One striking feature about the foreign lands is the smiling manner with which everyone whom you ask any question satisfies your query. In case, you fail to understand and repeatedly ask the same question, the smile never disappears.She had a smile on her face as she listened to my query. She said : “Please tell me if you are an Indian. I feel sorry, but I have observed that Indians are the fussiest people about their food. Vegetarianism is, I think, the food made of leaves and vegetables.” I, too, had a smile on my face as I replied : “Who told you that a vegetarian lives by leaves and vegetables only ? I think, you don’t know about the concept of being a ‘vegetarian’.”
Stella Maria said, “It is so simple. He that eats vegetables is a vegetarian.”
I said, “ Vegetarian doesn’t mean this. It has originated from a Greek word vegetas which means totally healthy, fresh and vigorous. It means that our food provides complete energy for the body and keeps the physique healthy. Far from being stale or stinking, it is ever fresh and gives vitality to the organism.”
Stella did manage for my vegetarian food, but she was not satisfied with my definition and explanation. I asked her to have another meeting at some other time.
She said, “Besides me, my friends Rene and Paul are as well deeply interested in it. They will also join us. They are doing research about various experiments on vegetarianism being carried out in different countries. They have also been trying some of them on themselves.”
These two names alerted my attention.
Soon I told her that I wanted to see the unique paintings of Peter Paul Rubens. In fact, Rubens’ paintings were another attraction for my visit to Antwerp. The house, in which this all-time great artist was born on 28th July 1517, has now been purposefully converted into a museum of his beautiful paintings. I had read very little about the life and works of this artist, but I was thrilled with the idea that I would be able to see the paintings themselves. While making his paintings, Rubens would be overwhelmed with so much joy that he could quickly and easily finish a painting even in serious moods and bright colours.
Stella agreed to arrange a visit to his memorial.
I asked her, “Do you know that a unique artist like Rubens was himself a vegetarian? Since he wanted to make immense paintings, he wanted to maintain physical fitness, so he never allowed even the meat-smell nearby him. He believed that meat was hard to digest. It made the mind and body dull. Every day he used to work till 5 o’clock in the evening, then he would go for horse-riding. On returning, he would relish vegetarian food.”
She was amazed with the details I provided during the talk. I had obtained this information from the data collected by French author de Pills whose source was Phillip Rubens, the painter’s nephew.
Then I had a meeting with Stella, Rene and Paul. In the course of our conversation some strange issues were also raised.
Disclosing her embarrassment, she said, “I hope you will excuse me for such a query, but if all the human beings were to turn vegetarian, I think the entire world would be over-crowed with animal beings, out-numbering the humans to a minority. Man would not have a place to stand and the earth would be a huge animal farm inhabited by sheep’s and goats and hens alone.
“I think you’re missing the basic issue”, I said and added, “The meat requirement for the non-vegetarians is ensured by rearing the animals in the farm. Some artificial remedies are also applied to enhance breeding and ensure a greater number of animals and thereby more quota of meat ! If they are left to their natural and free way of life on this earth, their number shall diminish automatically.”
“How’s that ?” Paul doubted.
I said, “My dear friend, the cycle of Nature operates in accordance with the surrounding region and environmental circumstances. The ways of Nature are most wonderful. It gives us, as much as, we need. If you ever try to deprive her of anything, it shall be you that shall be ultimately deprived. All the animals have a habit to breed their species in view of the food quantum and living space available to each of them. This is astonishing, but true. The only exceptional animal is man! Sheep’s and goats and hens are also like other animals. If artificial insemination is not applied, their number shall decrease naturally, and Stella shall have nothing to worry or fear about the Earth being a huge poultry-farm.”
Our discussion on vegetarianism in a beautiful city like Antwerp would seem strange to somebody; it might appear to be a futile exercise. But Stella was interested in vegetarianism and Rene liked vegetarian food, only Paul was a staunch non-vegetarian. The way in which an individual is nurtured plays a decisive role in shaping his or her mental make-up. Indeed, Brusso, the great philosopher, has said that a child by birth is vegetarian but the parents divert him to non-vegetarianism. By temperament, man is vegetarian. People of Greece, where civilization had its earliest dawn, were mostly vegetarian. Pythagoras was himself an active worker of vegetarianism.
Our discussion covered many issues. Sometimes some traditional belief picked up from here and there would be forcefully submitted as an argument, sometimes a non-vegetarian complex, inherent through the years, would burst out into frustration.
Paul was vehement when he argued, “The most essential thing for man for survival and health is protein. This protein requirement is ensured from meat and eggs. Protein deficiency makes people weak and cowardly. Thus non-vegetarianism is inevitable for human health.”
In turn, I put him a question, “Will you please tell me how much protein a human body need?” Then I added further, “In case protein is obtained from meat and eggs alone, how does the mightiest animal, the African elephant ensures its protein requirement, even though it is a vegetarian animal? Which meat food provides vigor to a strong bull or an energetic horse?”
My presentation nonplused Paul. I continued further, “Dear friend, man’s protein requirement is only 4 per cent.”
Rene interrupted and said, “I believe it. The issue of protein requirement is exaggerated by meat and egg producers. Latest research has also disclosed that most human body doesn’t need more of protein.”
I picked up my point and added, “You shall be surprised to know that a bowlful of vegetables or spinach would give you more quantum of protein than what 1 kg of meat would provide and that, too, without the risk!”
Stella was too quick to catch my word ‘little risk’ and soon she asked, “As for protein requirement, how do you evaluate vegetables as having less risk than meat?”
Rene was knowledgeable and he seemed to support my point. He said, “Vegetables and spinach provides you protein alone whereas, besides protein, meat provides you fat and cholesterol which are harmful to human health.”
Stella exclaimed, “Oh, this would mean that protein ensured from vegetables is better and cheaper than protein obtained from meat.”
I said, “This has been conclusively proved some 40 years ago. The simple truth is that meat-producers have been hiding this fact. During the 50’s, experiments were made on rats, with financial assistance from the meat industry. Two scientists associated with the experiment arrived at the conclusion that rats nurtured on Vegetables had a speedy growth and development. After this conclusion was arrived at, the meat industry started facing difficulty. There was a counter effect. Pressure was put on those two scientists to change their statement. One scientist claimed that his experiment is limited to the race of rats only. It is not applicable to any other race. The second scientist claimed further that experiments on rats do not have any similarity with those on human beings. Whatever may be the conclusion, meat producers tried day and night to ensure that those facts did not come out in the open.
Rene said, “Today there is a crusade against animal fat and animal protein. Cancer and heart attack are major diseases of the present age. Non-vegetarian diet is the important solution for them. So, countries like America also opposed this. A well-known thinker, Karlyle has claimed that one cannot change the next era by ethics, but you can change it by dietetics.”
I said, “A well-known writer of England, Bernard Shaw once said that man digs his own grave by his own teeth. He has made his own stomach a dead animal’s cemetery.”
Stella became quiet. Paul’s excitement was still not under control. It is difficult to resolve the old knot. She pleaded with an old and known argument forcefully, “If the whole world becomes vegetarian, the human race would be engulfed in the vessel of starvation. On the one hand, most of the people of the world are non-vegetarians, and on the other hand, corn does not grow to such an extent that the people of the world can easily get vegetarian food.”
Stella said, “I also agree with you. If there is not enough corn to feed today’s world, how is it possible to feed the overpopulated world of tomorrow?” Countering their arguments I said, “As at present, many countries suffer from starvation, poor countries of Africa are in a pitiable condition. Even in India, poor people live in starvation-like conditions. Talking about India, there is an annual production of 230 lakh tons of meat in the country. For example, if there is one marginal decrease of 10 per cent, it would be of immense benefit. If surplus land is available as a result of this 10 per cent decrease is diverted to food production, it would be greatly advantageous. As for America, if food grain cultivation is carried out in the farms where cattle-breeding for meat-production is carried out, it would provide food to people five times more. There is an added advantage that it would also eliminate the threat of animal-killing which is endangering the human existence itself.
Paul exclaimed, “How is this?”
Stella added, “This would mean that if you want to save the human race from starvation, you shall have to shun non-vegetarianism and turn to vegetarianism.”
Rene said, “Would this put an end to killing many animals?”
Paul was jocular in his tone when he said, “In that case, man would be extremely cowardly. A tiger-hunter is really a brave man!”
I rejected his logic and said, “Excuse me, but I fail to understand your definition of bravery. A tiger-hunter keeps himself away at a very safe distance, occupying a seat on a raised platform on a tree and that, too, in the company of a marksman, and you would call him a brave man! In terms of intelligence, the tiger is as good as a small child. In no case, would such tiger-hunting would be an act of bravery.”
Stella had another argument. She said, “Maybe all that you say is right. But I fail to understand that a man would not eat meat for the sake of the flesh of his body.”
I said, “In fact, our body is made for vegetarian food. Carnivorous animals do not have longer intestines, as we humans have. Humans have flat chewing teeth, they have hands to hold their food-items, and their saliva is alkaline – all these suggest that man is basically a vegetarian animal and his body is most suited to vegetarian food as against non-vegetarian food. One of the researchers of the Academy of Medicine, Paris has derived a conclusion that a vegetarian needs five times less time than a non-vegetarian to get relaxed. Besides the physical advantage, there is mental advantage also. He also adds that a vegetarian’s capacity to face, and solve, the problems and difficult issues of life is two to three times more than that of a non-vegetarian.”
Paul had another aggressive argument for pro-non-vegetarianism; he said, “I think, you don’t bother about the human food. It is very strange that you want to starve the humans and sustain the animals. Our country, Belgium, is totally non-vegetarian and two of our food dishes viz. carbonades and waterzooi are popular all over the world. These dishes, a craving for the foreigners, are made of beef and fish. Here the people are fond of relishing different species of fish. Vegetarians, like you, won’t get suitable food anywhere. Poor vegetarian! Some of them have to eat potato-chips on the road-side, but the tomato sauce on the chips is a non-vegetarian item. I think, you don’t intend to starve this country by your sophisticated arguments favoring vegetarianism.”
Paul’s argument was very aggressive. Stella’s displeasure against Paul’s offensive method and angry mood was evident on her face. It seemed that she did not like the disrespect that was shown to one whom they had invited as a guest. However, Paul was right in saying that ‘the whole of Belgium was full of non-vegetarians’.
But I was very quiet and polite. I said, “Mr. Paul! When you eat meat of any animal, I think, you don’t believe that you eat it’s meat alone, you are also gulping down all the vegetables that the animal has so far eaten. One interesting and specific calculation has revealed that when you enjoy a dish of a 1 kg of meat, you gulp down 10 kg of vegetables simultaneously, but unwittingly. This would mean that a single non-vegetarian eats away the meal of ten vegetarians. In terms of an entire life’s food-stuff of an individual, a single non-vegetarian eats away food-stuff fifty times more than that of a vegetarian.”
Stella added, “It would mean that non-vegetarians are the root cause of starvation on this earth.”
Rene had also something to say. He said, “You talked about the starvation resulting from food being eaten away by the non-vegetarians. But I feel that the non-vegetarians have not only caused starvation on this earth, but they have also done other damage as well. Am I right ?”
I gave a new ideological turn to Rene’s argument and said, “Mr. Rene, you should also consider the issue of pastureland being provided to the animals to satisfy the meat requirements of the non-vegetarians. In my own country, I have seen lands being barren and denuded because of being used as pastureland. The entire Aravalli mountain in Rajasthan thus looks dry and barren. Now of course our government has undertaken a project to raise grass on this mountain, with Japanese aid.”
Stella Maria said, “This means that man should shun non-vegetarianism not because of pity, religion or sympathy towards animals, but for the sake of his own existence and for Mother Earth.”
I was now enthusiastic, I said, “My very contention is this. Have you ever seen sheep’s grazing on the farmland? They pull out the grass from the very root with the result that in over the course of time, the land becomes worthless for farming and ultimately it adds to the total barren land of the world.”
Paul was now very uneasy. He said, “Your contention is that non-vegetarianism is harmful for mankind and also for the earth and land. Have you any other evil to abuse it?”
I said, “Dear friend, how many evils should I mention? A large section of the population does not get adequate drinking water, and while slaughtering the animals in the slaughterhouse needs immense quantity of water. No country having a scarcity of water can afford such a huge wastage.”
Rene said, “In everything, you say you have some calculations to support it. How about water being used for non-vegetarianism?”
I laughed and replied, “The calculation in this count is that production of 1 kg of meat requires 50 times more water than would be needed for 1 kg of wheat!”
Stella almost screamed, “Oh! This wastage of water is too much to be excused.”
Then I added, “Stella, the story does not end there. The limbs and other parts of the animals having been slaughtered are thrown into the flowing waters of a river, pond or canal. They rot and stink in those waters and pollute the flowing waters so much so that any human or animal will have a fatal disease if he drinks such water.”
This touched Paul and he was really moved. He said suddenly, “How horrifying, how harsh and merciless is such an act? This non-vegetarianism eats away at living humans on the earth. Dear friend, so far I have only enjoyed non-vegetarianism, but now I assure you that I will take no other food but vegetarian.”
Rene was very happy. Stella had some curiosity in her eyes to know more about this. We decided to discuss the issue while enjoying the vegetarian food.