Why I became a vegetarian
I’ll take you back a several years to set things in perspective and lay down the context under which I adopted vegetarianism, since I wasn’t a vegetarian to begin with. My father comes from West Bengal, India where animal protein, mainly fish, forms the staple diet whereas my mother belongs to a North Indian Hindu Brahmin family where meat consumption is considered a taboo for religious reasons and cows – among other animals , plants and trees, are holly. Theirs was a love marriage, quite contrary to the prevailing concept of arranged marriage in Indian culture. My mother obviously had no reservations against my father’s dietary habits while she continued with her own.
I , however, was just a kid caught between two ends of the spectrum and followed whichever path I was led on and so, when my father introduced me to non-vegetarian cuisine I gladly accepted it. Not just accepted, rather devoured it and for several years, although I feel remorseful now talking about it in retrospect.
I remember my visits to the butcher shop to get a pound or two of goat meat. The scenes of blood dripping carcasses hanging upside down from a pointed hook screwed to the ceiling are still etched in my memory. Although as a kid then, I remained unperturbed and unfazed by the whole scene. However, slowly but gradually I started to realise a simple fact that for every morsel of meat that I put in my mouth and relish the delectable non-vegetarian dishes, an innocent animal in some butchery had to endure a thousand cuts even after being robbed of a chance to live happily just like us.
This realisation became overbearing and started weighing down heavily on my conscience. For some reason I just stopped enjoying the same meal I used to gobble down so merrily. I still remember my last non-vegetarian meal , a chicken kebab, somewhere around December of 2000. Sixteen years hence and I haven’t touched it yet. I would like to state that religious beliefs and conditioning had no role to play in influencing my decision. It was purely an ethical decision influenced by my moral beliefs and conscience that evolved over these pubescent years. I was still a high school kid when I gave up meat and so I’d like to pride myself believing that I was more morally evolved than kids of my age (Please forgive me, but I couldn’t resist the temptation of using my bragging rights here).
My view on our responsibilities on earth
I remember a friend once advocating a non-vegetarian lifestyle citing her religious book and implying that humans are made superior and everything you see in this world including the animals that tread the earth, the fowl flying in the sky and the fish swimming in the waters were made for man to devour them. My contradicting viewpoint on this theological argument is, superiority comes with a higher responsibility. The only reason man was made “superior” if we can call ourselves that (which in my belief is arrogance combined with ignorance) is so we can be the protector of God’s world that he so lovingly made and every other creature created by God including plants, trees, oceans, rivers and mountains.
The reason behind our so called “superiority” was to safeguard Mother Nature and defend the weak and speak on behalf of those who cannot speak or fight for themselves. That’s where the morality behind adopting vegetarianism comes in; to stop the selfish killing with the sole purpose of self-gratification.
My beliefs have just grown stronger over the years and I firmly believe in protection of animal rights and speaking against animal cruelty. However, this is the first public forum of certain stature and reach that I have made available to myself to voice my views on the issues close to my heart, animal rights being one of them, which is closely linked to propagating the cause of vegetarianism.
Workout and vegetarianism – a contradiction?
Interestingly, the year I gave up meat is the same year I started my journey into the world of fitness and weight lifting. Over the years I’ve heard my gym trainers and buddies professing the consumption of animal protein and white meat in form of chicken and fish to fulfill the body’s protein requirement and to build those impressive muscles. However, one mustn’t be fooled thinking it’s just consumption of meat that gives you that shape and size. It’s a host of things including popping pills, taking fat burners, injecting anabolic steroids and taking protein supplements alongside animal protein to gain the kind of muscle mass you see on those enviable gym bodies. I can proudly say that I haven’t infused any of those things in my body in my endeavor to achieve fitness and muscle formation. There were no animals hurt in the making of this body!.
Even the official position of The American Dietetic Association is that a comprehensive and well-planned vegetarian or vegan diet can be nutritionally sufficient and adequate for all ages and stages of life including infants, elderly and even athletes. Good health, reduced incidence of disease and better management of existing health problems are all associated with following a vegetarian diet.
Few of the several health benefits of a vegetarian diet includes reduced incidence of diabetes, reduced levels of cholesterol and high blood pressure that helps in lowering the risk of stroke and associated cardiovascular diseases. It’s a well-known fact that animal fat increases blood cholesterol levels that clogs up the inner walls of your arteries; a condition medically known as atherosclerosis that causes high blood pressure that may elevate ones chances of a heart attack or a stroke. Medical research has also shown a higher risk and instances of certain forms of cancers among non-vegetarians.
Some health facts…
A vegetarian diet is full of fibre and rich in vitamin C and E, folic acid, magnesium, unsaturated fats amongst other goodness. Needless to say that it aids better digestion and bowel movements, good for skin and is also known to make one calmer besides lowering cholesterol and associated risks of cardiovascular diseases and blood pressure problems.
One fails to understand the dependence on animal protein when you can get an adequate amount of nutrition from a wholesome vegetarian meal. Besides, the killing of innocent animals who can’t even defend themselves just for the sake of building your own body is not just condemnable but rather inhuman and offensive. One can neither justify the mindless butchering of innocent beings in the name of gluttonous satiety and most certainly not for the sake of fashion and vanity, which is simply revolting!
And some religious aspects…
We spoke about the ethics and health benefits behind a vegetarian diet but another factor that cannot be ignored, especially in a country like India, is the religious aspect. Many people, especially those belonging to hinduism, jainism and buddhism, follow a strict vegetarian diet since one of the fundamental tenets and teachings akin to all these faiths is “ahimsa” which is Sanskrit for “non-violence” and the said religions condemn killing and bloodshed of any kind.
In most of the religions that originated in India starting with hinduism that gave birth to jainism, buddhism among others, animals, mammals, fish and birds are revered and cow is considered the most sacred and revered one. Cow isn’t worshiped as God but is seen as a sacred symbol. It is considered an unholy and inauspicious act to kill or harm a cow. In the Hindu text one of the goddess is represented as a cow; Goddess “Bhoomi” which is Sanskrit for earth. That’s why a cow is seen akin to mother earth. Just like the earth, a cow is revered as the nurturer of human life for the milk it provides which is a base for every dairy product like butter, ghee (clarified butter), curd, yoghurt and cheese. In ancient times, cow dung was used as a source of fuel for fire and cow urine as a disinfectant. It is also used in many ayurvedic medicines. Owning cattle was a rarity in the old days. Only the rich could afford to own a cow and therefore a cow was valued and treasured as gold.
Vegetarians vs Vegans
Although vegetarianism is mostly limiting yourself to a meat-free diet, one thing that seems to be gaining momentum with every passing day is a vegan lifestyle. As the name suggests, vegan is more of a lifestyle than merely a dietary alteration.
The most visible difference between the two is, while a vegetarian eliminates meat in every form be it chicken, mutton, beef, fish or any other…there’s no aversion to dairy and milk products. Some vegetarians may also include eggs in their diet and these are called “lacto-ovo- vegetarians” who consume milk and eggs; that’s the category I find myself in. I firmly believe that dairy is full of nutritional goodness and one shouldn’t eliminate it unless you’re lactose intolerant (which thankfully I’m not).
So far, I haven’t come across a reason to believe the cattle are treated inhumanly for procurement of their milk. If anything, in most of the dairy industry and bigger brands that trade in dairy products, cattle are treated well, medically looked after and fed a healthy diet to procure a good quality and quantity of milk.
Speaking of eggs, they can be fertilised or unfertilised depending on whether a “Rooster” was involved or not! Hens lay eggs almost every day but the chance of a life breeding in them only depends on the hen mating with a “Cock”. Almost every poultry farm makes sure that the hens are kept away from roosters to adhere to strict food regulation norms of their country. A fertilised egg will also hatch if it is incubated in the right heat conditions whereas, the eggs you buy from the market are refrigerated and so the chances of life breeding in them are almost next to nothing.
Vegans on the other hand eliminate animal products in every form, which includes meat, fish, poultry, dairy and honey amongst others. They don’t just stop here. You won’t find any item of clothing, furniture or cosmetics in their household that has anything to do with animals. Perhaps that’s why vegan is a lifestyle and not merely a dietary choice.
I’ve tried sharing my beliefs and personal philosophies along with an anecdotal reference to elaborate on what influenced my decision to convert to vegetarianism and also tried shedding some light on the ethics and health benefits behind embracing vegetarianism or a vegan lifestyle. I hope you find this blog post not just informative but equally entertaining and intriguing.
If the thoughts and beliefs I’ve shared in this post might move even a single reader to embrace the cause of animal rights and a healthy and ethical vegan lifestyle or vegetarianism, then I will feel worthy of my existence because one convert would mean thousands of innocent lives saved from being slayed.
I’ll see you again in the same space, sometime, with some other topic and issue close to my heart to share with you. Until then, be good, be ethical in your conduct and warm wishes and don’t forget to read my book Transcending Parallels whenever you get the time. It’s available internationally on Amazon in paperback, e-book and Kindle versions..
-by Abhishek Sen