Vegetarianism Abroad

By Dr. Kumarpal Desai

 

My visit to Belgium lying at a far off corner of the European continent has proved to be very memorable. My challenging meeting with Stella Maria, Chief keeper at the hotel and her two friends Paul and Rene is an unforgettable experience for me. When we entered the city fully committed to non-vegetarianism, I asked Stella Maria who was looking after my stay in the city, “Can you please arrange for vegetarian food”.

One striking feature about the foreign lands is the smiling manner with which everyone whom you ask any question satisfies your querry. In case you fail to understand and repeatedly ask the same question, the smile never disappears.

She had a smile on her face as she listened to my querry . She said: “Please tell me if you are an Indian. I feel sorry but I have observed that Indians are the most fishy people about their food. Vegetarianism is I think, the food of leaves and vegetables only? I think you don’t know about the concept of being a “vegetarian”.

Stella Maria said, “It is so simple. He that eats vegetables in a vegetarian.”

I said, “ ‘Vegetarian’ doesn’t mean this. It has originated from a Greek word ‘vegetas’ which means totally healthy, fresh and vigorous. It means that our food provides complete energy for the body and keeps the physique healthy. For from being stale or stinking, it is ever fresh and gives vitality to the organism.”

Stella did manage for my vegetarian food but she was not satisfied with my definition and explanation. I asked her to have some other time.

She said, “Besides me, my friends Rene and Paul are as well deeply interested. They will also join us. They are making research about various experiments on vegetarianism being carried out in different countries. They have also been trying some of them on themselves.”

These two names alerted my attention.

Soon I told her that I wanted to see the unique paintings of Peter Paul Rubens. In fact Rubens’ paintings was another attraction for my visit to Antwarp. The house in which this all time great artist was born on 28th July 1517 has now been purposefully converted into a museum of his beautiful paintings. I had read very little about the life and works of this artist but I was thrilled with the idea that I would be able to see the paintings themselves. While making his paintings, Rubens happened to be overwhelmed with so much joy that he could quickly and easily finish a painting even of serious moods and bright colours.

Stella agreed to arrange a visit to his memorial.

I asked her, “Do you know that this unique artist like Rubens was himself a vegetarian since he wanted to make immense paintings he wanted to maintain physical fitness, so he never allowed even the meat-smell nearby him. He believed that meat was hard to digest. It made the mind and body full. Everyday he would go for horse-riding. On returning he would relish vegetarian food.”

She was amazed with the details I provided during the talk. I had obtained this information from the data collected by French author de Pills whose sources was Phillip Rubens, painter’s nephew.

Then I had a meeting with Stella Rene and Paul. In the course of our conversation some strange issues were also raised.

Disclosing her embarrassment she said, “I hope you will excuse me for such a querry, but if all the human beings were to turn vegetarian, I think the entire world would be overcrowded with animal beings, outnumbering the humans to a minority. Man would not have a place to stand and the earth would be a huge animal farm inhabited by sheep’s and goats and hens alone.” I think you’re missing the basic issue”, I said and added, “The meat requirement for the non-vegetarians is ensured by rearing the animals in the farm. Some artificial remedies are also applied so as to enhance breeding and ensure more number of animals and there more quote of meat! If they are left to their natural and free way of life on this earth, their number shall diminish automatically.”

“How’s that?” Paul doubted.

I said, My dear friend the cycle of Nature operates in accordance with the surrounding region and environmental circumstances. The ways of Nature are almost wonderful. It gives us as much as we need. If you ever try to deprive her of anything, it shall be you that shall be ultimately deprived. All the animals have a habit to breed their species in view of the food quantum and living space available to each of them. This is astonishing but true. The only exceptional animal is man! Sheep’s and goats and hens are also like other animals. If artificial insemination is not applied their number shall decrease naturally and Stella shall have nothing to worry or afraid about the earth being a huge poultry-farm.”

Our discussion on vegetarianism in a beautiful city like Antwarp would seem strange to somebody; it might appear to be a futile exercise. But Stella was interested in vegetarianism and Rene liked vegetarian food, only Paul was staunch non-vegetarian. The way in which an individual is nurtured plays a decisive role in shaping his or her mental make-up. Indeed Brusso the great philosopher has said that a child by birth is vegetarian one but the parents divert him to non-vegetarian. People of Greece, where civilization had its earliest dawn, were mostly vegetarian. Pythagorean was himself an active worker of vegetarianism.

Our discussion covered many issues. Sometimes some traditional belief picked up from here and there would be forcefully submitted as an argument, sometimes non-vegetarian complex inherent through the years would burst out into frustration.

Paul was vehement when he argued, “The most essential thing for man for survival and health is protein. This protein requirement is ensured from meat and eggs. Protein deficiency makes people weak and cowardly. Thus non-vegetarianism is inevitable for human health.”

In turn I put him a question, “Will you please tell me how much protein a human body needs?” Then I added further, “In case protein is obtained from meat and eggs alone, how does the most mighty animal, the African elephant ensures its protein requirement, even though it is a vegetarian animal? Which meat food provides vigour to as strong bull or an energetic horse.?

My presentation nonplussed Paul. I continued further, “Dear friend, man’s protein requirement is only 4 percent.” Rene interrupted and, “I believe it. The issue of protein requirement is exaggerated by meat and egg producers. Latest research has also disclosed that most human body doesn’t need more protein.

I picked up my point and added, “You shall be surprised to know that a bowlful of vegetables or spin age would give you more quantum of protein than what 1 kg of meat would proved and that too at a little risk!”.

Stella was too quick to catch my world ‘little risk’ and soon she asked, “As for protein requirement, how do you evaluate vegetables as having little risk form meat?”

Rene was knowledgeable and he seemed to support my point. He said, “Vegetables and spin age provides you protein alone whereas besides protein meat provides you fat and cholesterol which are harmful to human health.”

Stella exclaimed, “Oh, this would mean that protein ensured from vegetables in better and cheaper the protein obtained form meat.”.

I said, “This has been conclusively proved some 40 years back. The simple truth is that meat - producers have been hiding this fact. During the 50’s, experiments were made on the rats, with financial assistance from meat-industry. Two scientists associated with the experiment project arrived at the conclusion that rats nurtured on vegetables has a more rapid growth. This conclusion created difficult predicament for the meat-industry. It was as if they themselves had invited the trouble. There had been a lot of pressure for the two scientists to change their conclusion. One of the scientists explained that the experiment was limited to rodent species only. It might not be applied to other species. The other scientist added the experiment on humans. Whatever be the truth, the face remains that meat-producers did their utmost to ensure that the exact conclusion of the experiment is not made known.”

Rene added, “Presently there is very extensive drive against animal fat and animal protein Non-vegetarianism is believed to be the root cause for almost irremediable diseases like cancer and heart-attack. Even in USA there is widespread anti-propaganda against non-vegetarianism. Carlyle, the famous philosopher, has said that the ensuing generation would have to be reformed not by ethics by deities.”

Stella had nothing to say then. But Paul’s provocation was still unquiet. Even otherwise it was very difficult to make amends with his complex. He repeated the same oft-repeated argument and said, “If the entire world were to go vegetarian it would have to face (food) starvation. One thing is that large sections of people are non-vegetarian and another point is that production of food-grain is not adequate enough to cater to world’s vegetarian population.”

Now Stella also said, “I also feel like that; if there is not enough food to feed the present population how would it be possible to cater to the population of the ensuing years having rapid population increase.?

Countering their arguments I said, “As at present, many countries suffer form starvation Poor countries of Africa are in a pitiable condition. Even in India poor people live in starvation like condition. Talking about India, there is an annual production of 230 lakh tons of meat in the country. In case there is only a marginal decreases of 10 per cent, it would be of immense benefit. If surplus land being available as a result of this 10 per cent decrease, is diverted to food production, it would be greatly advantageous. As for America, if food grain cultivation is carried out in the farms in which cattle-breeding is undertaken for meat production, it would provide food to people five times more. And there is an added advantage that it would also eliminate the threat of animal killing endangering the human existence itself.

Paul exclaimed, “How is this?” Stella added, “This would mean that if you want to save human race from starvation, you shall have to shun non-vegetarianism and turn to vegetarianism.”

Rene said, “This would put an end to killing of many animals!”

Paul was jocular in his tone when he said, “In that case man would be extremely cowardly. A tiger-hunter is really a brave man!”

I rejected his logic and said, “Excuse me, but I fail to understand your definition of bravery. A tiger hunter keeps himself away at a very safe distance, occupying a seat on a raised platform on a tree and that too in the company of marksman - and you would call him a brave man! In terms of intelligence, the tiger is as good as a small child. In no case such tiger-hunting would be an act of bravery.”

Stella had anther argument. She said, “May be all that you say is right. But I fail to understand that a man would not eat meat for the sake of flesh of his body.”

I said, “In fact our body is made for vegetarian food. Carnivorous animals do not have longer intestine, as we humans do have. Humans have flat chewing teeth, they have hands to hold their food-items and their saliva is alkaline - all these suggest that man is basically a vegetarian animal and his body is most suited to vegetarian food as against non-vegetarian non vegetarian food. One of the researchers of Academy of medicine, Paris has derived a conclusion that a vegetarian needs five times less time than a non-vegetarian to get relaxed. Besides the physical one there is mental advantage also. He also adds that a vegetarian’s capacity to face and solve the problems and difficult issues of life is two to three times more than that of a non-vegetarian.”

Paul had another aggressive argument for pro-non-vegetarianism; he said, “I think you don’t bother about the human food. It is very strange that you want to starve the humans and sustain the animals. Our country Belgium is totally non-vegetarian and two of our food dishes viz. carbonadoes and waterzooi are popular all over the world and these dishes, a craving of the foreigners, are made of beef and fish. Here the people are fond of relishing different species of fish, Vegetarians like you won’t get suitable food anywhere. Poor vegetarians! Some of them have to eat potato-chops on the road-side but the tomato souse on the chips of a non-vegetarian item. I think you don’t intend to starve this country by your sophisticated arguments favouring vegetarianism."

Paul's argument was very aggressive. Stella's displeasure against Paul's offensive method and angry mood was evident on her face. It seemed that she did not like the disrespect like that shown to me whom they had invited as a guest. However, Paul was right in saying that 'the whole of Belgium was full of non-vegetarians."

But I was very quite and polite. I said, "Mr. Paul! when you eat meat of any animal, I think you don't believe that you eat it's meat alone, you are also gulping down all the vegetables that the animal has so far eaten. One interesting and specific calculation have revealed that when you enjoy a dish of 1kg of meat, you gulp down 10kg of vegetables simultaneously but unwittingly. this would mean that a single non-vegetarian eats away the meal of ten vegetarians. In terms of and entire life's food-stuff of an individual, a single non-vegetarian eats away food-stuff fifty times more than that of a vegetarian"

Stella added, "It would mean that non-vegetarians are the root cause of starvation on this earth."

Rene had also something to say. He said, "You talked about the starvation resulting from food being eaten away by the eaten away by the non-vegetarians. But I feel that the non-vegetarians have not only caused starvation on this earth; they have done other damages as well. Am I right?"

I gave new ideological turn to Rene's argument and said, "Mr. Rene you should also consider the issue of pasture-land being provided to the animals so as to satisfy meat-requirements of the non-vegetarians, In my own country, I have seen lands being barren and denuded because of being used as pasture-land. The entire Arvalli mountain in Rajasthan thus looks dry and barren. Now of course our government has undertaken a project to raise grass on this mountain, with the Japanese aid."

Stella Maria said, "This means that man should shun non-vegetarianism not because of pity, religion or sympathy towards animals but for the sake of his own existence and for the mother earth."

I was now enthusiastic, I said, "My very contention is this. Have you ever seen the sheep's grazing in the farm-land? They pull out the grass from the very root with the result that in course of time the land becomes worthless for farming and ultimately it adds to the total barren land of the world."

Paul was now very uneasy. He said, "Your contention is that non-vegetarianism is harmful for mankind and so also for the earth and land. Have you any other evil to abuse it?"

I said, "Dear friend, how many evils should I mention? a large section of the population do not get adequate drinking water while slaughtering the animals in the slaughter-house needs immense quantity of water. No country having a scarcity of water can afford such a huge wastage."

Rene said, "In everything you say you have some calculations to support it. How about water being used for non-vegetarianism?"

I laughed and replied, "The calculation in this count is that production of 1kg of meat requires 50 times more water than would be needed for 1kg of wheat!"

Stella almost screamed, "Oh! This wastage of water is too much to be excused."

Then I added, "Stella, the story does not end there. The limbs and other parts of the animals having been slaughtered are thrown into the flowing waters of a river pond or canal. They rot and stink on those waters and pollute the flowing waters so much so that any human or animal would attract fatal disease if they drink such water."

This touched Paul and he was really moved. he said all of a sudden, "How horrifying, how harsh and merciless is such an act? This non-vegetarianism eats away living humans on the earth. Dear friend, so far I have only enjoyed non-vegetarianism. But now I assure you that I will take no other food but vegetarianism."

Rene was very happy. Stella had some curiosity in her eyes to know more about this. We decided to discuss the issue while enjoying the vegetarian food.

 

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Source - Souvenir Published on Silver Jubilee Celebrations by Ahimsa International, New Delhi
February-1998

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Mail to : Ahimsa Foundation
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