Recently I received the following link to a TED talk titled: “Week Day Vegetarian”. http://www.ted.com/talks/graham_hill_weekday_vegetarian?language=en The speaker makes all the well-known arguments on why one should be a vegetarian? The reasons include: It takes far more water to grow the animals one eats for the equivalent plant products required for nourishment. The ecological damage and carbon foot print can be reduced. If necessary reduce the red meat with poultry and fish, as it is healthy for you. If all else fails at least consider a schedule where you skip the meat during the week days and keep the meat for the lunch and dinner plates during the week ends!
I have been a lifelong vegetarian! Born into a vegetarian family and culture, early on I decided to stick with the tradition. The only incident when I came close to eating meat was when one of my high school friends tried to trick me into eating chicken. My anger and fury at that incident scared off my friend that he never tried that trick again! Then as I grew up and came to USA, I witnessed meat as a normal part of diet for every one and everywhere. Many of my friends who were vegetarians took to eating meat as they considered it a “necessity” to survive. While I never challenged their argument, I felt it was just a convenient excuse. I felt it should be OK for anyone to eat what they want, if it is based on tradition or personal choice.
On several occasions when I attended lectures on religion and philosophy, I heard the speakers extoll the virtues of being a vegetarian and the lower levels reached by those who become carnivores by eating meat. Such arguments, I felt were offensive. There is no moral superiority prescribed in philosophy or scriptures to the vegetarians.
As I travelled around the world on business, I realized that there are more consumers of animal products than otherwise. If you travel to Far East, the “animal” includes anything that moved or could have moved on its own accord. There were many business dinners where I simply sat through and observed the choices and selections of non-vegetarian products consumed by my colleagues. They seemed to enjoy every bit of it. I felt I had no right to make judgment on their choices, even though there were many occasions where I wished I was not present witnessing what was consumed and the manner in which they were consumed.
Later I learned that everything that grows is made of DNA. The DNA changes and mutates and as a result we have plants and animals. Milk itself is an animal product. Of course you don’t kill the cow if you want her milk! We use culture regularly to make yogurt, an important item in many vegetarian diet. The culture used consists of bacteria, which are single celled microbes. The cell structure is simpler than that of other organisms as there is no nucleus or membrane bound organelles. Instead their control center containing the genetic information is contained in a single loop of DNA. http://www.microbiologyonline.org.uk/about-microbiology/introducing-microbes/bacteria The food we consume is broken down by bacteria. Without the necessary bacteria, we cannot digest our food and hence we cannot survive. http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/lab-rat/2012/06/24/how-bacteria-break-down-human-food/
As I reflect on all these, I come to realize that being a vegetarian is not a choice based on moral superiority of not killing something! At the level of the bacteria, killing or mutating is what we all do to survive! So, all meat eaters go ahead and enjoy your choices, until you think from a different point of view :Every aspect of human life is a matter of personal choice. It is a matter of objectivity. It is this ability to choose that makes each of us as human beings. This ability to choose is what distinguishes each of us, from every other species known in the universe. While it is necessary and unavoidable to kill – at the bacteria level – can I choose to minimize that? That determines the degree to which one chooses to be a vegetarian. This conscious choice also seems to have synergistic effects on ecology, carbon foot print, minimum use of natural resources, etc. The choice not to kill – to be a vegetarian – has to extend to every aspect of life: not to be offensive in thoughts, not to be offensive in speech, not to be offensive to others in any manner of living. While no one can claim perfection, being a vegetarian is a constant reminder of this larger goal! All other issues such as ecology and carbon foot print mentioned in the TED talk referred to above are also matters of choice. One should strive for these outcomes as a natural part of living in harmony with in as well as in harmony with everything external to us and without exception. If being a vegetarian helps in this process that is an unintended positive outcome!
The food which one consumes, the ritual practices or Yoga, the practices of penance or austerity, gifts or alms and the charity we do, are all various means of practicing self-control. Each of these is a matter of choice by the individuals. These choices fall into categories influenced by the three human traits: Knowledge/Tranquility, Turbulence/Bias, Inertia/Ignorance. BG. 17.7.
Knowledge/Tranquility leads to choice of wholesome food, which promotes life, health, vitality and strength. Such tranquility is evidenced by its holistic effect on one’s health as well as the sustainence of everything around us. BG. 17.8.
Bias / Turbulent nature leads to foods of extreme nature leading to pain, sickness and sorrow. Turbulent nature is insatiable and hence constantly seeks change without a clear sense of purpose. BG. 17.9
Inertia / ignorance leads to choices that are stale, taste less and unhygienic foods. They lead to grief and misery. BG. 17.10