I am Mostly-Vegetarian. I can’t call myself Vegetarian anymore, as that would be breaking my own rule. I was raised a very strict vegetarian. Eggs were barely okay in my home, but still eaten (much to my father’s chagrin- he was a very strict, orthodox Hindu). Dairy products were normal fare (as is the case in most East-Indian households). The idea that simply picking pepperoni off of pizza made it vegetarian turned my stomach. I still scoff at people who claim they are vegetarian, but eat fish and/or chicken and turkey. Ummm…fish and birds are animals too, you know. Much of this vegetarianism came out of the fact that my family is Hindu, and ahimsa (non-violence) is a main tenet in Hinduism. Many- but not all- Hindu’s refuse to eat meat, as it involves killing. I have always admired (and still do admire) this belief.
Growing up, when asked what religion I was I automatically answered Hindu (*1). Partway through university I realized I wasn’t particularly religious anymore, and hadn’t been for a long time. I wasn’t an atheist either, but telling people I was a Hindu made me feel like a poser, given that eastern religions and cultures were becoming increasingly the “in” thing, and anything Christian/Anglo-Saxon so utterly “not cool.” I began answering people’s questions about my religious affiliations with “non-practicing Hindu.” I still consider myself a non-practicing Hindu. I don’t agree with the caste-system (*2), which is fairly integral to establishing a Hindu way of life (both in ancient and modern times). I am no longer sure of reincarnation in the way I once was. I don’t have a religious sense of Karma, but I do believe that what goes around comes around. I still believe in ahimsa, but don’t believe eating meat is necessarily a violent act. I think it patronizing to group hunting and meat-eating with any kind of non-ahimsa when considering the respectful way North American aboriginal peoples hunted. Especially so when you realize Hindu’s come from a tropical environment where fresh plant foods are available year round, whereas the native peoples of North America survived off a land where plant foods are available maybe 6 months of the year.
Anyway. In my late-university years I started eating fish. This transpired because I looked increasingly to science, history, and anthropology for answers as I grew less and less religious. Although humans certainly don’t need to eat meat the way cats do, meat-eating in nature is the normal order of things- and who are we to say it is a sin, and why is this sin only applicable to humans? We’re really not that different from animals at all- in fact, we *are* animals. I do not think humans should eat meat just because they can, or just because wild animals do or just because our hunter-gatherer ancestors did. I think those are feeble arguments for the pro-meat side. I do not think humans need meat at all, and I am fully aware eating lower on the food chain is far more sustainable than not doing so. But refusing to eat meat for religious reasons just did not make sense to me anymore, especially when considering the environmental and anthropological factors that influence religious beliefs.
Shortly after I started eating fish, I ended up eating some organic chicken while at dinner at a new friend’s home. This happened mainly because I realized my friend thought I ate chicken, and I didn’t want to offend her and her family…and since I had already made the leap to eating animals that swim, eating animals with wings wasn’t that big a stretch for me. Since then, I’ve allowed myself to eat chicken and turkey when offered at someones home (and often I quite like and look forward to it, particularly during barbecue season or Christmas time with the in-laws), but I never make it at home, and rarely order it at restaurants unless organic and free-range. I do cook fish on occasion, and happily order it when eating out (although given how unsustainable many of the fisheries are, I’m thinking of at least partially abstaining. More on this in a later post). Ultimately, if I eat meat I want it to be free-range, raised cruelty-free, and sustainable. I haven’t made the jump to red meat yet. I don’t exactly know why, but it may be that eating animals from my own class is a little too close. I don’t eat beef because my family is still very Hindu, and they would be horrified if I ate cow (*3). For me it’s not a battle worth fighting. The idea of eating pork turns my stomach given studies indicating pig organs could be used for life saving transplants in humans…so pigs are a little WAY too close. I thought about eating lamb once, since my aunt makes apparently delicious (I think organic) lamb samosas, but I couldn’t work up the nerve ultimately. I figured I had a thing against eating baby animals, but I suspect it would’ve been the same result if the samosas were made with mutton. I used to say I’m Ethically-and-Culturally-Confused about why I ate certain meats and not others, but I am gradually coming out of this fog.
So, I am no longer Vegetarian, and I don’t claim to be. I think calling myself Mostly Vegetarian is okay though, and hopefully not misleading. My father, the very strict and very sensitive vegetarian, was once accidentally fed meat by a hospital cafeteria when he was a patient. My mother tells me that when he found out later, he was so stung and upset that he cried and cried. If my father were alive he probably would disown me, but I feel that at least I am appreciating and respecting where my food comes from, and thus practicing my own brand of ahimsa. I hope he can find a way to understand.
- (“…yeah we believe in reincarnation…yeah, a lot of us don’t eat meat. …yeah, we’re the ones with the caste system. No, technically we don’t have lots of Gods, it’s just that we believe God has many faces and is in everything and is everywhere. …no, we don’t do human sacrifice- Indiana Jones was hugely inaccurate. No..we don’t eat snakes either. Yeah, cows are sort of “sacred” but not in the way you think. No, I don’t know if that’s where the term HolyCow! comes from, but it may be from that. You know, there actually ARE Hindu’s who eat beef in addition to other meat. Well, Hindus aren’t all alike in much the same way Christians aren’t all alike.”)
- I like to believe the caste system was never meant to be so rigidly based on birth and was instead based on skills and ability, and that it was a very dynamic system of classification. The religious theory describing the importance of a caste-system indicates to me that it was meant to show everyone- whether they be leaders, warriors, merchants or labourers- has an integral place in a properly functioning community. It’s too bad it’s such a warped and perverted belief currently.
- My mother’s cousin eats beef. When in India during my last visit, he took me for a walk to explore his city, and we walked past a meat shop. He told me that beef was delicious, but to not let his wife know he ate it. He (and possibly his son) is not the only Hindu I know who eats beef. My father’s side of the family, by contrast, were disgusted when I told them that I ate eggs, although very forgiving because they felt sorry for me. I guess because I live in Canada- such a cold country- they felt I had no choice but to eat eggs to stay healthy. I decided it best to not argue with this logic.