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To eat or not to eat: Ethical vegetarianism and morally correct eating

Are we morally correct in eating only plants because they are non-living beings? Would it be justified to eat an animal which was close to the average life expectancy because in doing so, we may save it the rigours of age-related illnesses?

 Zubin Dsouza


There is a whole bunch of you who would smack me on my head if I came up and said that lacto-vegetarians (which constitute 63 per cent of the Indian population along with millions of adherents across the globe) were each responsible for the deaths of at least two cows over a lifetime.

Judging from my rudimentary math and estimating that most people would definitely live way into their 70s, we are looking at an average of 30 million cows a year and close to a little less than two and a half billion over seventy years.

We all have blood on our hands!

I admit that I have a flair for drama and that I do tend to be over the top in my comparative prose.

Surely you are waiting for me to come up with an explanation. I mean, no one should be able to accuse a vegetarian of cow slaughter without having facts to back it up!

Cows like the rest of the mammal kingdom need to be pregnant in order to lactate. As soon as a calf is born, it is separated from its mother so the milk may be reserved for human consumption. To ensure that there is a continuous flow of milk; artificial insemination is used to ensure that the cow is pregnant for almost a continuous period of time.

Left to their own devices and with moderate care, cows can live to see their twentieth birthday. With interference from humans and our constant need to upgrade the milk production, they drop milk output by the time they reach five. Cows are definitely not very economical to maintain and so they are slotted for the slaughter house or abandoned.

Now you know the truth about why poor old Buttercup was not seen around Farmer Fred’s house after we celebrated her fifth birthday!

Even if you find my math figures ludicrous; even if you are willing to consider only a tenth of the amount, we are still looking at the deaths of three million cows a year!

So do we stop eating? Am I asking you to eat the cows that would anyway be left to slaughter?

Neither! This article is about ethical eating and we are going to try and understand a complex subject with just five hundred more words. Vegetarians claim that meat-eaters are a cruel lot and hurt sentient beings. Meat eaters claim that destroying forest cover to grow crops kills more animals than being non-vegetarian.

What does one do in such a situation?

There is in fact no real white or black explanation but an extensive shade of grey.

Are we morally correct in eating only plants because they are non-living beings? Would it be justified to eat an animal which was close to the average life expectancy because in doing so, we may save it the rigours of age-related illnesses?

The choices that we make are never going to be purely right or completely wrong. We are definitely going to see a whole load of in-betweens! Do not think that the words ‘ethical eating’ that are used liberally in this article are actually a way to subliminally convince you to eat grass and forage for roots. I would like you to reach the conclusions that you do entirely on your own.

The facts are that plants also have feelings and when they sense that they are being attacked, they produce chemicals to repulse the attack. These chemical warnings or deterrents are also shared with other plants in the neighbourhood who in turn release their own sets of chemicals proving that foliage also have feelings and do not take too kindly to being cut down.

Now we get into the more complicated ethics of ethical eating. Were the animals caged in pens or were they to roam free? If they were cattle, were they grass fed or corn and formula fed? Were they force fed?

Were the vegetables organically grown or were they doused with harmful chemicals? Did we pay a fair price or would a little more ensure that the farmer did not go into the next planting season overburdened with debts? Were the plants picked by children? Did our choices ensure that they did not go to school?

Of course there also is a fair bit of headache that is involved. Do we choose a vegetable that is local but sprayed with pesticides or do we choose one that is imported but then obviously organic?

And if you thought that ethical eating was only a way to create a fabulous figure or losing weight, it is the total opposite. While you may attain a dream body by making the right eating choices, ethical eating is actually about you understanding that everything is not about you.

Ethical eating wants you to think beyond, dream beyond and grow beyond!

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