Most of us are familiar with Charles Darwin’s theory of man’s evolutionary origin. He postulated that the present-day species have evolved from simpler ancestral types by the process of natural selection. He also mentioned that, through millions of years, life has been continually changing. However, before man’s emergence, there must have been several stages in the evolutionary process.
The term “Nature”, we realize, covers something more than mountains and oceans. Nature breeds two forms of life – animal and vegetable. Human life has evolved through a constant struggle for meeting the basic needs. At a much later stage, this must have led to the rise of different civilizations. Forms of life had to adapt themselves to their surroundings. Out of this necessity, they came to develop a kind of native wisdom, which, along with availability, played an important part in
determining their food habits. The questions about man’s food and diet (why these particular food items and not others?) received, therefore, different answers, depending on the changes in the environment and on natural availability;
What would the tribes roaming in the African Jungles eat to satisfy their hunger for the day? The obvious answer – perhaps the only answer – would be that they would consume whatever is available, whatever is within their reach. They have to eat in order to live and must eat what they can find. There is hardly any choice. This holds true for the Eskimos too. However, in the case of the members of wealthy royal families, who are used to getting whatever they ask for (‘Demand and it shall be served’), the answers to this question have always been changing. For them, unlike for the tribesmen in the jungle or the Eskimos in their land of ice and snow, there is choice. During the course of the twentieth century, most of the royal families have vanished into thin air. There are just a few left – relics of the past, left behind, dreaming of their faded glory and honour. After rapid worldwide industrialization, new industrial empires emerged with their new hierarchies – the princes and the barons of these new wealthy empires. They faithfully carried forward the old order’s gastronomically preferences, even excesses. They continued to follow the old dictum; “Demand and it shall be served” or, “Ask and it shall be given”. They guzzled whatever pleased their palates, never bothering much about the questions of need and propriety. Soon, in all the countries, big and small, a new throng joined the group of affluent industrial magnates – the politicians, the heads of state and the ambassadors.
Evolutionary changes continue to take place and not only at the physiological level. Men’s minds, too, undergo subtle transformations. No sooner are men’s basic needs satisfied, they come under the spell of “the pleasure principle”. They begin to hanker after a life of luxury, comfort and sensual joys, preferring food more for its taste than for its quality. All over the world, these changes have been taking place at different levels but their pace has been quickened in our times, thanks to the rapid advance in the mem in of communication and the mass media in general. (’01 mrquenl ly, all the food items are now readily available to the politicians in power or the wealthy captains of industries and their heirs and those others who can also afford them.
After World War II, the “need-based” attitude towards food came to be replaced by an indiscriminate consumerism. It happened veiy quickly. The right to enjoy moved to the forefront as a basic idea, including the right to consume every variety of food, to tickle and gratify the palate. These guzzlers wanted just to eat, drink and be merry, to consume as much as they could, practise no restraints. This became the guiding principle, or the main drive, which was ingrained beautifully even in the heart of a toddler.
The world has become a smaller place and continues to shrink further. We can consider ourselves inhabitants of a global village. The remotest point on this earth can be reached within hours. As a result, time, place or season causes no barriers where the transport of the consumable items is concerned. The finest fruit, trimmed or otherwise, dairy products, cold drinks of any make are available anywhere in response to the demands from the groups representing the various cultures. “Demand and it shall be served” has never been easier than in our times, particularly in the five star hotels where only the places and the faces of the “actors” change while the attitudes and diet remain unaltered.
Amidst these rapid changes, there was a little rearranging of old wisdom somewhere deep down in the human mind. There were a variety of reasons for this. The feeling grew steadily that the approach to diet must undergo a change, that, “the more the merrier” does not hold well where health is concerned. Of course, such a concern did exist in the past too. In our times, however, it came to the forefront of human consciousness. As a cumulative effect of unwise diet, excessive play, entertainment, the pleasure seeking lifestyle and the accompanying general attitude, human life span was seen to become shorter. As a consequence of this shocking realization, the concept of the “evolution of the mind” becomes more evident. more concrete.
The term ‘the evolution of the mind’ is used here to describe the growing awareness about the need to avoid the wrong items of food and an excessive intake of food. In fact, the term refers to the wider understanding of the diet problems in general. A person who has developed a certain degree of this awareness may, in the light of his individual experience, alter or defy all the norms of diet altogether with impunity and still achieve the desired success. During the last fifty years, several experiments have proved, all over the world, that this particular path alone is worthy of emulation, is worth following. In each case, the strong will power of the person concerned has played a crucial part. The evolution of the mind, referred to above, has been demonstrated to the experts in the concrete form of the person’s strong will. On many occasions, this evolution has rejected the inferences based on statistical data, often proving them wrong.
Excessive food intake or gluttony is a cause, of several ailments, a fact that, apparently, few healthy persons are willing to accept. This is because there is a noticeable time lag, often amounting to a number of years, between the period of over-eating and the consequent illness. The problem usually has been that people merely lack the necessary will to say “no” to the rich, tasty dishes offered to them. The temptation is too strong to resist. However, things take a different turn when it is proved beyond a shadow of doubt that a certain food related disease is targeting a large section of the population of a country. Society as a whole wakes up to the menace and every individual tries to dramatically change his food habits for the better, even avoiding the food items that might only occasionally prove harmful.
It is hot an isolated individual effort but the need of the many that accounts for the growing interest evinced in vegetarianism all over the world. There is a wave of new awareness of its benefits. The general climate that prevailed in India two decades ago did not require such awareness. However, in the forthcoming decade and after, we will badly need it. Otherwise, we will, inevitably, have to witness, here, in India, the unfortunate re-enactment of all the global
Vegetarianism can prove to be useful in connection with serious, prolonged ailments like the cancer of the intestine, diseases caused by excess fat in the blood, and kidney troubles. Further, the incidence of these diseases is much lower among vegetarians. This new awareness is becoming a recurring topic of discussion among the world experts, particularly in the west. I deliberately call it a new awareness because, as mentioned above, the various experiments in this context have not been carried out on a large scale at statistical racial or group levels. They are, however, based on individual experiences tested by applying scholarly and scientific yardsticks.
It is difficult to state precisely the number of those who are vegetarian from birth. Most of them, however, reside in India. On the other hand, the converts to vegetarianism from among those born meat-eaters are spread all over the world and, it must be specially mentioned here, their number is continuously on the increase. Their opinions and experiences, therefore, become valuable since it is only after a full consideration, after weighing the pros and cons that they must have given up their traditional meat diet in preference of a vegetarian one.
During this century there has been a remarkable rise in the number of persons who have consciously changed over to vegetarianism all over the world. However, no adequate information or record of discussions about the rationale of the change – why they felt like changing over to a new diet – is easily available. There is a basic difference between giving up an addiction to smoking, drinking, tobacco, opium and drugs on the one hand and renouncing meat for vegetarian food on the other. This is not merely a question of offering a facile explanation or of understanding the same. In India, however, people describe such an individual in a sarcastic manner, saying “the road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom, that is, to the worship of God”. In other countries, however, no attempt is made to look for such a connection. One may conclude that, in a foreign land, a person habituated to a meat diet from his childhood cannot deliberately turn a vegetarian without valid reasons. It would be naive to explain the change as a consequence of “a lack of desire for meat and a craving for things sweet”. Due to the excess of a thing, the appetite may sicken but cannot die. After a lapse of a few days, the desire is rekindled. Taste is often fickle. Sometimes one may go on guzzling one’s favourite food items to one’s heart’s content and still continue to have a craving for the same. Such a response may be justified but it cannot be the reason why there is a growing interest in vegetarianism all over the world.
There is a steadiness in the number of the people in the world that are turning vegetarian. The changeover takes place only after 1) they get sufficient information on vegetarianism, 2) they have taken into account its numerous benefits, and 3) they have verified the possibility of availability of alternative vegetarian foods. In other words, for them, vegetarianism is not a fad but a considered choice. What is happening in the world will naturally make a favourable impact on the sensible individuals here at home too. Generally speaking, the individual diet of the majority of Indians is basically favourable and complementary to vegetarianism. This does not, however, mean that Indians are vegetarians. It would be more appropriate to state that they prefer vegetarian food on practical grounds.
The staple diet of the people in every Indian state consists predominantly of varieties of grain. This tends to favour vegetarianism. Whatever changes have been taking place in the context of diet all over the world are bound to take place here in India too, only we are a little slow in our responses. It is often observed – of course, in a lighter vein – that the West must provide for us the perspectives from which we should view our own heritage. Perhaps we think that we can appreciate our own philosophy and life style better through western eyes. Things Indian must get a foreign stamp of approval, a sort of a “certificate of merit” from the foreigners bejbrn they become acceptable to us. It is only then that we can begin In realize their uniqueness, their distinguishing features. Indian vegetarianism tod is coming back home after receiving recognition abroad. Things look better – at least more convincing – when seen through western eyes.
it would be better to know the facts as they are rather than to make a scientific definition of vegetarianism. Typically, an average non-vegetarian Indian consumes non-vegetarian food items only once or twice a week. Some people take much less than that. It should be noted that only a few meat items form part of his diet which consists predominantly of vegetarian varieties of food. The practice in the western countries or the Far Eastern countries is quite different. There, meat is the staple diet. Bakery and wheat products in the west and nice preparations in the East are supplementary foods.
When any individual from outside India, brought up in this style of life, turns completely vegetarian, accepting all the implications of the change, it becomes crucial to know the reasons for such a total change. Has he done this only in pursuit of a healthy life? Or, has he done this out of the lurking fear of some imminent disease? It would be naive to believe that such reasons could be compelling enough to effect a radical change in the outlook and practice of a person. Certainly, therefore, the reasons must lie deeper, in something that touches the human mind.
It is significant that people who have become completely vegetarian, after effecting a radical change in their food habits, have been found to hail from all rungs of the social ladder. Further, they cut across all the distinctions – there are the richest and the poorest; the crusty academicians as well as the sentimental common men, the disease-ridden senior citizens and the sprightly young men in their teens – the range of those who specially advocate vegetarianism is very wide. Therefore, one feels that vegetarianism is poised to become a life style, a way of living, almost an attitude of mind. Let us look into some of the reasons for this radical change.
Over the last fifty years the United States of America has evolved a life style that has become an ideal for the whole world to follow. In terms of wealth, prosperity and the standard of living, the U.S.A. is second to none. Consumption of meat is consistently regarded as an integral part of the affluent American life style. In such surroundings only the very poor turn to a diet of grains and vegetables, obviously because they cannot afford costly foods. However, in the U.S.A., poverty is nearly on its way out. People do not have to scrape out a living. It is not surprising, then, to see that it is mostly the Americans who have been indulging in excessive eating and gourmandizing. The figures of per capita consumption of various food items in the U.S.A. are many times higher than those obtained in several other advanced countries in the West.
Generally speaking, the American is at the top when it comes to food consumption, no matter whether it is sugar, milk products, eggs or varieties of meat. Around the world medical experts have become aware of the cumulative effects of excessive eating on the health of the people concerned. What was only vaguely felt a couple of years ago has now become almost a certainty, thanks to the many studies of the problem. Researchers arrived at the correlation that there is a direct link between excessive eating and the growing incidence of blood pressure and diseases related to blood circulation and blood vessels. Earlier, the deaths caused by heart disease were blamed on smoking, diabetes and* obesity but the food- health link received little or no attention. Now there is evidence that has established that some ingredients in the food, if consumed in excess, can lead to major health hazards.
As heart disease began to spread rapidly, claiming younger victims, American society, the government and the doctors became aware of the new menace. The killer now moved from its sixty year old victims to victims as young as forty years old. As a result, research and preventive measures in this area received top priority. Heart disease got a slick nickname – “the wisdom-making disease”. It was found that, during the post war period, many young and middle-aged Americans died suddenly of heart attacks, leaving a large number of families devastated. The U.S.A., an alert nation, concentrated on the problem and mobilized resources for the relevant research.
Other less affluent nations facing the same problems were unable to mobilize the funds, facilities and medical expertise that the U.S.A. commanded. It should, however, be noted that most of the other countries did not have to cope with the problems created by excessive eating to the same extent.
In the context of “excess”, one American term is eloquent. By now, we too are familiar with it – “Jumbo size”. Not content with the usual grading of the size of food portions as small, medium and large, Americans with their passion for eating have introduced the term “Jumbo” for a food item like a burger or a sandwich which is larger than “large”. Naturally, this has resulted in a tendency towards an increased intake of food that can only be called excessive. While a European is likely to have a small, medium or large sandwich for break fast, an American would typically go for a “jumbo”!
The new research findings made it clear that the excess of oil, fat, meat and sugar in the food was the culprit causing heart disease. As a result, there was an increasing tendency to reduce the intake of these harmful ingredients or to avoid them altogether. However, at least a decade had to pass before the benefits of pure vegetarianism could be experienced. At the same time, new drugs and medicines were being made available to provide relief to heart patients. The new methods were tested on those who had survived heart attacks. Some doctors who had themselves got a new lease of life wrote books describing the advantages of practising vegetarianism along with the usual medical treatment. In this respect, both research findings and medical advice are valuable, but the eloquent personal experiences of a doctor who has himself survived a heart attack are far more persuasive. Several patients have benefited from the books written by such doctors.
More and more people began to take an interest in vegetarianism. The patients began to think of it as a remedy for an ailment; others looked upon it as a preventive measure. Even healthy persons, observing these things keenly, could not remain indifferent to its benefits. As mentioned above, the U.S.A. being a model for the world to follow, this new outlook began to spread from the U.S.A. to the world at large,
slowly but consistently.
Another reason why people are changing over consciously to vegetarianism is their growing awareness of what actually goes on in the process of the scientific breeding Of animals for meat production. Startling facts keep coming to light. Hormones and injections are given to the animals in order to accelerate their growth and to boost meat production. These revelations cast a shadow of iniquity over society in general. The use of D.D.T. can serve here as a parallel example. When it became known that the crops and vegetables sprayed with D.D.T. were harmful – and hence unfit for consumption – its use was suspended forthwith in many countries. In like manner, some alert individuals cut back on meat consumption and others turned near-vegetarian, nearly giving up meat. What matters is not the number of the converts but the causes of the conversion. One must, however, regretfully admit that in our country ignorance about the harmful effects of hormones and medicines is simply abysmal. But, also, here the extent of the use of such medicines is very insignificant. What is, however, certain is that we do not, in any event, show much curiosity about the process of the preparation of the food and the medicines we take – what processes they are subjected to before they are presented to us as finished products. It seems we are interested only in the product and not in the process but the situation is different in the advanced countries where there are strict laws governing these things. Besides, the producers themselves observe some discipline while- preparing medicines. Needless to say, in this field as elsewhere, there are exceptions to the rule,There is a considerable increase in the appetite and the weight of the animals that are given a feed enriched with hormones. A similar case would be that of a sportsman using hormones to boost his stamina. Whenever the meat of such animals is consumed, a portion of the hormones is eaten too. It has been proved with the help of the experiments conducted in these countries that such a diet can have a devastating
effect on adolescents.
In recent times, a number of religious sects and cultural movements have spread their influence far and wide. The followers, accepting the philosophy and practices of these sects, must have been instrumental in attracting several individuals to vegetarianism. The adherence of the new sects, like the Hare Krishna Panth and the disciples of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and Rajneesh, residing in different ashrams, maths and temples, seem to be totally committed to the philosophy and practice of vegetarianism. This is a concomitant change, taking place in the attitude of a disciple who has turned to upasana or spiritual pursuits. When the followers of these sects visit different countries and move from place to place, they, in a sense, become living advertisements of the benefits of vegetarianism.
Over the years, the western man has been harbouring many misconceptions about vegetarianism. They think that it is a poor man’s food, inadequate in nutritional components that it is much less rich in protein and hence cannot be a complete food for the healthy development and sustenance of a human being. However, when the western man is face to face with the non-meat-eating seekers of spiritual bliss, he is likely to jettison his age- old conceptions. For, these disciples brought up on vegetarian food, show no sings of malnutrition at all. On the contrary, they have strong physiques exuding vitality; and an ascetic but pleasant visage, radiating brightness. These adherents of different sects are a living proof that vegetarianism provides a complete, healthy diet and adequate calories even in the coldest climate.
During the last century, very few. persons bothered to take into account the processes involved in manufacturing the fine articles and things that made a good life style possible. That is, nobody had to confront the question as to how many trees were cut down to make teak furniture of high quality.’ However, things have changed. The question is given a serious thought today. Alternatives are being considered. Some sensible persons began to think on similar lines about the animals. How much does an animal consume until it attains full growth? In the light of the statistical data collected, they arrived at the conclusion that the quantity of food required to increase an animal’s weight by one kilo can be sufficient for two vegetarians for a week.
Animals bred for meat are brought up on a certain standardized diet that is not wholly natural. Giving them a specially prepared feed or a mixture of grains, particularly maize and second-rate wheat, regulates their growth. The implication is that the farm produce is used for animal growth. The question, therefore, arises: why not use the same land for producing crops that would meet human requirements?
The problem of storing drinking water is day-by-day becoming acute all over the world. The whole process of meat production from animals requires large quantities of water – for maintaining minimum hygienic standards and disposing of the waste. Water is also necessary for preventing the spread of epidemics and environmental pollution. A slaughterhouse often attracts birds and beasts like terns, kites, stray dogs and cats. This is a cause for concern. But if a slaughterhouse is situated in the vicinity of an airfield, there is always a possibility of a collision between a bird and an airliner. Such incidents have frequently occurred, posing a danger’ to the aeroplanes. Besides, the people living nearby are the worst sufferers. The foul and offensive odours coming from an abattoir make their lives intolerable.
The wastewater spilling from such places Spreads pollution over large areas and is unsuitable for breeding aquatic life because of the altered ratio of the natural gases. If used in farming, it renders the land infertile. This kind of ecological imbalance has been a subject of recurring debates for the last thirty years or more, leading to some basic thinking on the problem, who gave man the right to upset the ecological balance by feeding the farm products to animals?
The loss of animal life taking place in the process of “the natural food chain” is one thing while the slaughter of the animals specially fattened for meat is quite another. An’ animal losing its life while fighting for survival against the forces of nature cam be called a natural death. But its end as a result of a food programme for human beings is far from a natural culmination of its life. As the difference between the two processes began to be clear, many persons felt convinced that vegetarianism was the only logical step. They, therefore, started taking active interest in it.
During fierce wars several countries have been scorched and devastated. The post-war scenario too is not much different. Sudden outbursts of discontent have claimed, many lives. As firearms and weapons are freely available, Europe and America have been gripped by senseless violence, mayhem and bloodshed and death, causing intense agony to the living. One fears that the culture of violence has come to stay and dominate the world. As a cumulative result of these forces, some people, who are sensitive to this needless violence, have Chosen to turn to vegetarianism.
During the last two decades, we in India have also not been strangers to violence. City dwellers have often witnessed in actual life the sort of gruesome enactments that are typically shown in the movies. The cumulative effect on the mind adds up to total disgust. This disgust may bring about changes for the better One may conclude that, for a variety of reasons, a new awareness about diet has emerged and has become a topic of serious discussion all over the world. The issue is approached from different angles – cultural, ecological, historical etc. The questions of availability and of the attitudes of the people play their part in these debates. But, finally, all these discussions focus on the medical aspects. “What do the doctors, the medical experts have to say about vegetarianism?” This becomes the “core” question. Fortunately the question continues to elicit favourable responses from the medical experts.
Dietary systems and practices are a part of social habits and, like all social habits; it is not, always practicable to make
changes in them, however strongly one may desire to do so. A person may find it difficult to observe these changes rigorously in practical life. A man who has given up both tea and coffee may, for example, find himself a little uncomfortable and out of tune with a social group that consumes these •beverages. He has to do a lot of explaining to the people and keep resisting their well-meant requests to break the resolution “just for this occasion”. In other words, a person may be convinced of the importance of vegetarianism either out of his personal preference or in the light of the information he has collected. But one knows how difficult it is to practise the new diet rigorously, considering the multiplicity of the social groups in the world and their different food habits. Day to day life is full of such examples. On a happy occasion at home, even a known, confirmed diabetic patient is repeatedly entreated to have “just one pedham. The patient has to gulp it, unless of course, he has a strong will to resist both the temptation and the social pressure.
Vegetarianism is not new to us here in India. But in several countries people are totally ignorant about it. When an individual from such a country consciously accepts vegetarianism, he is, in a sense, setting an example that is both significant and eloquent. Considering the issue from this angle, one finds that people all over the world have come to realize the importance of vegetarianism and have started taking interest in it, a little slowly but consciously.
After the worldview, let us return to the things around us and make a little survey. Eating places – restaurants, hotels and boarding houses – have been an integral part of the towns and cities in Maharashtra. However, during the last few years, some of them have started flaunting, as a mark of speciality, signs such as “pure vegetarian” underneath the English names of the dining halls. These places serve pure vegetarian varieties, from Chinese and Continental to Punjabi and Udipi and the gourmets respond with a matching relish. Nobody should, therefore, have doubts that the result of this changing outlook is certainly thought provoking.