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Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869-1948)

From The Vegetarian (London), December 21, 1895:

- Vegetarianism in Natal -


It is an uphill battle to fight in Natal, and indeed in South Africa. Yet there are few places where Vegetarianism would be more conducive to health, or more economical and practicable. Of course at present it is hardly economical, and it certainly requires a great deal of self-denial to remain a Vegetarian. To become one seems almost an impossibility. "It is all very well in London, where there are scores of Vegetarian Restaurants, but how can you become or remain a Vegetarian in South Africa, where you find very little nourishing vegetarian food?" has been the invariable reply to my inquiries in the course of conversation on the matter with scores of men. One would have thought such a reply would be impossible in South Africa, seeing that it enkoys a semi-tropical climate, and its vegetable resources are inexaustible. Nevertheless, the reply is entirely justifiable. In the best hotels you find as a rule potatoes the only vegetable at the lunch-time, and that badly cooked.Ar dinner-time you find, perhaps, two vegetables, and the vegetable menu is hardly ever changed. It is a little short of scandal that in this garden colony of South Africa, where, at the proper time, you can get fruit for a song, you find very little fruit at the hotels. Pulses are conspicuous by their absence. A gentleman wrote to me to ask if it was possible to buy pulses in Durban ; he could not procure them in Charlestown and the neighbouring townships. Nuts can only be bought at Christmastime.

Such are the present circumstances. Vegetarian friends, therefore, nedd not wonder if I can report very little perceptible progress as a result of nine months' advertising and quiet persuasion. Nor are the above difficulties in the way of vegetarian propaganda. People here think of very little else than gold. The gold fever is so infectious in these regions that it has smitten the highest and the lowest, the spiritual teachers included. They find no time for higher pursuits of life ; they find no time to think of the beyond.

Copies of the Vegetarian are supplied regularly every week to most of the libraries. Occasional advertisements are inserted in the newspapers. Every opportunity is availed of to introduce the subject of Vegetarianism. So far this has given rise to some sympathetic correspondence and inquiries. A few books have also been bought. Many more have been distributed. Correspondence and conversation have not been devoid of humour. A lady who corresponded with me in connection with Esoteric Christianity became very angry on finding that Esoteric Christianity had anything to do with Vegetarianism. She was so disgusted she returned the books lent her without reading them. One gentleman thought it disgraceful to shoot or slaughter and animal. "He would not do it for the life of him," but he had no compunction in eating the meat prepared for him.

The possibilities of South Africa, and particularly of Natal, from a Vegetarian standpoint, are too numerous to mention, only there are no Vegetarian workers. The soil is so fertile that it would grow almost anything. Vast tracts of land await only a skilful hand to turn them into real mines of gold. If a few men could be induced to turn their attention from the Johannesburg gold to the quieter method of earning money by cultivation, and to get rid of their colour prejudice, there is no doubt that every variety of vegetables and fruit could be grown in Natal. The climate of South Africa is such that the Europeans alone will never be able to work the soil as much as is possible. They have got the Indians to help them, but they simply would not make use of them owing to the colour prejudice, which is so strong in South Africa. Even in Natal, where the prosperity of the colony admittedly depends upon the Indian labour, the prejudice is very strong. I have a letter from a gardener, who, much as he would like to employ Indian labour, is handicapped owing to this prejudice. Vegetarians, therefore have a scope for patriotic work. The line of marriage between white British subjects and Indians is getting thicker day by day in South Africa. The best English and Indian statements are of opinion that Britain and India can be indisolubly united by the chain of love. The spiritualists anticipate good results from such a union. The South African white British subjects are doing their utmost to retard, and, if possible, to prevent such a union. It may be that some Vegetarians may come forward to arrest such a catastrophe.

I would venture to make one suggestion and then close this hurriedly written resumé of the work in Natal. If some men of means, and well up in vegetaian literature, were to travel in different parts of the world, explore the resources of the different countries, report upon their possibilities from a Vegetarian standpoint, and invite Vegetarians to migrate to those countries which they may consider suitable for Vegetarian propaganda, and at the same time worth settling in from a pecuniary point of view, much vegetarian work can be done, openings can be found for poor Vegetarians, and real centres of Vegetarianism can be established in various parts of the world. Thus a day might come in th near future when there would be found small Vegetarian colonies in all parts of the world. But then Vegetarianism, in order to do this, shold be a religion, and not merely a hygeinic convenience. The platform will have to be shifted much higher.