Indians must return to their old roots on diet. Both nature and humankind will be better off
The Supreme Court recently issued a directive to ensure that all States set up a committee for slaughterhouses within a month. It is part of the effort to monitor abattoirs.
But the very practice of butchering creatures for pleasure and gain is antithetical to the Indic worldview. Dominance of the utilitarian principle in economics ensures optimum use of living species for profit. Colonial rule over a long period introduced the malaise into India, with post-independence rulers carrying on with the Raj legacy.
The Chinese Buddhist monk Fa-Hien, who visited northern India in the early fifth century AD, stated in A Record of Buddhist Kingdoms, Being an Account by the Chinese Monk Fa-Hien of his Travels in India and Ceylon in Search of the Buddhist Books of Discipline: “In India, except for Chandals, nobody indulges in violence against animals or consumes liquor or other intoxicants. No one trades in live animals. There are no shops in the entire country which sell liquor or meat. Only the Chandals indulge in hunting or consuming meat and liquor”.
Chandals were people that lived outside the social fold because they deployed living creatures for food and commerce. They also disposed of remains of the dead. Modern civilisation rests on such moorings.
Worldwide lobbying against flesh-based diet has received a boost from a recent report, prepared by eminent water scientists. Malik Falkenmark and his colleagues from the Stockholm International Water Institute predict in their study that by 2050, acute water scarcity would compel the world to turn vegetarian. There would then be just enough water to support five per cent protein intake, derived from animals. People currently source about 20 per cent protein from animal-based food. The projected human population for that time being nine billion, the pressure to feed the additional two billion would take a heavy toll on existing water resources. The warning needs to be clubbed with forecasts of an impending food crisis by the United Nations and Oxfam.
This, of course, is the utilitarian reason for shunning animal protein. Processing and production of such food entails five to 10 times more use of water than a vegetarian diet, with an estimated one- third of arable land diverted to growing food for animals, meant for slaughter.
Other arguments against animal protein hinge on the health hazards posed by such diet, and green house gas emissions by livestock and poultry, magnifying global warming to an alarming degree. Given below is a relevant excerpt from a 2009 scientific study, titled Comparing environmental impacts for lifestyle products: A review of life cycle assessments, prepared by Wageningen University in the Netherlands.
“The total agricultural sector emits around 25 to 32 per cent of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. Crops emit 14 per cent... and all livestock emit 11 to-18 per cent, depending on how emissions are attributed... The emissions from livestock can be divided roughly as 30 per cent methane from enteric fermentation, 30 per cent nitrous oxide from manure management and 40 per cent from carbon dioxide from land-use changes for grazing and feed production... the dairy sector is responsible for roughly 27 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions from livestock... while monogastric production (pigs/poultry) is responsible for 10 to 20 per cent of the livestock emissions... Even if beef cattle represent 50 to 60 per cent of livestock emissions, this translates roughly into a figure close to 30 to 35 per cent of all agricultural emissions... What is true is that of all livestock products, beef is the most inefficient in terms of greenhouse gas emissions produced per unit of product, especially compared to dairy and monogastrics”.
Beef production, as compared to other livestock products, adds most to greenhouse gas emissions. But neither this fact nor outbreak of mad cow disease in the West, with the UK being most badly hit, has managed to change dietary habits to a substantial degree. It is a fatal neuro-degenerative ailment, transmitted to humans as variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, if they consume infected beef. The disease erupted after cattle, which are naturally herbivore, were fed remains of other livestock. The abnormal fallout of going against nature led to millions of cattle being eradicated in the UK after the malady was diagnosed in the late 1980s. Despite the beef industry’s claims of rigorous quality control, reports have filtered out of BSE cases in North America.
The link between myriad degenerative diseases and factory farming of livestock and poultry is now well known. John Robbins, spurning his legacy of the ice cream empire Baskin Robbins, has penned some revealing books, notably Diet for a New America that unveils the gruesome truth about the meat industry and severe repercussions for mankind, animals and environment; and The Food Revolution, triggering fierce rebuttals by opponents of his uncompromising advocacy of diet that is plant-based and organic. Given these facts, India too must revert to its roots in terms of diet, and regard for life and nature.