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Vegetarianism is fine but food terrorism can backfire

It’s hypocritical to ignore the impact of cow and methane on climate change. However, the motto in the West isn’t ‘Meat is Murder’

columns Updated: Jun 11, 2017 21:38 IST
Even as the global community chews on the American president’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, there’s been some commentary on how intensive animal husbandry, mainly for food, releases methane in the atmosphere and may deliver more noxious greenhouse gases than automobiles
Even as the global community chews on the American president’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, there’s been some commentary on how intensive animal husbandry, mainly for food, releases methane in the atmosphere and may deliver more noxious greenhouse gases than automobiles(Raj K Raj/HT)

In recent years, veganism, that extreme form of vegetarianism, has been pretty much in your face in North America: From the media to popular culture to even rides in the subway, staring at advertising featuring cute calves, chicks and piglets juxtaposed next to puppies, with the question, “Why Love One, But Eat The Other?”

Even as the global community chews on the American president’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, there’s been some commentary on how intensive animal husbandry, mainly for food, releases methane in the atmosphere and may deliver more noxious greenhouse gases than automobiles. As Donald Trump was doing his grand European tour, his predecessor Barack Obama was in Milan, speaking at the Global Food Innovation Summit. “People aren’t as familiar with the impact of cows and methane,” he said.

It would be hypocritical to ignore this threat to climate change, and at least in these parts, it’s gradually getting attention. The motto, however, isn’t ‘Meat is Murder’, but rather reducing meat eating, bringing down the carbon footprint that industrial-scale cattle ranching carries along. This is an exercise in persuasion, pleasantly, just as with automobiles about a decade ago. For example, Veganuary promotes starting the year with a meatless month. New York-based New Harvest works on research that “reinvents the way we make animal products — without animals.” Just as fossil fuelled vehicles will face social stop signs in the years ahead, as smoking already has, meaty meals may well follow that road in the future.

But we are nowhere near there yet. Meanwhile, while politics is about offering red meat to the masses, in India, it appears, it’s become about snatching it away from kitchens. Perhaps the central government also wants to eliminate meat-eating by 2030 as it makes the vehicular fleet go electric.

That’s a problem partly because ranching is not yet a major challenge in India as in the West. Change impacting a deeply personal part of an individual’s life has to be organic and predicated on choice. There has to be sufficient space at the table for those who want to continue enjoying their carnivorous fare. It can’t be the government’s affair to encourage ideological overreach onto our plates, literally having violent vigilantes pushing it down our throats.

Just as the opposite reaction is self-defeating, dietary extremism of the plant-based variety isn’t a winning strategy either. In theory, it’s a fine objective, but when you’re forced to practise it, a non-vegetarian like me will find it truly unpalatable. And when it’s garnished with intimidation, even murder, it simply turns into food terrorism.

That fear keeps cattle meat disguised a buff on menus, which always reminds me of Beat Generation writer William Burroughs’ The Naked Lunch. He once wrote, in another work, “How I hate those who are dedicated to producing conformity.” You can trust a government to convert the virtues of vegetarianism into a vice-like grip of tasteless statism.

Anirudh Bhattacharyya is a Toronto-based commentator on American affairs

The views expressed are personal