International Vegetarian Union (IVU)
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15th World Vegetarian Congress 1957
Delhi/Bombay/Madras/Calcutta, India


The Indian Problem

It is not my purpose, in this short article, to enter upon a discussion of the doctrine of Ahimsa as applicable to a dietary nor shall I deal with the abuses connected with slaughter-houses and the practical difficulty of enforcing humane methods of killing animals for food. Jain philosophers, as is well known, have extended the doctrine Ahimsa in matter of food to its logical limits and they abjure many animal products that are utilized by others.

There has, undoubtedly, been a gradual but definite evolution of Indian thought in regard to vegetarianism and the eating of meat. Obviously, in Vedic times, oxen, calves and goats were utilized for food; but the idea that the eating of meat is as basically injurious for the eater as for the eaten developed and it came to be regarded by increasing numbers as unethical. Manu Dharma Sastra, in Chapter V, Verse 50 lays down:

The man who forsakes not the law and eats no flesh meat shall attain goodwill in this world and shall not be affected with maladies.

The same Dharma Sastra, in Verse 56, says:

There is no turpitude in lawfully tasting meat or drinking fermented liquor but an abstinence from them produces a signal compensation.

Whilst meat-eating was prevalent in India, yet along with it co-existed the feeling that the killing of any animal was sinful. In this connection, it may be observed that it is often affirmed that Buddha, according to tradition, died of eating pork. The fact seems to have been that he made it a practice to receive in his begging bowl any food that was offered to him and reject none. If a person sees life as a whole and if it is perceived that to injure any life is to injure oneself, then the doctrine of strict vegetarianism is philosophically incontrovertible.

Leaving on one side however, such ultimate philosophical and ethical considerations, one may consider the problem of vegetarianism especially in India and other tropical countries, from an immediate and entirely hygienic point of view. It is an admitted fact that food production in most under-developed countries, including India, has lagged sharply behind the increase in population. According to the statistics compiled by the Food and Agricultural Organization, food production per head in the world, taken as a whole, had increased from 1934-38 by 14 per cent up to 1951-52 and 18 per cent up to 1952-53; whereas in Eastern-Asia it had diminished by one per cent. The same Organization has compiled statistics indicating that the amount of food needed to maintain bodily heat and muscular activity is represented by 2,500 to 2,600 calories. In the year 1936, 440 million people in the world had 3,000 and more calories, whereas 1,230 million had less 2,500 calories. Remarkably enough, ten years later in 1946, 2,000 million people had less than 2,500 calories. In the result, what we learn is that whereas the world population increased by 12 per cent, the food production has increased only by 9 per cent. To no small extent is this result due to the inevitable diminution of the cultivated area and the ravages of goats and other animals even in pasture land. It is essential to prevent indiscriminate breeding of inferior or diseased cattle.

It is admitted that India has the largest cattle population in the world including cows, buffaloes, sheep and goats. It is also painfully obvious that we in India, who venerate the cow in the abstract, are still very indifferent not only to the problem of careful breeding but to the maintenance of cattle in a suitable condition. To no small extent can it be asserted that in many villages and in some towns, not only swine and pig but fowl and cows are allowed to roam about performing the duties of a scavenger. It need not be emphasized that tape-worm and trichina as well as ptomaine poisoning are largely the effects of bad meat and the imperfect cooking of such meat. In fact, it may be stated that, so far, not sufficient care has been taken in the matter of appropriate procurement, preservation, and marketing of animal food products. I am, for the moment, referring to normal persons and appetites and not to the sophisticated tastes which demand unnatural forms of meat like pate de foie gras made out of the liver of geese which are excessively fattened for the purpose. It may be noted that instinctively in warm and tropical regions of the earth the population resort to milk and cereal products and vegetables in preference to meat.

It is on account of considerations like the the above that a very eminent physician, Sir William Moore, who was originally Surgeon-General with the Government of Madras and later became Honorary Physician to the Queen of England, in his publication dated as early as 1873, entitled Family Medicine and Hygeine and containing general instructions for preserving health in tropical countries, remarks on page 604 (1903 edition) that vegetable food is, generally speaking, better adapted to a tropical climate than animal food, not that it is quicker or easier of digesting (for it is slower) but because it is not so apt to produce a plethora. Such considerations, he adds, should induce Europeans, especially those newly arrived, to partake sparingly of animal food which is not required to the same extent as in a temperate climate. Carbon and Nitrogen, taken in bread, meat, milk, eggs, and fatty substances, are removed by the lungs, kidneys, skin and liver. In a hot climate the lungs are less and the liver more instrumental in this process. He refers to indispensable precautions for getting the best quality of milk and deprecates the use of tinned foods. He adds, later on, that attention should also be paid to meat by which several maladies and especially tape-worm, may be conveyed into the system.

Speaking therefore, with medical authority behind us and bearing in mind that a significant part of the Indian population has, for long, been accustomed to a vegetarian diet, it may well be emphasized that with a view to the increase of food production which can only come about by increasing the extent of cultivated, as apart from pasture, areas and by adopting the method of intensive agriculture and also noting that owing to climatic and hygienic considerations it is far preferable to adopt a vegetarian diet with a supplement of the necessary protein and vitamin minimal obtainable from nuts, milk, and selected roots and vegetables, it behoves us to create public opinion in the direction along which the Vegetarian Congress is proceeding.

It is a regrettable fact that the best and most nutritious type of vegetarian food is more easily procured in countries like the United States than in India. Even in England, restaurants and hotels have made special arrangements to supply the right variety of vegetarian food to those who are anxious to adopt such a regimen.

It would be a fine thing if, as a result of this Congress, India, which is inherently accustomed to vegetarian diet, should make attempts to start country-wide centres for the procurement and distribution of cheap and nutritious vegetables, fruits, and nuts, and cereals and to inaugurate a system of well-designed nutrition propaganda.