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?