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'Diet is a personal choice'

By Devangshu Datta
Last updated on: September 21, 2015 16:04 IST
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“Since they (the vegetarians) are fasting, they are already hungry and this probably leads to heightened emotions."

"As their stomachs make little growling noises, the thought that somebody else might be belching contentedly through a tasty mutton curry makes them feel insanely jealous."

"That leads to the attempts to ban meat,” says Devangshu Datta.

Every time I settle down to demolish a nice rare steak, or gorge on some pork vindaloo, or lovingly tear into a plate of burra kebabs, I spare a minute in-between the chomps to think with silent gratitude about the hordes who invaded the subcontinent. Over countless millennia, those invasions helped create a syncretic cuisine and refined our eating habits.

As a result, the 21st century Indian knows how to treat animal flesh with the asmita (dignity) it deserves. Every species produces a different type of meat, with different tastes and textures. It is an art to cut that meat properly, and to cook it with loving attention to detail.

Many gurus have eked out their entire lifetimes in selfless experimentation, working out mixes of spices, tinkering with cooking times and varying the degrees and types of heat to learn what works best with specific meat. Sometimes meat should melt in the mouth; at other times, it might be left a little underdone, or crisped to seal in the juices and brown the blood.

If it hadn't been for all those invasions, we might still have been barbarians living on the odd haunch of half-burnt deer flesh, or worse, surviving on a diet of pulses and grains cooked without any seasoning.

Even the chillies, potatoes and tomatoes that make vegetarianism marginally less of a penance are imports, brought to our shores by invaders from across the kaala pani (black waters).

A shocking number of Indians are still vegetarians. Surveys suggest that about 20 to 30 per cent of Indians don't consume meat at home (though many ‘official’ vegetarians sneak out for a quick fix at the local non-vegetarian restaurants). In itself, fine.

Diet is after all a personal choice and if some are vegetarians, there is more meat to go around for those of us who eat it. The latter incidentally, is an increasing number. Economic surveys and National Sample surveys show the changing patterns of food consumption clearly over the past 25 years.

Rising incomes enable people who like meat to put it on their plates far more often than their parents could afford. As incomes have grown, India has also developed the fastest growing poultry and eggs sector in the world, one that roughly doubles in volume every five years. In conjunction, India also generates the largest volume of buffalo meat exports (luckily not all of that prime beef is exported).

It begs the question that why would you avoid eating meat when you could afford to eat it. Still, diet is a personal choice. No non-vegetarian would force-feed meat to somebody who didn't want it. But a few of the poor fellows who don't eat meat believe that diet should not be a matter of choice.

These vegetarians have an odd habit of imposing fasts upon themselves. Well, there’s no accounting for taste. Some people enjoy being flogged, others may like fasting. To each his own. But some of these fasters also have a sneaking suspicion that non-vegetarians enjoy themselves a bit too much.

Since they are fasting, they are already hungry and this probably leads to heightened emotions. As their stomachs make little growling noises, the thought that somebody else might be belching contentedly through a tasty mutton curry makes them feel insanely jealous. That leads to the attempts to ban meat.

This is analogous to the old fable about the ‘dog in the manger’. The dog refused to let the horse eat grass, even though he wouldn’t consume it himself. Here some chaps, who are choosing not to eat anything at all, and would rather not let their neighbours eat whatever they want.

There is hope for us non-vegetarians. There seems to be some non-vegetarians serving on the Supreme Court. Or at least some enlightened judges believe diet is a personal choice. Perhaps, one can start a campaign to subtly influence and, hopefully, convert vegetarians to the pleasures of the flesh.

Think about it: our ancestors were omnivores. They ate anything that moved. Here’s to Maansh Wapsi!

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Devangshu Datta in New Delhi
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