I eat another kind of cell.

There are 2 issues that are dividing our great nation today. Issues that are building bloodied barb wire fences between the people who espouse arguments on either side. Issues that can potentially be a disastrous, if left unresolved, for our country on the long run.

One is the presumed gender of Abhishek and Aishwarya’s possible baby.

That is not what I what I will be discussing today.

The second is the Great Indian Veg-NonVeg Divide. I heard a conversation the other day. Actually, the conversation never really took place, but I heard it all the same. Like the little kid in Sixth Sense, “I hear silent people”.

Two people at a buffet.

NV: Enna. Veg-aa? Oru kozhiya thunnu thaan paren (What? You vegetarian? Why don’t you try chicken just once?)

Because the world is flat and all, the rest of the conversation is presented in what is allegedly English.

V: I am vegetarian. I dont eat meat

NV: Why? Have you tried it at least once?

V: No. My tradition does not permit me to eat meat

NV: Oh. Why is that?

V: I mean, it’s tradition. It must be right.

NV: You never asked why?

V: Wise people in the past laid down these rules. I am not qualified to question them.

(pause. V is indulging in a logical fallacy called “Argumentum Ad Antiquitatem (Appeal to Tradition)”. Rewire neurons. Rewind. Zzzz. Play)

V: No. My tradition does not permit me to eat meat

NV: Oh. Why is that?

V: We believe that eating meat is unhealthy and causes impure thoughts to arise.

NV: So 99.99% of the world has impure thoughts?

V: Yes

NV: So Mother Teresa had impure thoughts ?

(pause. V is indulging in a logical fallacy called “Non-sequitur (It does not follow)”. Rewire neurons. Rewind. Zzzz. Play)

NV: Oh. Why is that?

V: Well..I really don’t know, but its hard for a 30 year old vegetarian to get used to meat. But in any case, a vegetarian diet is healthier

NV: Really? How?

V: Meat has a lot of fat and cholesterol.

NV: Actually, fish and white meat have little or no fat. Plus they contain proteins that one can never ever get from a vegetarian diet. In fact, obesity is caused by too much carbs and too little exercise. White meat and fish do not cause obesity.

(pause. V has his facts wrong. Rewire neurons. Rewind. Zzzz. Play)

NV: Oh. Why is that?

V: Well..I am very sensitive about cruelty to animals. I would hear goats bleating in my stomach if I eat shish kebab

NV: Cruelty? How do you say that?

V: Well. Obviously, killing is involved isn’t it?

NV: So you are telling me no cruelty in involved in vegetarian food?

V: No. obviously not. We don’t see plants crying out or writhing in pain, do we?

NV: Ok. So pain is the deciding factor? Because clearly, it’s not just the taking of life. Even plant lives are taken, in that sense.

V: Yes. I am vegetarian because I wish not to pain animals

NV: But you are ok with causing pain to plants?

V: Plants don’t feel pain. Animals are a higher lifeform, much closer to us.

NV: So cruelty is defined as causing harm to lifeforms that are closer to us.

V: And where pain is involved.

NV: But squeezing the udders of cows with electro-mechanical devices (in diary farms) to extract milk is OK?

V: Atleast the cow doesn’t die, does it?

NV: So it should be pain + death as the deciding factor

V: Yes

NV: And the thousands of rats and snakes that live in rice fields that are slaughtered by a combination of pesticides and mechanized tractors? Doesn’t commercial, large scale agriculture involve painful deaths to certain animals?

V: Yes, as an unfortunate side effect. Much like how we kill mosquitoes. But I don’t eat it, so it does not make me uncomfortable.

NV: So am I right in saying that the definition of a vegetarian is somebody who eats food that did not arise from the death of animals who experience pain during the killing process?

V: Yes.

NV: But pain is a specific nervous system response to imminent danger that has evolved in higher animals. Shrimp and Molluscs, for instance, do not have central nervous systems. They don’t experience “pain” in the way humans define pain. So could vegetarians tuck into some succulent shrimp biriyani?

V: You are just arguing for the sake of argument. You pretty well know that shrimp is an animal. So it is non-vegetarian.

(pause. V is indulging in a logical fallacy called “Argumentum ad Populum (Appealing to the People)” .Rewire neurons. Rewind. Zzzz. Play)

NV: But pain is a specific nervous system response to imminent danger that has evolved in higher mammals. Shrimp, for instance, do not have central nervous systems. They don’t experience “pain” in the way humans define pain. So could vegetarians tuck into some succulent shrimp biriyani?

V: Look. All your cold rational logic is fine. Would you eat humans?

(pause. V is indulging in a logical fallacy called “Appeal to Emotion”. But we continue for a change

NV: Why would I eat my own species and reduce its chances of survival?

(pause. This is a dead end. So we rewind. )

NV: But pain is a specific nervous system response to imminent danger that has evolved in higher mammals. Shrimp and Molluscs, for instance, do not have central nervous systems. They don’t experience “pain” in the way humans define pain. So could vegetarians tuck into some succulent shrimp biriyani?

V: No. It’s an animal. It moves. It has a vibrant life. It is clearly different from a plant

NV: Well. Clams don’t move much. They mostly just stick to rocks.

V: Look. They are not plants.

NV: But you said that pain should be involved. And I’m telling you all living things don’t experience pain the way we define pain. So should I redefine vegetarianism as the practice of not eating food that came from the death of motile and/or pain (as humans define it) experiencing living beings.

V: I suppose yes.

NV: So what about eggs? What’s the problem with that? And Caviar? Yeah, the sturgeon is killed for it, but we don’t eat the sturgeon that is killed for caviar, do we? Much like we don’t eat the rats killed by tractors that plough rice fields.

(Pause. We rewind all the way to the beginning)

V: I am vegetarian. I dont eat meat

NV: Why? Have you tried it at least once?

V: Well. It’s a little hard. The problem is that I grew up in a vegetarian household and I find it hard to get used to meat. My vegetarianism comes purely out of personal taste. No moral or ethical underpinnings here. I do understand that living things eat other living things for energy and nourishment. My personal taste just happens to be for cells that contain cell walls, chlorophyll and a large central vacuole.

NV: Yes, and I personally do wish commercial livestock raising treats animals better than they do today.

Nice? Fantasy?

Or what about this dialogue set 400 years from now

V: Wanna try the thigh? Delectable.

NV: Are you kidding me? That’s human thigh. That’s disgusting.

V: Dude. This didn’t come from a live human. It’s meat created by cloning cells from thigh muscles in the laboratory. No death to fully grown living things. No pain the way we understand it. And what can be more ethical than eating cells of one’s own species. One will never feel guilt about taking another species’ life just to survive. No?


45 Comments

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  1. good one – although V could have been gone on the offensive in response:For example:

    Non-veg? Have you eaten a neighbour – maybe just a little bite of the pinky finger of his baby? Why not? (And if NV is not from far-east) How about atleast a snake? A cat? A dog? No? But why stop at chicken, fish, pork and beef?”

    I guess it is all a matter of where you draw the line :). Some just think where they draw it is where it should be for others.

  2. V/NV is finally a matter of choice and neither should try to debate or enforce the other’s choice.Perceptions should not be judged.

    Finally it boils down to the Cofee/Tofee Debate.

    Eternal and Amusing!!

  3. NV: Look at this chicken tikka masala. Now don’t tell me this doesn’t make your mouth water.
    V: No it doesn’t.
    NV: How is that possible?
    V: Simply because I don’t miss what I don’t like
    NV: You are missing some wonderful things in life… [sniffs his chicken and lets out a moan of pleasure]

    V: Are you straight?
    NV: Yes ofcourse!
    V: Why don’t you turn into a bisexual. You are missing half the amount of sex you could have had…

  4. There’s a clinching argument. The vegan society of NZ has recommended that its members not have..ahem..how to put it…procreational activity with meat eaters.

    http://www.veganz.pl.net/

    Therefore those suitably qualified may hereby advertise in the matrimonial section of the NZ Herald. It might be called ‘personals’. I can think of several advantages.

    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/

  5. 🙂 I knew this was a contentious debate at least amongst us Indians. My original intent was to end it with the balanced argument that it’s personal taste and it does not make sense to ridicule a vegetarian, and yet at the same time, the vegetarian has no free ride on a moral high horse. Ofcourse, I couldn’t resist the futuristic cloning debate. What is the ethical/moral issue with eating cloned human meat made in laboratories by simply growing muscle/fat tissue ?

    Priyank, Arun and Satts,
    Good points. It is a personal lakshman rekha one draws with respect to what one is willing to let pass through one’s digestive system.

    Voracious Blog Reader,
    Neenga clairvoyanta? When I am on leave, I must probably designate you as my ghost poster 😉

  6. Brilliant conclusion and a well written argument.

    But don’t non vegetarians eat vegetarian food too? So a vegetarian diet cannot be more healthy since the non vegetarians eat everything the vegetarians eat.

  7. Marc,
    The health argument is fairly flawed already. While an excess of red meat is definitely likely to be unhealthy, one can have a balanced vegetarian or non-vegetarian diet.

  8. @ Krishashok

    Hope you got the play in those words.

    For those who didn’t, “Naan vegetarian” can be interpreted as:

    1. Non-Vegetarian; and
    2. in tamizh as “I am a Vegetarian”.

    Apropos, those were the words of, who else but, Moooooo.Karunanadhi.

    Voracious Blog Reader

  9. 3 comments…

    1. dalhesque shock in the end…

    2….personal preference is one place it ends. I think you missed the green argument. fwiw…

    V: its green to be vegan. corn->feed->cow->man is inefficient and wastes energy at every step.

    NV: really? even if your dal has 8k miles on it? How efficient is that?

    V: so do you grow steak in your backyard?

    … grow local, eat local. But in a flat world we import cabbage from china..something is not right about that. 🙂

    3. rambodoc…vegan girl from las vegas…
    vegan las.

  10. Great post 🙂 Some of our views are ill-founded. Nice way to make sense of it. However, at the end of the day, whatever rocks each person’s boat 🙂

  11. Pok.
    Oh yes. You are right about the environmental impact of commercial agriculture. At the end of the day, local is what makes sense -> whatever kind of cell it happens to have 😉

  12. Excellent post!

    Priyank makes an interesting point as well.

    No moral high ground here, as you say Ashok. All vegans are blowing some trumpet or the other. The futuristic view is really intriguing. Hmm…we eating human meat developed in a genetic farm…interesting!

  13. “Cultured meat” – ah, very interesting!

    //China ‘s meat demand is doubling every ten years… With a single cell, you could theoretically produce the world’s annual meat supply…//
    Wow!

    But the icing on the cake is:

    //Fat cells would be added for flavor…//
    Ha ha ha!!!

  14. Awesome! As a current Veg, and a has-been Non-Veg — I could completely identify with the situations and mental rewinds. I can hear people like me say — “V NV your narrative skills!” There is another situation parallel to this — the ‘drinkers’ vs. ‘teetotallers’. Can we request your take on that? 🙂

  15. Thanks Rahul,
    Hmm. Drinkers vs Teetotallers. Much harder as a debate though 🙂 After all, casual responsible drinking is fairly common outside of Sri Mahalakshmi wines and the likes. Let me think about it over some kingfisher

  16. You do know that there was no cruelty to animals angle to Indian vegetarianism though: the whole premise was that meat induces anger and carnal emotions which one was supposed to strive to conquer.

    Eh but youre right, I cant eat a lot of meat only because Im not used to it. Doesnt prevent me from putting a butter chicken bonelass half now and again though:)

  17. Nice debate.. im a veggie who was a non veggie in the past.. Believe me , i had similar lines of arguement when i was eating veggies + egg.. Like, NV (knowing that i eat eggs only, rarely): chick comes from egg.. and chick en in non veg.. but u eat egg.. how do u conisder a veggies? there shud be some pain involved in breaking the life in the egg, isnt it??

  18. Priya Dilip,
    Welcome.
    If meat eating caused impure thoughts, that would mean that Mother Teresa’s soul was polluted 🙂 In fact, 99% of the world’s population’s soul would be corrupted. Homo Sapiens evolved as a meat eater, our canine teeth, our incisors are evolved for eating chicken tikka masala 🙂
    Vegetarianism is a modern dietary fad, by historical standards.

  19. just was reading your old posts and caught up with this. My series of different thoughts are that we have more good things for environment by being vegetarian.
    1. More vegetarians = More demand for plant life, More plants = Better environment. (ofcourse, organic farming should be advised without much land pollutes like pesticides)
    2. Breeding animals is more expensive than farming.
    3. Storage and cooking of plant food consume less energy.

  20. mr.kris asok the next topic worth debating is
    VIRGINS TILL MARIAGE VS.PREMARITAL JALSA SEEKERS……

    EAGERLY AWAITING U R RESPONSE BAAASU…..PLS DONT WITHER AWAY A FANS DREAMS……..

  21. Dear Readers,

    The basic reason why our Vedas says not to eat meat and go for Veg food is:

    As per our Vedas and Shastras, purpose of human life is to achieve Moksha. Since for attaining the higher spiritual level one should be able to control his thoughts and allow them to think in a proper direction.

    Food is the one thing that major controls/derive the thought process. Thats why in earlier times we have Raj Bhog etc which pertains to person life style. Since all the animal moves, so when we eat them our thoughts also moves, thus it will be difficult us to think/control our thoughts in 1 direction.

    However in case of plants, they don’t move. They are attached to earth; thus eating the fruits help us generating stable thoughts. and for our living we need food so sages told to eat Veg food rather Non-Veg food

    Regards
    ~ Jindal K

  22. Kapil,

    I will not debate you on the merits/demerits of veg/non veg food. There are multiple dimensions to that issue, ranging from environmental concerns to physiological, and a gross simplification like spiritual levels and motility will not justice to that debate.

    But I believe you are mistaken about the Vedas.

    While there are some texts that promote vegetarianism, the Vedas and the Manusmriti do not. In fact, the entire Yajur Veda is a series of instructions on what animals to sacrifice to appease which god, and very frequently refers to the consumption of the sacrificial animal after the rituals.

    What is even more telling is the mention of the sacrifice of bulls for Indra. Beef eating was not a problem at the time the vedas were written.

    Im not making this up. You can read the entire texts of the Vedas here.
    http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin

  23. Hi Krishashok ,

    Thanks for your valuable input and you are right that non veg eating was allowed at that time too.

    In fact many Kings go to forest on (Shikar) to kill various species and enjoy to eat them. another classical example King Dhratrastra (Kurav’s Father) eat 100 ducks or some other species in his previous birth which leads death of his sons in Kurushetra.

    See my point was only this why sages promote or prefer Veg food. Too my knowedge/understanding this was the main thing. However no doubt, there may be other associated reasons which helps to attain this common objective.

  24. I believe it was based on the caste system. Mostly only brahmins did’nt eat meat. They didnt hv to as they were engagd in accounting and vedas etc.. not much physical strain. vaishyas.. some ate meat others didnt .. they were business ppl- had to travel.. so meat was allowed.. kshatriyas were warriors.. meat was a necessity.. I feel this explanation is more convincing and logical.

  25. Er..maybe a little late in the day.

    You do seem to suggest this:
    ”I am a vegetarian not because I love animals. I am a vegetarian because I hate plants.”
    Alas. Not true.
    There are quite a lot of people who avoid tubers; and if you remember, fruits evolved for a reason – they were meant to be eaten. Unlike, say, an elephant. I am surprised you let the argument continue that long without bringing this up.
    So when did I devour the jackfruit tree along with my jackfruit payasam? :D.

    Nice blog.

    Ashok: I do? I didn’t think so. The intention of this post was not to glorify the eating of meat, but simply to point out some of the more commonly used invalid arguments for vegetarianism. There are good reasons for being vegetarian (such as a ecological consideration against large scale animal farming).

  26. At least the animals can run and fight back (hunting, not slaughter houses). But the poor plants are sitting ducks (no matter where).

    Thus, vegetarians are heartless murders – I’m one. I shy away from killing for sustenance, but I wouldn’t bat an eye about killing rodents and pests!

    Also, Honey is the only thing that can be eaten without hurting anything. So the whole debate is pointless. But not your post – definitely not your post.

  27. Being a vegetarian and having tried various arguments against various NV convertor folks ( and actually trying some meat and experiencing mental block), I find the ‘my personal choice’ and ‘taising one cow takes up the same amount of food as that of 20 humans’ arguments to be most effective.

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