Thursday, March 16, 2006

Tyrannosaurus Veg?

Presented below is an editorial by Chandan Mitra, verbatum from The Pioneer . Then I shall present my 'thoughts' on it :)

Tyrannosaurus Veg
That vegetarians are relatively docile beings is an extremely misleading notion. In my experience, they are actually quite tyrannical. Take for example dinosaurs. Even the biggest of them, Tyrannosaurus Rex was a veggie. As the name itself suggests, it must have tyrannised the rest of its tribe as well as other prehistoric beings.
I had a taste of vegetarian intolerance during the last few weeks of the bird flu hoax that swept across much of the country. The story, in my firm opinion, was a media creation and served certain interests (especially those of pharma companies with excess inventory) rather well. Of course it was blown out of all proportion and cost almost a million chickens their lives. The dreaded flu, if it was indeed bird flu, was confined to a small area in Maharashtra and did not warrant the nationwide panic that ensued. But taking advantage of the scare scenario, veggie fanatics went on the rampage, whipping up frenzy against all forms of flesh.
It is rare for such viruses to survive India's heat and dust as we saw earlier during the much more serious SARS scare. I was sceptical about the alleged bird flu epidemic especially its purported threat to human lives, from the day the story broke. In fact, I argued (unsuccessfully) with my colleagues against making it the main story on the front page. They were all petrified at the prospect of contracting the flu and insisted that it was our professional duty to scare our readers too. Faced with their fundamentalist conviction, I conceded and The Pioneer like every other paper in the country gave full play to the story while it lasted. Occasionally, I managed to squeeze in a report doubting the extent of the disease or pointing out that all blood samples had returned a negative reading.
Armed with these alarmist media reports, veggies ran riot. Non-veg food was unceremoniously turfed out of trains and planes. The few diehard meat eaters like me were compelled to furtively shop for fish or mutton, whose prices skyrocketed. As it is, I belong to an endangered minority since I smoke. With vegetarian cacophony reaching a crescendo, I faced double jeopardy. Travelling to Mumbai at the height of the bird flu hoax, I gingerly asked the airhostess what was on offer for non-vegetarians. Scowling most disapprovingly, she asked me whether I never read newspapers. Apologetically, I ventured to tell her I edited one.
Unfazed, she informed me with all the official authority at her command that non-vegetarian meals had been discontinued in view of the bird flu. Infected chicken being banned, I understood, I plaintively argued back. But what about serving mutton or fish? She didn't bother to reply. From her looks it was apparent she was a vegetarian fundamentalist - the type that drools at the mere mention of the word 'paneer' or 'gobi parantha' or worse, kaddu and arbi! Anyway, I was instantly saddled with a meal of hara-bhara kebab, cabbage-stuffed spring rolls and alu-matar.
Conventional wisdom has it that meat is bad for the heart, cholesterol and what not. Ayatollahs of vegetarianism would probably insist deep fried spring rolls, frightfully spicy hara kebabs and subzi preparations that float in an ocean of oil at wedding meals do wonders to your lipid profile or cardiac condition! Agreed, all vegetarian food is not disagreeable; in fact, Rajasthani food is rather tasty, South Indian is delicious and even Bengali veg is fabulous at times.
Still, I ardently believe that there can be nothing more offensive to the human taste buds than paneer or lauki or kaddu. Tons of paneer invade my house every week because my Canadian-origin, pedigreed Labrador finds that gruesome thing delightful, and gobbles up dollops in seconds. Needless to add, I never touch the stuff.
My suffering at the hands of tyrannical veggies didn't end with the plane journey. Rushed for time in Mumbai, I decided to pick up some fast food to eat in the car en route to Nariman Point from Bandra. Since no McDonald's or Dominos was conveniently located, my colleague suggested a croissant joint, which apparently served some super chicken or sausage croissants. We entered to find two sad-looking cheese and onion variants - the last croissants left in the shop's display cages by hungry Mumbaikars of the locality. Anything non-veg, I dared to query, undeterred by my airline experience. The shocked expression on the salesman's face was reply enough. Okay, okay, sorry I even asked, I mumbled, picked up the dilapidated remnants and forced myself to gulp them down with some diet Coke.
A week later, I took the Shatabdi to Ludhiana to be greeted by the same intolerance. Since chicken was taboo, there was no doubt about which ban came first. Eggs were nyet, nyet. The waiter, who recognised me presumably from my TV appearances, was at least apologetic. Come back next week, Sir, and we will start serving eggs again, he said as if to console. I was served me some cold vegetable cutlet stuffed with yet another subzi I happen to hate - carrots. I have never understood why carrot is referred to with such approval in the expression, 'carrot and stick policy'.
Give me the stick any day, if the alternative is carrot! I had hoped my hosts in Ludhiana would spread out a sumptuous non-veg meal, for the earthy Sardar usually finds a meal inedible without generous helpings of kukkad. Chicken is, indeed, Punjabi by nature and the vice versa is not true. But for once the reverse appeared correct. There was no chicken on the menu, although they tried to make up with lots of fried fish, which didn't quite gel with the rest of the fare.
Mercifully, the conspiracy against non-vegetarians is finally petering out. The Parliament House canteens have resumed chicken. So I gather have airlines. But I am sure the tyrants are displeased about it. This was probably the second time in Independent India's 58-year history that democracy was brutally throttled. I have no doubt that given half a chance their latent tyranny will resurface. I recall an incident when I moved to a rented house in A-1 block of South Delhi's Panchsheel Enclave. This was located just behind Soami Nagar. One day, some worthies from the neighbouring colony landed up, saying nobody was allowed to consume fish or meat in their locality. They produced a document regarding the rules of conduct in Soami Nagar. I was rather baffled, not knowing what they were cribbing about. Finally, they demanded rather categorically that we discontinue our 'obnoxious' non-vegetarian culinary preference for theirs was a 'holy' colony. Angrily, I told them to keep their holiness to themselves and not attempt to expand their zone of intolerance beyond the boundaries of their 'sacred' Soami Nagar.
I am told that a particular shop in Bengali Market is boycotted by the rest of the shopowners because it serves chicken cutlets, shami kebabs and cakes that contain eggs. But unknown to rabid vegetarians, they end up consuming vegetable oils or using soap said to contain beef tallow!
Don't get me wrong, dear vegetarian reader. I uphold your right to vegetarianism. I accommodate sensibilities by shifting to another table if a vegetarian friend seems uncomfortable looking at my plate laden with non-veg delicacies. Live and let live should be one's mantra. But the unseen hand of veggie tyranny doesn't seem to be too happy about that philosophy.

Mitra humorously lashes out his friendly frustration towards fundamentalist vegetarians in India! Mr. Mitra - Have you considered that the pharmacutical industry is behind the situation you describe and is cashing in this uproar surrounding the bird flu? Recently, I read a not so nice article about the 'self-absorbant' vegetarians. I will not even bother quoting the immature article from a juvennile college publication. Being a vegetarian, I can understand Mitra's frustration, but the second publication I mentioned is the one which is 'self absorbed'. Now that I have a wonderful medium of this blog to express my opinions on this, I will do so without further ado.

I prefer to practice a live and let live attitude towards all kinds of diets and hopefully my dealings with my diverse population of friends exemplify that. I don't appreciate infliction of opinion on others. By now, I am used to the blank stares I sometimes get at restaurants when I ask them if they can modify one of their menu items to not include the meat. Some times the restaurants oblige graciously but many times, point me towards their over-priced, wilty garden salads. Luckily for me, I like salads and steamed veggies with salt and pepper :) Lately I have taken to really read food labels and discuss about ingredients with friends and sometimes call the company. It is surprising how many ingredients can be animal derived.

I am a vegetarian due to religious and some personal standards regarding cruelty. The meat industry has become a slaughter factory today, with the most attrocious measures of cost reduction. I won't get into the details here, but there are various grim and graphic resources available, just a google search away. The same cruelty unfortunately is true of the diary industry today. I am determined to pay the extra price for kindness and make necessary life style changes to switch to organic milk and eggs. I agree with the views expressed by Barbara of Tigers and Strawberries in this article (a very well deserved 'Best Post' food blog award). If people killed their own animals for meat, there will be a lot less non-vegetarians in the world today.

I am proud to be a vegetarian, not because my beliefs are supreme, but because for once, I have been able to stand up for something. Among my resolutions to wake up earlier in the morning, complete items on my to-do list, restart abandoned projects, I have been able to continue practicing vegetarianism and stick to my beliefs, in an uninvasive way. If the above sounds fundamentalist, then, well - bring me a dictionary.

I've met my share of 'tyrannous' vegetarians - people who insist on muttering incoherantly under their breath while carrying a raw egg (with shell and all) covered in kitchen napkins, staring disgustingly at their already apologetic room-mates. I understand, and find that over bearing too! But, please, don't blame a poor unsuspecting vegetarian who screams at the sight of raw squids lying in his/her kitchen sink, left by inconsiderate house-mates! Vegetarians come in many flavors, and it is wrong to stereotype them all as 'self-absorbed' or 'fundamentalist'. They are a minority and hence a somewhat oppressed population. Think of the number of products that don't completely reveal their ingredient sources or worse mask ingredients under the two words 'Natural Flavors'. Being a vegetarian in the vast outside world is like having a food allergy, the more information you can extract about the food, the better for you.

I hope this post is not overly opinionated! I express my appreciation to many non-vegetarian friends for their thoughtful consideration every time they have us over! Also, I thank them for accepting food invitations at our place, knowing very well that they will be served boring vegetarian food. Sorry, Mr. Mitra that vegetarians have troubled you :) It is not easy being a vegetarian either (in the US). I do see the satire in your article. It is difficult being different in a crowd... a meat eater in a majority of vegetarians in India or as in my case a vegetarian in a country of mainly meat eaters. Who said life is fair :)


shammi said...

The T-Rex, veggie? REALLY? no way...

But GM, I agree with you - I'm a vegetarian too, and apart from moral and health reasons, I'm vegetarian because I dont like the taste of meat. As simple as that. I prefer veggie food any day, but I also see that some vegetarian fanatics try to impose their rules on everybody. That isnt fair. Live and let live should be the motto.

Re cigarettes and smoking - I'm totally against it. Ugh. Smokers harm not only themselves but others who are innocent of the vice. At least non-vegetarians dont affect the health of other people! :)

Ashwini said...

I think the article made good (humorous) reading. I have read similar articles by vegetarians on their travails in predominantly non veg places too (Goa for eg).
I am a non vegetarian in the sense that I eat meat but do not necessarily prefer it over vegetables. And I think most non veggies fall in this category. We do not find vegetables boring, inedible. We would just like some meat now and then.
I have had the experience of vegetarian intolerance several times. I never chomped a juicy kebab in the presence of my vegetarian friends, but just the mention of meat and they would go "how can you eat an animal?". What annoys me is the superiority complex some of them have. As if in choosing not to they have instantly elevated themselves to a higher level of existence.
Second is the zeal to convert us(this is akin to Christian missionaries!) I would never imagine forcing my veg friends to eat meat, BUT oh how many times has it been discussed that I should give up eating it (whats unsaid is I will become a better person by doing so).
As YOU rightly say it is a matter of choice. And one should leave it at that.

Garam Masala said...

Shammi - About the T-Rex being a plant eater... Scientists have found evidence, but they can never be sure, I guess! If it were true though, it would show that a plant based diet is capable of providing nutrition and building strong bodies :)I'm with you on your stance on smoking!

Ashwini - I've heard the complaints you have about some vegetarians, and have also experienced some of that behavior. Nobody needs to be told what to do. You know by now, that not all vegetarians are that way. I know several who are quite nice :)

There is a natural food chain in the ecosystem, which would be disturbed if every species in the world became vegetarian. same if everyone became non-vegetarian. Every vegetarian and non-vegetarian must understand that and let the each other practice in peace.

Ok, I'll get to regular recipe blogging soon :)

Meeta said...

Hi all! I stumbled across your page GM and found this article great. I read it in a light and humorous manner, the way I think it was meant to be taken. I agree with Ashwini, as a non-veg, I love vegtables and probably 80 times out of 100 cook vegeterian at home. I am an Indian living in Germany and am married to a German (who loves his meat) As I started to integrate more vegeterian dishes to our meals I did get the odd look but now he too enjoys it. As Ashwini say it is the choice I like to have. If I want to go to a burger joint with my son and pig out on a huge burger or make a vegie burger at home that really is my choice.

I have often experienced the intolerable acceptance mentioned my Mitra from the vegeterians I know. Ashwini, I hear you when you say that some veg friends comment with "eating that poor animal". I see it simply this way. We breed these animals to be eaten just like vegetables are grown to be eaten. I am not eating a whale or a dolphin or even a rabbit. I am eating chicken, fish or beef. I make sure that almost everything we eat is organic and is prepared in no cruel way. So, why am I harrassed by over zealous veggie eaters that I am so cruel. I do find these comments hurtful at times, but as I am the type of person who lives by the motto live and let live, it does not bother me too much. I just mostly smile and say at least I have the wider choice. I can eat a super tasting paneer burger just as well as a juicy steak burger! The main ingredient for both comes from the same source ;-)!

My blogs:
What's For Lunch Honey?
The Daily Tiffin

Kay said...

Dear Garam, You are on to 'garam garam' topic these days, aren't you? :)

I see where you are coming from. I've been a vegetarian for 3 yrs, out of choice.. and can honestly say, I wasn't a non-veg basher during those vegetarian days.

I've also had my share of vegetarian-bashers (who are non vegetarians, ofcourse) and non-vegetarian-bashers (who are vegetarians) though the non-beg bashers outnumbered the vegetarian-bashers, anytime.

And I think, they both suck! Why do they want to impose their views on others? Heck! They wouldnt dare to comment on my personal life to me, so, why do they think it's ok to comment on my food?

Huh! Live and let live, people! I have plenty of very nice friends out of which some are vegetarians and some nonvegetarians. We are still great friends only because we respect each other, no matter our differences.

Garam Masala said...

Meeta - Thanks for stopping by! I am glad you decided to leave a comment. I don't think any less of you due to your eating habits. You are concious of what you eat and that speaks highly of you.

Btw, I love your lovely lunches in your blog. I am sure I will learn interesting German food facts from you!

Kay - I know, this sure is a heated topic. I read a lot of negative press about vegetarians recently. And I thought a level-headed vegetarian needs to do her part to prevent prejudice!

Santhi said...


This article madeh Humorous reading. I am a non-vegetarian who had an oppurtunity to live with vegetarian roomie.
Thank fully she had your attitude and did not have any problem with us cooking or eating non veg food.

I have also had the pleasure of meeting vegetarians who have "holie tha thou" attitude. It would really bug me intially, but then I got used to it and do not try to make any argument.
I guess I have learned to live with the fact that I dont have to excuses for the convictions that I have. :):)
Great post once again.

Meeta said...

GM - Thanks for the motivation on my blog. As I started the Daily Tiffin it was just a way to document Soeren's (my 3 year old) snack boxes and share ideas with other mums who had to go through the harrowing task of preparing snack boxes every day. As I got more and more comments from others who requested adult variations too, to be able to take to work with them I decided to comply.

You can also read about our normal life in a mixed (Indian/German) family here in Germany on my personal blog:
The Family Buzz. WIth family all over the world (Dubai, San Francisco, St. Loius, Houston, Detroit, Bombay) I found this was a great way to stay in touch. I would love your feedback there too. Especially when it comes from an Indian point of view, it always means a lot to me!


Gini said...

Hi GM..nice post. Loved it! All the above comments have said all the things I wanted to say.

Priya said...

Hi GM, yr post made very interesting reading. I live in Singapore (which is a meat-lover's paradise) where ppl just dont understand the concept of vegetarianism. If u tell them u're one then the question that, by reflex, pops up is "Ohhh..where do u get yr protein from?"!!! Its at times like these that I tend to sport my holier than thou attitude not simply coz I do not rely on "raising animals" to feed me, but also coz I know my Biology!

Love yr blog..keep posting!

Garam Masala said...

Priya - Thank you for your kind words! True, one of the common misconceptions about vegetarianism is that it doesnot provide complete nutrition! However, as health awareness increases, knowledge about vegetarian foods is also improving.

People who touched our lives said...

Hi GM,

Great article.

Being a vegan is no longer a sin. I see many people in the West choosing to be vegans. Although my religious beliefs prohibit me from being a meat-eater, I choose to be a vegan for healthy living and non-violent purposes. I appreciate the fact that it is not that difficult to get vegan food in the US. Although I do not relish the idea of eating cheese because of the calf rennet that is used. But I cannot say the same of countries like Singapore & Malaysia. I had been under the presumption that Buddhist influence in SE Asia was high and hence getting veggie food would be easy. Not so in reality.

Give us more of your humour & insight - it is fun to read.


Ferocious Killer Kat said...

you talk about so much cruelty when killing animals for meat.. do you know that milk and eggs also constitute almost equivalent amount of cruelty. Meat and veal is the biggest by-product of milk and egg industry.. And I don't agree that being a vegetarian is tough in US. Actually I have been a vegan for past 3 years in US and it has never been this easy.. And when we have all the alternatives.. I'm not sure why can't lacto-ovo vegetarians just switch to being vegans.. instead of bashing meat eaters.. who anyways have a minimal chance of converting to vegans..

Garam Masala said...

Kunsjoi - I had no intention of bashing meat eaters, and hopefully what I wrote reflected that. Infact I wrote this to counter another article that was bashing vegetarians.

It is tough but NOT impossible to be a vegetarian or a vegan in the US. It only becomes tough when you travel around to areas you are not familiar with, or when you have to read and re-read ingredients or spend a fortune out of (may not be true for you) my limited budget at natural food stores. What I call tough might not be tough for you.

Also why can't all lacto-ovos become vegans? Sure they can, if they are willing. Yes, I do talk about cruelty and I can do passive talk without doing anything about it. But I do intend to put my money where my mouth is by supporting all things organic and farm bred.

Thank you for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.

Ferocious Killer Kat said...

I did not mean to harsh or anything.. what my point is that if you really want to be a vegan, you can! in however limited budget you have. During my 1st yr of veganism I was on a very tight budget and managed to be one.. I agree there are certain sacrifices one has to make.. but if it is for a good cause and saves a few lives.. why not?

And yes, buying everything organic does not mean putting money into right places.. do you knw that Walmart is now the biggest seller of organic goods?? And most small companies which sell organic foods are now owned by those big evil corporations.. Also organic does not mean that cow is not killed after getting milk.. it doesnot even mean that the calf is not killed for veal.. it might be pesticide or hormone free.. but the cows are still kept in shabby conditions.. Today a lot of organic produce comes from china.. where who knws what is going on??

Anyways.. sorry I went into preaching mode again.. I myself am sorta passive vegan.. trying to make conscious choices!

Anonymous said...

Hi Garam Masala,
Vegan-Nonvegan topic is a very garam topic indeed! I had a very close friend, a tamil brahmin who used to ask me, "If you eat meat of animals, then when are you going to eat human-beings?" Yeah, she is still my best friend, but I think such silly questions arise mostly due to your upbringing. I told her,” you immediately kill a mosquito or an ant biting on to you, but you don’t kill a human-being, do you."
I have always respected vegan people and would never make them uncomfortable by my eating habits. If I go to eat-out, if all my friends are vegans, I surely will not order non-vegan food. But the vegans can’t do that, right .hehehehe.
But in India, I do think vegans have a holier-than-thou attitude claiming they are calmer, nice people and they are healthier. I think it is because in India, there is lot of vegans. Same in U.S, since non-vegans are more, you get the looks when you talk about vegetarian food. Some non-vegans I come across in U.S even think vegans are some kind of tree hugging weird people.
Regarding healthy living, Japanese people in Okinowa Islands are the longest living people and they are non-vegans. Well, non-vegan first world countries have a longer life span, right? So even though I think vegetables should be included in your diet 5 times the non-veg portions, I don’t think it will make you live longer or anything like that. And the talk about vegans are animal lovers are total rubbish. I love vegetarian food, especially the Onam sadya specialties. I could skip meat for a long time, but I don’t think I can skip my vegetables.I love them both! But yes, I would love people not to have attitude towards someone else’s tastes. I think the article was just satire and very unique since you always find someone writing hate articles about non-vegans.

Sorry for the long post.