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Tuesday, July 23, 2024

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Vegans and vegetarians

In the animal world we find animals that feed on plants (herbivorous), animals that eat meat (carnivorous) and some animals that eat all types of food, especially both plants and meat (omnivorous).

Human beings who are supposed to be superior to animals belong to two categories: those who eat only vegetables (vegetarians) and those who eat both meat and vegetables (non-vegetarians).

Unlike animals, human beings are difficult to understand. Those who eat meat, fish an eggs are quite happy with what they do. On the other hand, there are others who do not consume meat and fish but relish eggs. But they call themselves vegetarians.

One day, I met an Australian woman who was eating eggs and vegetables at a posh hotel. I casually asked her whether she was a vegetarian.

“Yes, of course,” she said.

“As a vegetarian is it OK to eat eggs?” I asked.

“Yes, eggs give me the proteins not found in vegetables. And, mind you, eggs are not animals.”

At the other extreme you meet people who do not eat any kind of animal food - meat, fish or eggs. They also avoid drinking milk or wearing shoes made of leather. The late Dr. E. W. Adikaram refused to eat cakes and biscuits because eggs had been used to make them. These extremists are called vegans.

According to Dr. Dean Ornish, Founder and President of the non-profit Preventive Medicine Research Institute and clinical professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, a vegan low fat diet combined with yoga and exercise can help fight prostate cancer.

A vegan diet is low in fat because they eat a lot of vegetables and fruit. The research findings show that such a diet can switch on genes that fight disease, blocking others that might promote cancer.

I have met a number of vegans during my trips to India. They say they have become vegans by choice. They do not eat meat, fish or poultry. They also do not use other animals products such as eggs, dairy products, honey, leather, fur, silk, wool, cosmetics and soaps derived from animal products. As a result, almost all vegans walk bare-footed.

The logic behind being a vegan is simple and straight. Vegans claim that they do not want to promote the meat industry by consuming eggs and dairy products. How does this happen? Once the dairy cows and eggs-laying hens become too old to be productive, they are sold to the butcher. They believe that the lifestyle of a vegan is humane.

Whether you are a vegan or a vegetarian, you should not try to impose your standards on others. Vegans and vegetarians, no doubt, have a right to be heard. They can educate the people on the health-giving qualities of a vegetarian meal. For instance, even non-vegetarians should occasionally experience a vegetarian meal that includes plenty of vegetables, fruit, leafy greens, whole grain products, nuts, seeds and legumes.

For more than six decades I used to eat meat, fish and eggs. However, after reading many books and newspaper articles written by erudite writers such as Dr. D. P. Athukorale, Dr. E. W. Adikaram and listening to Buddhist sermons delivered by Ven. Bandarawela Amithananda, I became a vegetarian a few years ago. If you want to be a vegetarian, you have to do so through conviction.

Medical opinion is that vegan diet is free of cholesterol and is generally low in fat. Therefore, those who stick to a vegetarian diet do not run the risk of major chronic diseases such as heart disease and cancer. However, a medical specialist tells me that vitamin D is not found in the vegan diet. He suggests that anybody can get vitamin D by exposing themselves to sunlight for 10-15 minutes a day.

Meanwhile, there are those who condemn meat eating wholesale. Sometimes, they refuse to sit at a table with cooked “dead bodies” lying in dishes. Then there are others who lose their temper if they find a piece of maldive fish in one of the curries. These are matters to be regretted because everybody has a right to eat what they like.

Once we were having meals at a restaurant in Colombo, my vegetarian friend got up at once and started shouting at the waiter. On closer examination I found a tiny sprat on his plate.

In hotels which serve both vegetarian and non-vegetarian food, such situations can crop up every now and then. If you are a vegetarian, avoid patronising such hotels.When you attend a wedding you cannot expect a vegetarian meal. The majority of the guests will look for meat, fish or eggs to titillate their taste buds.

However, there will always by choice vegetables curries for vegans and vegetarians. When you sit at a table to enjoy your vegetarian meal, do not be upset if another guest sits beside you with a plate full of non-vegetarian food items. It is against etiquette to leave the table simply because you cannot bear the smell of meat! A lot of research has been done on body odour of vegetarians and non-vegetarians.

In one such study conducts at the Department of Anthropology, Faculty of Humanities, Charles University, Czech Republic, it was found that the body odour of men fed with a vegetarian diet was “significantly more attractive, more pleasant, and less intense.” It is common sense that what you eat affects your body odour. For instance, you can feel the difference after eating a garlic curry.

The popular saying that you are what you eat is loaded with meaning. If you regularly eat meat, you cannot possibly be an animal lover. However, meat-eaters argue that they do not kill animals but simply buy the meat at a stall. If you apply deductive logic, their claim appears to be fallacious. If people do not eat meat, nobody will kill animals and sell their flesh at stalls.

Meat eating and Buddhism appear to be another controversial subject. Some Bhikkus consume meat when offered. Others shun meat eating. The Buddha was a great humanitarian and an animal lover. Therefore it is not proper to offer meat for alms. By doing so we are spoiling the very essence of Buddhism.

The world’s great spiritual leaders had been vegetarians. The Buddha was a notable vegetarian although there are claims that he had consumed meat offered by a devotee. Pupul Jayakar’s biography of J. Krishnamurti says that the great sage too was a vegetarian. He was not a vegan because at times he had drunk milk. Sathya Sai Baba too is a vegetarian. His food is especially prepared in a certain household and is sent to his ashram every day.

According to a recent news item even Veddahs have given up eating meat. Meanwhile, vegetarianism is gaining ground in the West as well. Despite man’s inhumanity to man, it is heartening to note his compassion towards animals.

Human society is so complex that nobody should expect everybody to be vegetarians or vegans. It is by choice and conviction that you become a vegetarian. But vegetarians should not treat non-vegetarians as social outcasts. They too are children of the earth which is home for both humans and animals.

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