It’s great for the spirit but the senses are unwilling(Photo imaging: Parth Garg)
It’s great for the spirit but the senses are unwilling(Photo imaging: Parth Garg)

Being vegan is what the heart wants, but the mind rejects

A fun take on how attempts of the heart to go vegetarian result in failure
Hindustan Times | By Rehana Munir
UPDATED ON OCT 06, 2018 11:52 PM IST

Every age has its own fall guys. Ours is the age of millennial-bashing. And when I say ours, it’s the 30-something who’s old enough to remember what a dial tone is and young enough to troll anyone who doesn’t. But it’s not just the millennials. I find myself cracking cheesy jokes about vegans all the time. Okay, scratch cheesy out for obvious reasons. And the jokes come not so much from hating vegans as much as loathing myself for not being one despite all the very compelling reasons.

The medium rare path

At the outset, let me tell you I’m not Ranveer Singh in Padmaavat (2018). Meaning I’m not one of those who chews raw meat lasciviously in a show of brute strength. In fact, I’m the one who’ll pick a homemade dosa over a five-star biryani any day of the week. My grandmother was a vegetarian by choice, an anomaly for someone who grew up in a Muslim household in early 20th century Aligarh. She used to tell us about the distaste with which veggies were sometimes thrown into meat dishes at her mother’s command. My mother too enjoys a karele ki sabzi more than a mutton roast. And my father was always pleased with a good rajma or kadhi chawal, though he did crave the occasional murghi. So it’s not like I’ve inherited the carnivorous gene. And yet.

The vegan argument demands a complete rejection of foods one turns to for comfort. The spiritual growth has not kept pace with the epicurean evolution

About 10 years ago, I left for Igatpuri – the global headquarters of Vipassana meditation – for a 10-day camp. On the 11th day, when you’re released into the outside world after all the silence, solitude and quasi-starvation, it’s more than a bit disorienting. When my train arrived at CST (Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus) in Mumbai sometime in the early afternoon, I was pulled in the direction of Indigo Deli in Colaba. Before I knew it, I equanimously consumed all the meats available at the restaurant. The Buddha would not have approved.

Meat and greet

For about a decade, I was vegetarian at lunch. Now that sounds a bit daft, but it isn’t really. Apart from providing sustenance, food fulfils a very strong social function. How do you say no to a chilli chicken with friends at a pub? Or your khala’s paya on a December night with cousins? Or a plate of sublime sushi at a work dinner? Evenings, I had decided, were beyond my control. So why not keep the daytime meat-free?

That decision came from a health perspective. Knowing what I now know about animals bred for consumption – the dire circumstances in which they’re raised and slaughtered – the subject has taken on an ethical and environmental dimension. Reading the pocket-size (and rather simplistic) bestselling history Sapiens, I was struck by the vehement argument against meat-eating. Nature documentaries are similarly condemning. I regularly encounter vegan warriors online and in life. I know they shouldn’t, but they bother me with the ethics I do not (cannot?) live up to.

Vegan cannibal

Sadly, the vegan argument demands a complete rejection of foods I turn to for comfort. And true comfort, I find, is rare in a world of convenience. My spiritual growth has not kept pace with my epicurean evolution. And then there’s the joy of being politically incorrect and eating all manner of taboo foods. The mindful among you will despair at such indulgence. The sensitive will be disgusted. But that’s how it is. If only a clear conscience felt as good as a tenderloin burger tastes.

For now, I’m trying to placate the guilt pangs with free-range eggs, and a McDonald’s ban. Going cold turkey on meat (a counter-productive analogy) is perhaps the best way to do it. But till then, I’ll have to cultivate new interests, thought patterns and (the horror) even new friends. As it is, I know more than a few high-minded gluten-averse, lactose-intolerant, glucose-abhorring naturalists, but they haven’t flicked a switch in my head. A Jain friend once bit a waiter’s head off for messing up her dish. “She’s vegetarian but she’s eating the waiter,” quipped a horrified acquaintance, also at the table. I’m mortally afraid of turning into a vegan cannibal myself, though the day seems impossibly far.

From HT Brunch, October 7, 2018

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