Meat is the ultimate luxury in this country - for, in my mind, a luxury is something that delights you but brings untold harm to someone else. Let me explain the linkage:
Human gastronomic choice - for we are the only species that chooses what it eats - is limited by the amount of land on the planet, obviously. Of this, only a small part can be used for growing food. In the past, agricultural and pastoral life-styles in India were not competitive. Livestock raised for milk and meat depended on food sources that humans could not eat or did not need. Pigs and poultry lived on waste and scraps. In fact, pigs contributed the important function of turning excreta and garbage/sewage into meat for humans.
Now however, animal protein depends almost entirely on land needed for man's well-being. We have 890 million people and 450 million goats, 150 million cattle - all depending on the same resource - green and arable land and forest. A chicken has to lay an egg a day, dairy cows have to produce 1500 liters of milk a year, sows have to produce 15 piglets which will together grow to 1000 kg in six months - factory farming in India requires intensive feed, not just scraps and waste of little value. (Did you know that one fourth of the world's fish catch is used to make fish meal to feed as animal feed?). More grain and cereal is fed by the USA and Russia to livestock than is consumed by the people of the entire Third World. Britain gives two-thirds of its homegrown cereal to its livestock - that amount could satiate 250 million people each year. Even then it imports grain for livestock "because it is more economical to place the burden of growing the other half elsewhere. "The European Economic Community gets 2O million tonnes of cattle feed from the Third World - including India. Third World fodders, including soyabeans from India provide every tenth litre of milk and every tenth pound of meat produced in the EEC.
South America's rain forests have been cut down to grow cattle for hamburgers for the USA - as a result the greenhouse effect which will destroy most of life as we know it in another 20 years, has been accelerated.
20 million tonnes of grain protein provide two million tonnes of animal protein. Seven kg of grain produce one kg of meat. What about the fossil fuel energy required? One protein unit of soyabean, rice or wheat takes an energy factor of between two to 10 to produce. Beef, pork, eggs, milk, mutton take from 10 to 78! Can we afford this energy so that a few people can eat meat?
What about land use? Each goat or sheep in India costs the nation Rs 25,000. It brings its owner a profit of between Rs 500 to Rs.900. Why do I differentiate? Because 98 per cent of the goats and sheep feed off the hoof – on forest land, in the heart of the jungle, on hillsides on roadsides, on village panchayat land, on government land that is totally ravaged by the animal and has to be replanted by the government – which neither has the resources nor the agencies that can do this repair work. As a result Haryana's water level has fallen because the lower Shivalik hills have been rendered barren by goats and the streams coming into Haryana have dried up.
All the Project Tiger areas and indeed all the national parks are failing or are on the verge of extinction (as is Bharatpur bird sanctuary) because of the huge inflow of cattle and goats that eat up all the young shoots - and whose owners murder the wild animals to protect their meat.
Seventy per cent of all planting efforts by forest departments are doomed to failure because the grazing animal eats the young plant. As a result even the planting patterns change - for instance, the Delhi administration does not have the money to provide tree guards. So they plant only those trees that are not eaten by the 17000 milk producing cattle and the thousands of goats let loose on the city and its peripheral villages daily. Consequently, Delhi is saturated with ugly false Ashoka, Alstoltia scholaris, Oleander and Bougain-villea - and that's all. Gujarat is full of Ganda Bawal (the mad tree) Prosopis juliflora, that neither gives flowers, fruit, shade or lets any other tree grow in the vicinity.
A single sheep or goat eats the equivalent of four hectares each year. Its average lifetime is four years - it destroys 16 hectares (35.2 acres) of government land before it is killed to feed only the upper middle classes of this country. On the other hand the loss of tree cover and biomass is felt most keenly by the poor. The government requires Rs 6000 to re-green one hectare - provided it has not been overgrazed and completely de-topsoiled. The forest departments get very little of the state budget - sometimes one per cent. So they have a limited target of a few thousand hectares a year to plant. The total denudation, however, is closer to 450 million goats multiplied by four hectares.
Apart from the free food that our forests provide we have diverted enormous amounts of land to grow fodder for these meat eating animals – land that have been used to grow wheat for our poor. Even then the National Commission on Agriculture says that our grown fodder shortage is 38 percent so more land will have to be put aside to grow meat, as it were.
We even proudly export meat to the Middle East – and this year the Commerce Ministry is looking for an enhancement of targets. Which means that we put ourselves in the same position as South America – a slave country that destroys itself (for destroying green cover is the end of all life) to feed another country. Each kilo exported may earn us, say, Rs.100. We have to use five times that amount to repair the damage done to our natural resources in growing that meat.
In other words, the more we sell, the power we grow. This has been the case with South America and this is the case with India. For instance, most of our goats feed on the Aravalli hills which are now so barren that their dust fills Delhi’s air. To are-green them, we have taken a loan from Japan of 63 million dollars – less than what we earned in the last five years from exporting these Aravalli-fed goats. Are we richer or poorer?
You want to save this country’s green cover; you want to do something to increase the oxygen in the air, the fresh water in the ground.
Start with giving up meat. Everything else comes later.
P. S : The term vegetarian does not come from "vegetable" but from "vegetus" which means whole, sound, fresh, lively.