I have nothing against vegetarians. A lot of them are friends who invite me home for meals where I cheerfully stuff my face with pulao (just don’t call it veg biryani), stuffed chapathis, papads, gobimanchurian and carrot halwa. When I return the favour, they are content to tuck into my veggie fried rice, chilli paneer, mushroom au gratin and chocolate fudge without gagging at the sight of the non-vegetarian spread. More importantly, they have never judged me for my carnivorous ways nor have I them for their culinary choices since these have their roots in culture, tradition, religion or personal preference. That ought to be that, but unfortunately it isn’t.
In recent times, many from the growing ranks of vegetarians who may prefer terms like vegan, lacto vegetarian, ovo vegetarian, pollotarian, pescatarian or flexitarian have taken a militant stand against eaters of meat seemingly determined to convert those they believe don’t know better with missionary zeal and extreme shaming tactics. Herbivores seek to condemn those who are partial to their deluxe bacon burgers and mutton biryani or simply cannot pay the criminal prices charged for kale, aubergine, quinoa and salads made with 75 environment-friendly ingredients. Surely that is obscene in a land where too many are unable to afford one square meal let alone an expensive, organically sourced vegan one. If a fattened goat feeds a family for a week, why begrudge anybody that?
Almost as bad is the attempt to impose cardinal culinary principles on others by those who are sanguine in the mistaken belief that vegetarianism is synonymous with virtue which makes them morally superior beings and the offspring of dharma and ahimsa. When those of the phytophagous variety (foes of flora, I like to call them), insist that it is not possible for those who can’t do without roasted chicken to love or care for animals, that those who feed their children meat are guilty of abuse (never mind that courts in various parts of the world have pulled up parents who forced their dietary ‘principles’ on their children with the result that they wound up malnourished) and meat eaters are destroying the planet, the overblown rhetoric stripped of nuance leaves me convinced that all this is little more than superficial posturing and hollow outraging, designed to dictate what others eat and police personal menus.
Studies by Nicoletta Pellegrini have shown that while consumption of animal products have a high environmental impact, vegans with their excessive reliance on processed substitutes for meat and dairy don’t necessarily show a significantly smaller carbon footprint. Besides bland, purely vegan dishes are not half as fortifying or fulfilling as meat based cuisine which leads to a higher food intake which in turn defeats the purpose, herbivores keep harping about. It is why experts feel an ovo-vegetarian or flexitarian diet is more likely to produce environmental benefits.
I am not advocating indiscriminate consumption but it is easier to make healthier choices when one is not pressured or forced into it. After all, you are what you eat, and if your dietary decisions make you smug, sanctimonious and superior, perhaps a change in the menu might be in order.
Author and new age classicist