Friday, 17 February 2012 think you're a vegetarian?

After a hiatus of a few months, this blog is back in action - partly due to the encouragement received from some of you readers out there who have sent me several messages to get writing again! A warm "thank you" to you - you know who you are!

A very close friend recently sent me an excerpt from Rujuta Diwekar's book "Don't lose your mind, lose your weight". For the uninitiated, Diwekar describes herself as India's pre-eminent fitness professional. And perhaps she might just be right - after all she boasts a clientele comprising Anil Ambani, Kareena Kapoor, Saif Ali Khan, Konkona Sen Sharma and Preity Zinta.  So her advice must be worth the £s and $s!

Reading Diwekar's excerpt got me thinking about why being a vegetarian is so important to me.

Now, I should clarify at this stage that my choice to be a vegetarian is purely personal.  I have no problems with eating my vegetarian meal at a restaurant table with other diners consuming non-vegetarian delicacies.  My vegetarianism extends to me and my home only. 

Why am I a vegetarian, you might ask?

The simple answer is that for me it feels right. I grew up in a vegetarian household where meat (eggs are an exception!) is generally barred. However, that has not precluded anyone from enjoying the delicious seafood or nyama choma offerings of Mombasa.  Case in point - my father has always enjoyed and continues to enjoy seafood and other non-vegetarian food, but of course, outside the home.  That is his choice, which we all respect, just as I would respect anyone else's desire to enjoy non-vegetarian food at a place other than my home.  

As for me, it has, throughout my teenage years and beyond, always remained open for me to enjoy non-vegetarian delicacies.  But I have chosen not to. Why? It is due to my predisposed inclination to attempt the practice of reduced himsa (note the use of the word "attempt" - it will take a lifetime to convert that attempt into an achievement!) so as to progress towards ahimsa.  

Ahimsa, as some of you will know, is the concept of non violence, popularised by Mahatma Gandhi in the early 20th century. Of course, ahimsa has been known to originate from pre-historic sources and is a key tenet of Jainism.  But, ahimsa, if it is to be relevant today needs to be redefined, I think.  My point is this - you cannot proclaim yourself to be a practitioner of ahimsa in its totality - one can only be an aspiring student of reduced himsa.  Note the difference.

I was brought up in a moderately Jain family, but let it be clear that my desire to remain vegetarian is far from anything to do with Jainism.  Nor is it related to my East African Gujarati identity. You see, it is more to do with Gandhi's impressions on me at what I can only call the formative years of my adulthood.  At age 14, I read Gandhi's autobiography (The Story of My Experiments with Truth), the encouragement for which I have only one person to thank - Jyotiben Master.  Although I do not believe that all of Gandhi's principles are relevant in today's socio-political forum, I do think that, for me, ahimsa (as defined above - reduced himsa) through vegetarianism can be relevant and is achievable. 

So there you have them- my reasons for being vegetarian.  If they appear to be incomprehensible or irrational, then I urge you to read Gandhi's autobiography.  It best encapsulates the subtleties and emotions of being a vegetarian and you will hopefully then begin to understand why being vegetarian can, to another person, "feel right". (Just for the record in case you are wondering - I'm not a PETA activitist - they have their own mainstream agenda, which I cannot and do not subscribe to, in its entirety.) (Oh - and also please spare me the argument of why I continue to eat plants if I'm so concerned about being "compassionate to all living beings!" Let's be real here - plants are at the bottom of the food chain and being vegetarian is an attempt to, as I describe above, achieve reduced himsa. So, by cutting out everything above plants in the food chain, one makes progressive steps towards reducing one's "himsa footprint" - enough said.)

So, going back to the original point - having linked my being a vegetarian to reduced himsa, I couldn't believe that I had overlooked an important aspect of being vegetarian, which Rujuta Diwekar so easily explains in her book. She says:

"A lot of people take immense pride in being vegetarians. The idea behind vegetarianism is that of ahimsa, non violence or compassion towards all. So when you order your veggie Mac with Coke, veggie delight pizza with Pepsi, puri, bhaji, shrikhand, chhole bhatura, jalebi, churma, rasgulla etc., is there no himsa there? You are killing your own stomach.  Too much food is a form of cruelty too; you are being cruel to your own stomach."

Diwekar reminds us vegetarians that if being vegetarian is about practising compassion and non violence towards all, it includes yourself! Ahimsa is not as superficial as ordering eggless pastry, or forcing your neighbourhood to turn into a "pyoor vegetarian" one. If we continue to load our stomachs then all benefits from vegetarianism are lost. A stuffed stomach is a much more pitiful condition than the chicken in the stuffy carriers going over the speed breakers.

Think twice before you over-indulge in these - you're not being "vegetarian"!

So, veg or non-veg - it doesn't matter what you are. What really matters is whether you are being kind to yourself and your stomach.  Of course, for those of you who have eaten out with me, you will know that I now have a lot to implement - thanks to Kareena Kapoor's nutritionist. Smaller food portions - here I come!

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