At 18, I turned vegetarian. I was coming of age and was entitled to freedom of choice, even if it meant that my mom would need to cook an extra foodstuff for me on a non-vegetarian day; and that I was hurting my parents’ sentiments, hinting that it was morally wrong to consume meat. I was proud of the fact that I was saving lives and I bragged about it. But at the back of my mind, something else was cooking up: “Nau sau chuhe khake billi Haj ko chali”.
This went on for an year or so. One fine day, a learned man arrived at my home. As usual, he was told about my encounter with food by my ever-concerned mother. Being a non- vegetarian himself, he told me how it was crueler to consume milk than eating meat. “Milk is meant for the calves. Moreover, cows are even tortured to obtain milk from them”, he emphasized. “Is he asking me to turn vegan? Oh no! How would I give up on my favorite butter and cheese?” I thought to myself. But the next thing that he said moved me and forced me to broaden my horizons. I was told about the Tibetans, who consumed meat due to the lack of vegetation in their region.
“Non-violence is the core of Buddhism and yet they eat meat for their sustenance. They would pray before indulging on this basic necessity of their lives.”
But I wasn’t still fully convinced. And I even didn’t need to be. My hemoglobin levels spoke well about myself and was enough a proof of my well-being. “And anyways, it would be selfish to start eating meat for my own needs.” I thought. Nature has this strange way of teaching you things when you need them the most, only if you keep your mind open to it. I did. I happened upon a newspaper with an interview of a renowned actress promoting vegetarianism. She was quoted saying, “Plants are going to wither away anyways.” Didn’t she just mean ‘plants are going to die’ in a more positive way? And so are the animals! That’s when I realized that plants are living beings too. Yeah, very much so!
However, yet again, I maintained my stance on vegetarianism. Why wouldn’t I? I was still fit and fine. Until one day I started getting symptoms aged 22 which my mother started having when she turned 50. A healthy girl, who hardly fell sick, started falling ill now and again. I wasn’t convinced that it was due to my changing food habits. Again, nature came to my rescue. My uncle, a yet another convert, faced serious health problems and I started realizing how a small change in your lifestyle could affect you badly.
What followed was my period of contemplation. I started understanding the concept of food chain better. Being a native of Kerala, my staple food is rice and fish (of course there are some exceptions to this). I have been structured accordingly. It is in my genes. Together with this, I am an active girl. Change in my food habits deteriorated my health. It was more of a lifestyle thing. So, I decided to return to my roots. “But won’t that be selfish?” asked my conscience. So is everyone! Being a vegetarian doesn’t make you any better. Plants cannot speak, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t have feelings. Studies show that vegetation grew well in a positive environment. They are living beings too. “So what should one eat?” Anything and everything that one needs for one’s well-being! Food chain is a vicious circle which no one can escape. Every breath you take is killing a microorganism or bringing another to life. Every life and every death is interconnected and is a part of the universal consciousness.
Our forefathers were wise men. They set certain principles for everyone to follow, which we now call traditions and customs. Each one of those traditions had some meaning behind them. The sad part is that the traditions still remain intact even after years, but the meaning was lost somewhere in the labyrinth of time. It is a misconception that Hindus do not or should not eat meat. The Brahmins were told to refrain from consuming meat because they didn’t need to. They were people who would remain engrossed in books with no time for physical activities. On the other hand, Kshatriyas were warriors, who required meat to be war-fit. Similar were the cases with Vaishyas and Shudras. Food is all about need. It doesn’t have any religious significance. It is a part of the ecological balance. Today, if the entire world turns vegetarian, then the extent of food scarcity would be unimaginable. Meat eaters are important to maintain this balance. Vegetarianism is good, but being a non-vegetarian is not a sin.
In this way, after four years of struggle with my appetite, I finally returned to being a non-vegetarian. And today, I am a proud omnivore among hypocritical herbivores.