Apr 8, 2012

Food for Thought


I was ten. Me and my cousins had fed and played with a goat for days. On the eighth day of Dashain, a group of men led the goat out. We knew exactly what was going to happen. But I guess we liked goat soup too much to protest. None of us said a single word as the goat was beheaded right in front of us. Not even at its pitiful bleat just before the “maar”. Not even when a nearby calf bayed all day long. We looked at each other guiltily. “The calf knows what happened to the goat” said my sister fearfully. “She thinks she is next” whispered my cousin. The heavy feeling hung in the air as we fanned fresh goat entrails.

**

Fish were stacked thigh deep in a tank. There was barely enough water to cover them. The ones on top were flipping about, but the squashed ones at the bottom couldn't even move. Once in a while, one of them would flip right out of the tank and land on the floor with a thud, where it tossed desperately. At that point I truly knew what “fish out of water” meant. More often than not, someone would carelessly step on the jumping fish, splaying its innards far and wide.

**

A man carrying hens on a bike. Their legs were tied together, and they were hanging upside down from the leg guard. Apart from what the position was doing to their blood flow, their heads occasionally struck the road with an audible “thump”. In a nearby truck, hundreds of buffaloes were squashed together.

**

A cute chicken with fluffy feathers and big brown eyes stared at me. Until the butcher pulled it by its neck. I dared not think of what happened to the screaming chicken, though I carried its remains home. I was met by my cat. It was the cutest thing ever with big brown eyes just like the chicken’s. In another world, that chicken could be someone’s beloved pet. That night I felt like I was eating my own cat.

**

I read an article. “How would you feel if an alien dangled a chocolate in front of you? When you leaned forward to take a bite, the chocolate pierced the roof of your mouth. And you were hoisted up bleeding to alien’s lair and thrown into a bin with several other bleeding people?” The imagery haunted me for days. Much later someone told me to think of it as a lip piercing. Oh no, that fish did not want any piercing!

**

I read a story. A reluctant hero is forced to go hunting with his friends. The hunters follow a pair of monkeys, mother and child. The hero watches the mother loves and protects its baby, and thinks of his own mother. The hunters chase other animals for hours, but hit nothing, and are frustrated. They turn to the mother-child duo. The hero tries to stop them, but alas, someone fires, and the mother comes tumbling down. The baby runs wailing to its mother, who throws one last accusatory look at the hunters before dying. The baby desperately tries to wake her up. The hero’s heart sank at his inability to stop the cruelty, and so did mine. All the sadness of hearing the calf bay, watching the goat die and fish jump, came crashing down on me. I cried for weeks, and then cried some more. I began noticing random acts of cruelty. Little girls biting the bottoms off of ants, little boys burying dragonflies alive. Hitherto unnoticed Buddhist and Jain literature now leapt out of the pages. “What’s you excuse for still eating meat?” they constantly drummed inside my head. Finally I couldn’t take it anymore. As I helped my father cook chicken, I told him I wanted none of it.

**

Many thought my vegetarianism was a passing fad, or that I was doing it for my vegetarian mother, because I was once a famous carnivore. I am often asked why I changed. I try not to talk about these stories because they make everyone sad and I feel like a wet blanket. Second, I am scared of breaking down because these stories are so painful. But just because I don’t talk about it doesn’t mean vegetarianism is not important to me, and I would appreciate it if people did not joke about stealthily slipping chicken into my food. Not funny.

**

I had my fifteenth vegetarian anniversary in December, and I am increasingly asked if I can bear to look at meat. Well, it’s definitely disgusting, but no more disgusting than all the filth you see every day in Kathmandu. (I and some friends once survived the Taleju courtyard full of bleeding carcasses.) What bothers me more is the thought behind it: taking life. I do believe that a beetle’s life is as important to it as yours to you.

**

I try not to be nasty to meat eaters, because I believe most people are not cruel but the issue is simply not on their radars. In return, I ask them to think before spouting silly dialogues like “how can you enjoy life without meat?” Sure, meat is delicious, but not at cost of compassion.

**

Many people tell em that it’s impossible to be completely vegetarian, because you never know what’s in packaged food. But that shouldn’t stop me from doing my best. I have been asked if being vegetarian makes me happy. No, not exultingly happy, because it doesn’t really solve anything in the big picture. But it does relieve my guilt, I feel that I am doing my bit to reduce violence in the world. No, it’s not much, but that shouldn’t stop me from doing what is right.
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5 comments:

Shyam said...

I am a non-veg, but I am beginning to feel the same way about eating meat. I may not stop eating any time soon, but I think meat-eaters can also help reduce cruelty--like through legislation, education, etc.
And your post also reminded me of the story "The Most Dangerous Game" by Richard Connell. Here it is online: http://www.classicreader.com/book/1317/1/

sewa said...

Thats a wonderful story to add on to mine. And glad that u r considering giving up meat :) i do agree abt legislations for better conditions for animals

Subodh said...

Wonderful vignettes from your childhood. Enjoyed reading them and I feel the same way now though I was a mad hunter then. I have posted a blog on "maar", pls visit:

http://historylessonsnepal.blogspot.com/2009/11/dancing-with-khukri.html

Cheers,

Troubled Thinker said...

I know exactly how you feel. I remember one time in grade school, a hog truck was in the lane next to us at a stoplight. After the initial shock of the smell, I realized they were all headed to their deaths...and then my plate the next morning! I've oscillated between omnivore and vegetarianism for health reasons, but I must admit, compassion is often neglected in my considerations. Hopefully one day soon I can fully commit to vegetarianism! :)

sewa said...

i hope so too, troubled thinker :)

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