'To Beef Or Not To Beef'
- The Arthasastra, c. 300 BC.
Americans alone consume one billion pounds of beef at McDonald's alone in a year - five and a half million head of cattle. - Statistics c. 2012 AD
My parents are vegetarian. Among my other relatives, the clear majority are non-veg to varying degrees. Kerala, my home-province has an overwhelmingly non-vegetarian population.
I was brought up a vegetarian. However, even when I was quite young, Pop used to say: "I bet you are going to be a big non-veg freak; you love all those spicy dishes so much!".
Once when I was in High School, Pop told me: "When you leave home for studies or work, you can eat non-veg if you want. Of course, I would not be very happy if you eat beef. At least here in India, cattle and buffaloes nourish and sustain us with milk and heavy agricultural effort. It is unethical to kill them when they are no longer useful..... Actually, I have made up my mind, after I retire from service, I shall keep some cattle and ensure that they don't end up getting slaughtered - I will do my bit for those poor animals."
Those were impressionable days. Pop's argument sounded very convincing and I used to feel pretty strongly that killing any animal which sustains us is deeply unethical. Over the years, I ended up talking about this to many people, sometimes (naively) getting into arguments too. And yes, Pop has implemented his plan.
Let me record from memory some of the statements and responses I heard - from relatives, friends and so on - the majority of these were *not* generated by an argument.
- No, you cannot have only porottas (a kind of flat bread, a Kerala specialty) with tea! You buy the beef and throw it if you want; that is your choice. But if everybody talks like you I can't do business, please understand!
- Hey, you talk as if you belong among cattle, not human beings!
- Your arguments sound deceptively convincing; but I know they can be refuted, given some time. We will talk about it later.
- You talk about being kind to animals but what about the cruelties done to human beings. Hope you can show the same level of interest there!
- Unlike you, I have strong spiritual leanings. But, when it comes to food, well, I eat everything, and that is about it!
- You say you were *shocked* to hear Swami Vivekananda ate beef and did not feel bad about it. In my view, Vivekananda had a serious a problem - he was hungry; and by eating beef, he solved it! And what is YOUR problem?
- As a Hindu, I used to feel very bad about eating beef. But now my plan is: as long as I am a bachelor, I will eat everything, because there is no choice. Later, I will try to be *good*.
- Once upon a time (opens a small packet and shows a cluster of neat brown cubes) this was a cow. Offended?
- You may talk about all beasts of burden; but I can see that you have a hidden agenda of cow protection there; you don't quite care as much about camels and buffaloes as for cows! Am I not right? And this is a communally sensitive subject. So I will oppose you, as a matter of principle!
- It is like this. We live in a free country. If you think a cow is God or something divine, you can worship it. If somebody else thinks it is something God created for Man's consumption, he can eat it. That is the true spirit of freedom and secularism.
- You should try eating a steak. You would love it and then you wont talk about this. So neat and simple - just a slab off a cow!
- So, you would prefer treating me to chicken rather than beef. Are you bothered about a 'thread-bearer' eating beef? I am ready to go to hell if required. Don't worry, nothing will happen to you!
- Perhaps ethically, killing cattle for food is bad. But we need to eat them to preserve the ecological balance. By consuming cattle which are no longer economically useful, we are maintaining the ecological order and that, not emotions, should be our priority.
- I read somewhere that cattle are very efficient 'energy converters' - they consume cheap grass and yield rich milk and useful muscle power and even fuel! Even ecologically, growing them purely for meat is unprofitable. The cow is indeed divine, in some sense. I guess the same goes for camels.
- I find your Dad's decision to protect cattle as reflecting his personal viewpoint. Yes, he has some reasons but they are not universally applicable. So, I don't find his effort *laudable* as such.
- I must say I agree with what you say, in principle. But I admit I am not going to stop eating beef. I love beef too much!