Sunday, January 16, 2011

Are Vegetarians hypocrites ?

I happened to read a small article about PETA and their advertising strategy in India. Despite being a staunch non-vegetarian by diet, I believe in their purpose of treating animals with due respect. After all if I want to eat a chicken it better be a healthy well bred chicken. That however is besides the point. My little knowledge of PETA and most supporters of vegetarian diet (India surely has a very high proportion of Vegetarians) begs the question if they really mean what they say or are they plain hypocrites.

Personally I have been a vegetarian (Lacto vegetarian to be precise) in past and I am sure I am a hypocrite (although I try to convince myself otherwise) on several ideologies of mine . So I believe it qualifies me to examine certain arguments made in favour of vegetarianism. In India, generally or colloquially vegetarian means Lacto Vegetarian.The more restrictive Vegan, Jain vegetarianism also exist. In the rest of the blog Veg - means the Lacto vegetarian form unless otherwise specified.

Since me turning to the dark-side (read as as turning non-veg) I have heard several arguments about turning veg again. Lets examine some of them based on some actual arguments that I have had in past. To make this slightly intereting, I am now going to take some creative liberty and create a few fictional characters - Jimesh Jain (the name says it - staunch follower of the jain way), Madhav Oak (Hindu - Kokanastha Brahmin - a confused lacto vegetarian) and Shelly Fernandez (a recently converted Vegan ).
Me and my fictional characters are having lunch together and among other things mine contains a well done steak and some chicken nuggets.

Madhav Oak (Maddy) : Dude what is that dark red meat that you are eating.
Me : Steak.
Maddy : I mean is that mutton or pork.
Me : Neither. Its beef.
Maddy (Exclaims in shock ): How can you eat cow? You are an insult to Hinduism.
Me (Cool as a cucumber): And why would eating a cow be an insult to Hinduism.
Maddy : For one, Cow is worshiped as a holy animal, the Kamadhenu. Secondly you do drink cow's milk so in a sense its like your mother.
Me (Looking at Maddy 's footwear). Aren't those Lee Cooper shoes ?
Maddy (with a sense of pride) : Yup. Good quality ones and great style, not to mention the brand. But why? You are digressing from the topic.
Me : Hmm. Just wondering what kind material would it be. Are those made of cotton, linen or nylon.
Maddy : Moron, it is leather.
Me : So it is alright to be wearing the "holy cow" in your feet but it is unholy to eat its meat. Let me put it this way, I am just eating the meat from the dead animal which was killed to make your shoes. As far as Religious belief goes, I am not really that religious. I don't see such a great distinction between the Cow and any of the other animals we eat.
Maddy (Now a little defensive): Hey I don't eat any animals or their eggs. I am a pure veggie.
Me: So what's your definition of veggie. No animals or animal products ?.
Maddy : Of course. I take the point about leather. Will considering moving to non - leather alternatives for formal shoes (wondering if there are any formal shoes which are not made of some kind of animal skin). However in general, I think we should not be harming animals for food.

Me: Interesting point. In that case you should also stop having milk or milk products. (Maddy looks startled again).
Two simple reasons
a. It is an animal product. And if we go by the animal product = non-veg definition then milk definitely falls in that category.
b. If we go with no harm to animals, then think again. The calf isn't jumping gleefully when it is taken away from its mother so that the dairy farmer can take the milk and transport it to us.
(At this point Maddy is feeling dejected as if his principles of religion and vegetarianism have been blown inside out. Shelly decides to take my case now).

Shelly: Yeah.. Milk and eggs kind of blur the distinction between Veg and non-veg. That's why I have gone vegan. I eat neither milk nor eggs. Why should we harm animals so that we can have food. There are so many varieties of plants and their products that should suffice.

Me: So do you don't eat farm products - rice, wheat, and so on.
Shelly: Of course I eat them. Didn't I say plants / their products.
Me : No I mean't "no animals should be harmed for food". So obviously you shouldn't eat agricultural products.
Shelly : Why ? What's wrong with agriculture ? How does me eating agriculture products amount to killing of animals.

Me: Yeah.. That is true, you don't kill any animals for eating agriculture products.
You just happen to accidentally add boric acid or like to preserve rice. The bugs just get a high from that and decide to give up rice cause it is like having drugs ...
Oh come on, how can you forget all the insects and rodents that had to be destroyed so that that rice can make it to your table in one piece.

Jimesh Jain (JJ) (So far he has been quietly nibbling away his food and enjoying the lesser mortals squabble over veg - non veg). The true way is the Jain way. We do not eat any animal products. We do not believe in harming animals in any way. In fact to avoid eating animals we don't even eat anything that grows underground, as typically its the abode of some organisms. We believe that we should not have to consume anything that has life for the sake of self.

Me : Dude, with all due respect to your religious beliefs, I think you are being a hypocrite as well. Let us assume for the moment that some how, you only eat the unharmed, untouched left overs after any insects and rodents have had their share of the agriculture products. i.e. avoided harming life for sake of self. But farming itself requires so much land. To feed the ever increasing demand, we end up clearing vast parts of forest land for farming. Not to mention - that even existing farms employ all sorts of chemicals to kill pests even during the process of growing. So harming animals is not exactly something that you can avoid.

JJ (maintaining his buddha smile) : Yeah, with modern technology some things are inevitable. However at least we can avoid killing some form of life by staying veg. Think about the scene, where a huge knife is used to chop the chicken's head and the blood starts flowing through it. Don't you even have some empathy ?. We have so many laws prohibiting killing of humans, but that animal can't even speak against its killing. It feels so cruel.

Me : So you are saying that its cruel to be killing animals cause they can't even protest against it.

JJ : Yes. In general the we believe in non violence.

Me : Do you know how crops are harvested. All the plants (crops) in the field are cut from above the ground, which means that basically "killed" just that the name for this killing is a euphemism called harvest. So while it may seem non-violent as no red liquid gets spilled during this process, the killing still happens.

JJ (now sort of shaken off his foundations) : Yeah but we got to eat something to survive. In that sense plants are meant to be consumed as food. We make an effort to apply the bare minimum amount of violence as necessary for survival.

Me : I agree with that point to some extent. The only big difference is that I don't bother making a distinction between veg and non veg for the convenience of religious principles. I will have to eat some form of life and therefore I really don't care if that form is plant or animal. The only principle is survival. .....

This argument would probably continue (and might even get ugly) if JJ,Maddy and Shelly were real people. However I think I made my point. Stepping out of my imaginary conversation, I think there are some side effects of civilizations. One such effect is food is not meant only for survival. It has several socio - economic impacts. These socio - economic aspects associated with food mean that we as "civilized" humans have created very violent occupations which can be collectively pooled in agriculture and food processing (aka dairy farming, meat processing et all). Every morsel of food we consume, or cloth we wear almost always has some form of violence involved and with human population explosion that violence is inevitable.
What we call as civilization is perhaps worse in this respect than the aborigines or tribals who dwell at the fringe of civilization. At least they have learned to live in harmony with their surroundings.

The only real alternative to go the "non violent" way would be to go ascetic like an ancient sanyasi who would survive in the forest with only fruits and roots taking due care that no seeds (carriers of life) are harmed. Of course most of civilized beings aren't capable / ready to survive that way (not to mention the lack of sufficient forests to follow that lifestyle).

So until we accept true sanyas or invent /evolve a photosynthetic gadget to simply convert incident energy into food for survival, we will have to consume some life to survive. Which means there is no point whining about non - vegetarianism being unethical or violent. All veggies really do in the process is establish themselves as hypocrites.

Disclaimer -
This article is not meant to belittle or malign any religious faith. My apologies to any readers who feel that I may have harmed their religious sentiments. That was definitely not the intent.
This blog is only an attempt to rationalize the validity of the popular culture around vegetarianism.
You could be a vegetarian for various reasons like religion (the jain way), guilt (I saw blood spew out from the goat's neck at the neighbourhood slaughterhouse), fear of disease (e.g. bird or avian flu) or simply taste (I don't like meat). It is the reader's individual opinion and faith that governs their choice of diet.
All I am doing here is laying out my own opinion around the topic (albeit with the help of that imaginary discussion). There are also some very good reasons to being veggie (other than ethics or violence), but that is "besides the point".


  1. Good one...reminds me of those debates that we used to have with the vegetarian roommates back in Richmond.

  2. u are improving with time... good one