We have just returned from a trip to India. On the flight back to the U.S , lunch was being served and the stewardess asked us ” Veg or Non – Veg ?”
My usual answer would have been ” Non-Veg” but this time , without conscious thought, I answered ” Veg”.
A trip to India ,(or anywhere in South East Asia), does that to you. Unlike the U.S or Europe where meat comes in neat, shrink-wrapped packages , in these places one is uncomfortably aware of the source of meat. During our Indian trip, we often found ourselves trailing a poultry carrier, it’s seven tiers of wire mesh cages packed with Leghorns seemingly resigned to their fate. Later on in the day, we would see those same carriers , this time with their cages empty except for a few feathers. In India poultry is most often sold live with many customers choosing their bird from cages in the rear of the store. It is promptly dispatched , cleaned and cut to order. When I was young, we never had chicken at home because my father could not bring himself to go to the poultry market and choose a bird.We ate chicken curry in restaurants but never at home.
In Pune ( formerly Poona), I accompanied my brother-in-law to the fish market and found it surprisingly clean and odorless unlike the adjacent poultry market. Except for the spiny lobsters, all the other fish ( seabass, three kinds of p0mfret, kingfish, mackerel, smelts and sundry others that I was unfamiliar with ) were dead and neatly laid out on beds of ice. I did not feel any compunction in picking out a couple of mackerel and some shrimp.
Isn’t that always the case ? Except for vegans, who eschew all meat and fish and animal products , we all make our compromises. Some of us do not eat anything that ” can look back at us”. Some eat only eggs ; others eat chicken but not lamb or beef. With Buddhism’s reverence for life ,all life, Buddhists are not supposed to eat living things but have their own ways of getting past this prohibition. In Burma, fishermen rationalise their actions by saying that they are ” saving the fish from drowning”.In N.Y.City, there used to be a Tibetan restaurant that served beef but not shrimp on the grounds that, at least this way, they would minimise the taking of life. I myself don’t eat veal and lobster. Not entirely rational, but that’s where I draw the line.
It’s been almost a week since I got back to the U.S and I haven’t eaten any non-veg. It hasn’t been difficult because Indian cuisine has a wide variety of vegetarian dishes. I’m under no illusion that my vegetarian phase will be permanent ; my Super Bowl party will almost certainly feature at least some non-veg dishes. What is certain though is that I will be eating much less non-vegetarian food from now on.