India's tradition of vegetarianism is so strong it is not unusual for people here to sometimes presume that I do not eat meat simply because I am from India. Imagine what a tragedy it is, then, that increasingly Indians today are beginning to discard this glorious legacy of compassion.
The reasons are many: chains like McDonald's and KFC have made inroads into the country over the last few years, associating meat-eating with being modern, hip and glamorous.
Then there's the false belief that eating meat makes one stronger, when modern studies repeatedly show that a vegetarian or vegan diet is much healthier than a meat-based one.
Desi has this amusing story: as a child, his parents -- who were pure vegetarians -- decided that he should eat an egg each day because it would be good for him. Each morning, he would be dispatched to the grocery store to buy an egg. He would then take it to the back porch (his mother would never allow an egg into her kitchen), mix the raw egg into a glass of hot milk and sugar, and gulp it down.
Like Desi's parents, many well-intentioned vegetarians -- including a number of them in my extended family-- have started encouraging their young to eat meat. This, of course, does not mean that everyone in India is now eating meat: many Indian vegetarians wouldn't dream of it. But it is also true that more people than ever before are.
Here in the United States, the trend is moving in the opposite direction. Animal activists have been crying themselves hoarse for decades now, creating ever-growing awareness about a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle. It is estimated that 5 percent of the population of the United States is now vegetarian and almost 1 percent describe themselves as vegan-- a trend reflected by restaurants which seem to be increasingly offering vegetarian and sometimes even vegan options. What's wonderful is that young adults, teens and children are the fastest-growing demographic among American vegetarians, raising the hope for a future where animals are seen only as sentient creatures we share this earth with and not as dinner.
The growing awareness has spurred the U.S. government into passing some laws protecting animals, especially those farmed for food, although most animal-rights aficionados would agree that these are far from enough. But they are a beginning.
Undercover videos from groups like the Humane Society of the United States and PETA show unspeakable atrocities that are committed every day in factory farms against captive, voiceless creatures who, we all know, feel pain just as surely as we do but have no way to defend themselves: cows who are crowded so tightly into enclosures and pumped so heavily with hormones, they break their legs and injure themselves terribly while waiting to become meat or be milked. Bulls who are castrated without being sedated or given any kind of pain-killers. Pigs who are kept in pens so small, they cannot sit or move for life (just imagine that!). Chicken whose beaks are lopped off when they are just babies, and then crowded into cages where they will live the rest of their lives without spreading a wing or seeing the open sky. When it's time for these chicken to turn into nuggets and burgers, these undercover videos show, they are killed mercilessly, sometimes by being flung against a wall.
In India, too, there is a small but growing movement among animal-rights activists to draw attention to the cruel practices of the animal-food industry. One group that I recently came across, and wanted to give a shout out to, is Sharan, which calls itself a "sanctuary for health and reconnection to animals and nature."
Their Web site is a great resource for Indians interested in leading a compassionate, healthy lifestyle. They even have a newsletter with great information on holistic health issues and animal-rights abuses in India.
On a similar note, I have been reading how big-box retailers like Walmart and Tesco have started setting up shop in India. Sooner rather than later, they will no doubt drive out of business small, locally-owned stores in the areas where they set up, much as they do here in the United States.
Which is why I also wanted to mention the 3/50 Project, which was brought to my attention by new blogger Jaya of Jayaspace.
The project offers a clever strategy for people to boost local economies by patronizing independently owned businesses. Buying and eating locally is always a win-win situation because you are not just doing your community a good turn, you are also saving the environment by not depending on stuff that has to be transported cross-country. Best of all, it is easy enough to practice this anywhere in the world.
Do take a moment to read Jaya's description of the 3/50 project here.
Enjoy your Thursday, all!