Nurturing Young Minds

Nurturing Young Minds
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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Virtues of Vegetarianism
 Saving earth's future by turning vegetarian


Though in the Hebrew Bible is recorded the belief that in the paradise the earliest human being had not eaten flesh, evidence suggests that the Homo Sapiens had developed a taste for meat soon after they found themselves on the mundane earth.  In a global perspective, vegetarianism would not be found to be a very prominent strain in the cultural make up of the peoples of the larger parts of the world.    In spite of the often repeated belief credited to the findings of science that the human food canal is so designed by nature as to be friendly to vegetarian food alone, the carnivorous tendencies of the human beings across the gamut of time and space have been found to be amazingly strong.  Eating of animal flesh, sometimes combined with cannibalism, found widespread endorsement among the prehistoric tribal religions, which dominated the globe prior to the emergence of the major world religions of the day.  Though cannibalism has declined amongst the existing tribal people with the growth of civilisation, consumption of animal flesh has by all accounts remained largely undiminished.  Hinduism, the oldest among the major religions of the day has not been completely unequivocal in renouncing animal sacrifice and flesh eating, with mainly the dominant Vaishnav sects unambiguously advocating complete avoidance of animal sacrifice and eating of meat, fowl and fish.  In the Christian world, vegetarianism has found favour in actual practice among very few sects like the Seventh Day Adventists who have always constituted a tiny minority.  Few votaries of vegetarianism can be found in the Islamic world, although some Sufi mystics did recommend a meatless diet for spiritual aspirants.  Jainism and Buddhism in India were more unequivocal about the killing of animals and Buddhism carried the practice to north and east of the world as far as China and Japan.  However, in many countries which came under the influence of the Buddhistic compassion a large class of interpreters allowed themselves to be served meat of a carcass if someone else supplied it.  In some countries fish were included in an otherwise fleshless diet.  In short, the sublimating influence of the more advanced religions of the world could also not persuade the larger part of humanity to stop cruelty to animals for satiating their palate.
In the pre-modern era, the main grounds on which vegetarianism was advocated were ethical and philosophic. History is full of ironies.  Until recently the lacto-vegetarian way of life was practised in India by the majority and shunned in the West by most.  In an ironical reversal of the situation, now it is the West that has come up in favour of the lacto-vegetarian way of life, although there it still represents the norm rather than the actual practice.  The change in the outlook this time has not been occasioned by religious faith or philosophical awakening.  It has also not really been caused by a concern for the survival of other creatures on earth.  Interestingly, this time the attitudinal change has been brought about by mankind's concern for his own survival.  The architect of this transformation has been science and not philosophy.
Scientific research in the recent times has shown that a vegetarian diet has several advantages over a non-vegetarian one.  A number of scientific surveys have confirmed that vegetarians tend to be lighter in weight, or rather closer to the desirable weight than the meat eaters.  This thesis may be earnestly contested by many of the television viewers in India who have watched Mr. T.N. Seshan canvassing for vegetarianism.  It must be conceded that Mr. Seshan's fulsome figure does not do full justice to the ideals of vegetarianism. However, it may be borne in mind that Mr. Seshan is always an exception rather than the rule. Scientific research has also established that the greater the degree of adherence to vegetarianism the lower the blood cholesterol tends to be which in turn reduces the risk of heart disease.  Mr.R.L.Philips in  ' Role of life style and dietary habits in risk of cancer among Seventh Day Adventists’ has recorded the results of a survey on the Seventh Day Adventists, which show that the members of this Christian Sect had lower mortality rates than the general population from cancer. A study in the Great Britain by P.N. Sweetnam and M.L. Burr provides evidence of reduced mortality from heart disease among vegetarians.  It is today widely known that dietary fibre has a great role to play in keeping at bay many ailments.   However, it is perhaps not as widely known that the fibrous looking animal flesh or meat as well as other animal food products do not contain any dietary fibre. Plant food, on the other hand, contains a lot.  Another feature which has drawn the attention of the scientific community in favour of vegetarianism is that the cholesterol generated in the human body comes from animal sources, which contain a lot of it.    This is one reason why food scientists recommend use of vegetable oils as cooking medium, especially those, which do not contain saturated fat and do not freeze at room temperature, rather than butter or 'ghee' (clarified butter) drawn from animal milk.  This has been already known for long that a non-vegetarian diet, especially the animal flesh, puts the human digestive system to considerable stress, which has adverse consequences for the whole system.  In addition, since meat is procured usually from the market, it is not often fresh; and if the stuff is in a degenerative state, it is fraught with formidable risks.
            A controversy as to whether a vegetarian diet could meet all our nutritional needs dragged on for some time in the past.  It is widely accepted now that a lacto-vegetarian diet can provide us with all the nutrients and a number of nutrients provided by such diets often exceed the Recommended Dietary Allowance.  It has been widely known for quite sometime that fruits and green vegetables provide vitamins and minerals in abundance.  Doubts were, however, expressed regarding the ability of the lacto-vegetarian diet to meet the protein requirements of the human body.  Sometime back the issue was widely debated among the scientists but thanks to the findings of research which are widely accepted now it has been established that a lacto-vegetarian diet can easily meet the protein needs of adults and children if they are properly planned.  A purely vegetarian diet, it is well settled now, can provide adequate amounts of all the nine essential amino acids.  It may be recalled that milk from animal sources forms part of a normal vegetarian diet regimen.  The modern western concept of vegetarianism includes eggs too.  The non-fertilised eggs or the eggs which are produced without the agency of a cock (the farm eggs in the market are produced without cocks) do not have potential for life and have been accepted as a part of vegetarian food by many since no harm is caused to life in consuming them, just as in the case of milk.  These animal protein sources which form part of vegetarian food are also excellent sources of all the essential amino acids and they are also admitted to be higher in biologic value than meat. The traditional Indian concept of vegetarianism does not include eggs, and it is established that a vegetarian diet with milk and without eggs is sufficient to take care of all our nutritional needs including the protein needs. Due to unusual concentration of cholesterol in the egg yellow, consumption of too many eggs is not recommended even in the West. The protein controversy related to vegetarian diet has been, therefore, finally laid to rest.
            In scientific acceptance of vegetarianism, discovery of abundant protein in the plant kingdom has been important. However, more than protein, it is the ecological concern that has given impetus to the movement that has built up in favour of vegetarianism in many places in the world. A diet that includes a large proportion of food of animal origin places a drain on the meagre natural resources, namely fuel, water, and land. A vegetarian diet has a favourable ecological effect because a much smaller quantity of grain and legumes is required for feeding people directly than for feeding animals. This has the effects of less land being needed for cultivation and less fuel being required for making fuel-based fertilisers, operating agricultural machinery, and transporting and storing food. A vegetarian way of life also makes lesser demands on water that may be needed for maintaining livestock and rearing crops for animal feed. Clearly, it would be possible to feed many more people a vegetarian rather than a meat-based diet. However, the question that painfully and unceasingly glimmers in the eyes of an animal is neither scientific nor ecological: How long will man take in his journey towards civilisation to be mindful of the suffering of other sentient beings that happen to share the planet with him, and how long will he take to expand the scope of his ethics of non-violence and civilised behaviour to include other living beings whom he sacrifices to the cravings of his own poor palate?

3 comments:

  1. I have no idea if you can help me and my 3 friends but we are from Canada and will be visiting India very soon. I read your bio and I see that you are interested in women's rights and education. We are looking for a school to visit in Delhi or Rajasthan and we want to help a female student who may have financial need.We are all in education system here. How can we perhaps connect? Thank you. Nameste.

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  2. Great ! I do always support and like to be a part too !

    Senior officers should, thus, utilize their expertise and experience in strengthening the nation.

    God bless all.

    Prasenjit Chakraborty
    Journalist
    Agartala, Tripura
    09862111537 / 08974011813 / 09206179397
    email : reporterprasenjit@rediffmail.com
    prasenjitnews@rediffmail.com

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  3. Senior people can guide, but the youthful people can do it!

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