrates, protein, vitamin B and zinc. The bran layer of rice with the embryo of the seed is removed during the milling of white polished rice. So brown rice is better and is also an excellent source of niacin, magnesium and iron. At least five servings of cereal must be had everyday.
Fruit: Whenever you can, choose whole fruit over fruit juice, as juice does not have fiber, an important source of roughage. Have at least one medium piece of fruit or four ounces of juice thrice a day. Legumes: These include beans, peas and lentils and are good sources of protein, iron, calcium, zinc and vitamin B. You need to have two or more servings per day.
Ultimately, the creed of vegetarianism is about the consumption of live, nutritious food involving as little violence as possible. Food that erupts from the bosom of the earth is thought to integrate the elements—air, water, fire, earth, ether in their purest form and is suffused with prana (life energy).
Advocates of the raw food diet refuse to cook their food, for heat is believed to destroy natural enzymes and the sun energy trapped in plant foods as cellulose.
Says Dr Ann Wigmore, founder of the Hippocrates Health Institute and a foremost proponent of raw food vegetarianism in the West:
‘The easiest way to add living enzymes to the digestive tract is to eat ripe fruit, uncooked organically grown vegetables, sprouts and wheatgrass that have the ability to strengthen our bodies through their electrical impulses, enzymes and nutrients.
‘Cooked and processed food does not provide the complex structure of the protein molecules and destroys associated enzymes necessary for their utilization, rendering them less useful.’
The view of food as a source of prana is also subscribed to by naturopaths who treat food not only as nourishment but also as a natural means of curing disease. According to naturopathy, there are two kinds of food-sun cooked (that which is ripened in the sun) and uncooked. Both are thought to have high pranic value. The moment a fruit is plucked, its prana begins to return to the atmosphere. Hence the need to have fresh and seasonal fruits and vegetables.
Eating raw food also encourages chewing that mixes the food with digestive juices in our mouth. This reduces strain on the stomach. Sprouts are said to contain the largest amount of nutrients per unit of any food known because enzymes are activated in the seeds during the sprouting process. This, in turn, helps to convert proteins into amino acids, starch into glucose, and increases the value of proteins.
Sadly, there is little whose sanctity can be vouched for in these times. Indiscriminate use of pesticides and unscrupulous use of adulterants has made even wholesome veggies suspect. As a result, the new battle cry given by the Vegetarian Society of Delhi is ‘organic vegetarianism’—consumption of only organically grown food.
So where does the debate end? Horror stories of mutilation and slaughter have been recounted. Appeals to your conscientious self have been ardently made. The comparative healthiness of vegetarian vis-à-vis non-vegetarian food has been maintained. The ultimate decision as to what you deem fit to nourish yourself with obviously rests with you. Decide, but try to keep this Vedic invocation in mind.
To the heavens be peace, to the sky and the earth; to the waters be peace, to plants and all trees; to the gods be peace, to Brahman be peace, to all men be peace… peace also to me! May all beings regard me with friendly eyes! May I look upon all creatures with friendly eyes!
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You may be a non-vegetarian without knowing it! It is shocking but true. If you are serious about turning vegetarian, avoid consuming the following products or check up on the ingredients with the manufacturer.
Silver Foil (Varak): normally used on Indian sweets, fruits and paan, it is made by beating silver sheets between fresh cow and buffalo intestines while they are still warm. Microscopic examinations show fragments of intestines embedded in the foil.
Ice Cream: It often has nondairy fats. Commercial ice cream does not use milk but the blubber from slaughterhouse waste products like cattle udders, noses and anuses.
Biscuits: They are quite likely to contain animal fats.
Bread: Most large producers use vegetable based emulsifiers but local bakers may not. Some bakers may grease the tins with animal fat.
Gelatin: It is a gelling agent derived from animal ligaments, skins, tendons, bones and other body parts. Alternatives such as agar agar, carrageen and gelozone exist.
Medicine capsules: Usually made from gelatin, vegetarian alternatives are coming into the market.
Caviar (Fish eggs): They are obtained by slitting the stomachs of live pregnant sturgeon fish.
Cheese: It is likely to have been produced using animal rennet. Rennet is made of the stomach acids of a calf obtained by slitting open its stomach while still alive. Vegetarian cheeses use microbial or fungal enzymes. The Indian brand, Amul is vegetarian.
Glycerin: It may be produced from animal fats, synthesized from propylene or from fermentation of sugars.
Chewing gum: It often contains glycerin. Wrigleys use vegetable glycerin.
Toothpaste: Most brands contain glycerin.
Margarine: It may contain animal fats, fish oils, whey or gelatin.
IS MILK REALLY GOOD FOR YOU?
Recent remarks by certain animal lovers in the national press branding milk as non-vegetarian has made traditional vegetarians see red. This is because a bulk of Indian vegetarians follow a ‘lactovegetarian’ diet, that is, they consume milk products of animals while abstaining from their flesh. Indeed, cow’s milk has been hallowed ever since baby Krishna risked his mother’s ire to steal butter, cream and curd—an image immortalized by the medieval Indian saint-poet Surdas in his ‘maiya mori, main nahin makhan khayo‘ (mother, I did not steal the butter).
The rationale on which the anti-milk propaganda is based ranges from the lack of the milk-digesting enzyme (lactase) in 80 per cent of adult humans to the cruelty inflicted on cows by the dairy industry. Milch cows are constantly kept pregnant and injected twice a day with oxytocin, a hormone that causes uterine contractions akin to labor pains. Most live only a fraction of their normal life span of 20 years and are literally milked to death.
Those who hold up health benefits as the reason to consume milk are in for a shock. Not only is milk responsible for blocking the absorption of iron, only 30 per cent of the calcium it contains is absorbable by the human body. In other words, milk may be chock-full of calcium but as it cannot be easily assimilated, it ends up as kidney stones.
Weight-watchers beware! Milk is the fat-food to shun, for it is meant to increase the calf’s body-weight up to four times within a month. Instead, soy milk is an ideal substitute, rich as it is in proteins and vitamins. It has 50 per cent protein by weight compared to cow milk protein, which has only 3 per cent.
ARGUE WITH A MEAT-EATER…AND WIN!
If you belong to the vegetarian-by-choice species, you must be immune by now to the varied reactions to your culinary preferences. For those neophytes who are yet to develop a thick skin to queries ranging from the aggressive to the downright asinine, here are some tips:
Hunger argument: Eliminating meat eating will drastically cut livestock pasture and that land can then be used for growing food. One acre of land can produce 40,000 pounds of potatoes but only 250 pounds of meat. Already, vast quantities of food that can feed humans are being fed to livestock. For example, of all the corn grown in the USA, the livestock consumes 80 per cent and humans only 20 per cent.
Environmental argument: Topsoil erosion, global warming, depleting rainforests and extinction of species may be halted if the majority of the world’s population adopts a vegetarian diet. For instance, according to research statistics, 300 million pounds of beef is imported from Central and South America to cater to the USA. The economic incentive impels these nations to cut their rainforests to make way for more pastureland.
Natural resources argument: Raising livestock is an inefficient way of generating food. While 25 gallons of water are needed to produce one pound of wheat, 5,000 gallons are used to produce one pound of beef. Also, it takes 78 calories of fossil fuel to produce one calorie of beef but only 2 calories for one calorie of soybean.
Antibiotics argument: A large amount of antibiotics are fed to livestock to control staphylococci. These are only partially effective, as the bacteria are becoming increasingly immune to them. Both the antibiotics and the bacteria they were intended to destroy are still in the meat when it goes to the market.
MANNA FROM NATURE’S KITCHEN
The Jews, liberated at last from the Egyptian pharaoh’s captivity, had been seeking the Promised Land for days without success. Desperate for nourishment, they turned their eyes, and prayers, heavenwards. The Lord responded by manifesting manna, a miracle food, for them to eat.
Today, in the 21st century, Christopher Hills, founder of the University of Trees, believes that he has discovered the source of that heavenly manna—spirulina. Spirulina is a highly nutritious form of plankton being hailed as a panacea for various diseases and as the solution to the entire world’s hunger problems.
Nature seems to be abounding with wholesome comestibles just waiting to be discovered. Another celebrated nature food is wheatgrass, whose amazing healing and nutritional characteristics were first studied by Dr Ann Wigmore, founder of the Hippocrates Health Institute and a leading advocate of a natural food diet. Incidentally, she too chose to describe wheatgrass as ‘God’s manna’ in her many books devoted to this humble weed, like The Wheatgrass Book (1985) and Be your own doctor: Let living food be your medicine(1983).
What is the magic ingredient in turmeric (the haldi no Indian kitchen can positively do without) that has pharmaceutical giants hot on its heels? It is apparently phytochemicals-highly concentrated biologically active compounds, which are tissue-friendly antioxidants with potency a hundred times stronger than that of vitamin E. Consequently, milk thistle and turmeric, rich in phytochemicals and with an affinity for liver tissue, have a curative effect on hepatitis, liver inflammation and cirrhosis.
If it is green, it has to have chlorophyll, right? The little green cells’ structure matches that of the human hemoglobin cell. Consequently, chlorophyll binds with hemoglobin, the oxygen carrying pigment in human blood, and replenishes it. So the next time you encounter palak ka saag or spinach, don’t pass it up. Eat it!