Moral Basis of Vegetarianism
M. K. GANDHI
Address to the London Vegetarian Society, 20th November 1931
When I received the invitation to be present at this meeting,
I need not tell you how pleased I was, because it revived old memories
and recollections of pleasant friendships for formed with vegetarians.
I feel especially honoured to find on my right Mr. Henry Salt. It was
Mr. Salt's book "A Plea for Vegetarianism", which showed me
why, apart from a hereditary habit, and apart from my adherence to a
vow administered to me by my mother, it was right to be a vegetarian.
He showed me why it was a moral duty incumbent on vegetarians not to
live upon fellow animals. It is therefore, a matter of additional pleasure
to me that I find Mr. Salt in our midst.
I do not propose to take up your time by giving you my
various experiences of vegetarianism, nor do I want to tell you something
of the great difficulty that faced me in London itself in remaining
staunch to vegetarianism, but I would like to share with you some of
the thoughts that have developed in me in connection with vegetarianism.
Forty years ago I used to mix freely with vegetarians. There was at
that time hardly a vegetarian restaurant in London that I had not visited.
I made it a point, out of curiosity, and to study the possibilities
of vegetarianism and vegetarian restaurants in London, to visit every
one of them. Naturally, therefore, I came into close contact with many
vegetarians. I found, at the tables, that largely the conversation turned
upon food and disease. I found also that the vegetarians who were struggling
to stick to their vegetarianism were finding it difficult from the health
point of view. I do not know whether, nowadays, you have those debates
but I used at that time to attend debates that wore held between vegetarians
and vegetarians, and between vegetarians and non-vegetarians. I remember
one such a debate, between Dr. Densmore and the late Dr. T. R. Allinson.
Then vegetarians had a habit of talking of nothing but food and nothing
but disease. I feel that that is the worst way of going about the business.
I notice also that it is those persons who became vegetarians because
they are suffering from some disease or other that is from purely the
health point of view - it is those persons who largely fall back. I
discovered that for remaining staunch to vegetarianism a man requires
Altruistic Basis Is Needed
For me that was a great discovery in my search after truth.
At an early age, in the course of my experiments, I found that a selfish
basis would not serve the purpose of taking a man higher and higher
along the paths of evolution. What was required was an altruistic purpose.
I found also that health was by no means the monopoly of vegetarians.
I found many people having no bias one way or the other, and that non-vegetarians
were able to show, generally speaking, good health. I found also that
several vegetarians found it impossible to remain vegetarians because
they could eat as much lentils, haricot beans, and cheese as they liked.
Of course those people could not possibly keep their health. Observing
along these lines, I saw that a man should eat sparingly and now and
then fast. No man or woman really ate sparingly or consumed just that
quantity which the body requires and no more. We easily fall a prey
to the temptations of the palate, and therefore when a thing tastes
delicious we do not mind taking a morsel or two more. But you cannot
keep health under those circumstances. Therefore I discovered that in
order to keep health, no matter what you ate, it was necessary to cut
down the quantity of your food, and reduce the number of meals. Become
moderate; err on the side of less, rather than on the side of more.
When I invite friends to share their meals with me I never press them
to take a thing if they do not want it.
Death is Preferable to Meat-Eating
What I want to bring to your notice is that vegetarians
need to be tolerant if they want to convert others to vegetarianism.
Adopt a little humility. We should appeal to the moral sense of the
people who do not see eye to eye with us. If a vegetarian became ill
and tool a Doctor's prescription for beef tea, then I would not call
him a vegetarian. A vegetarian is made of sterner stuff. Why? Because
it is the building of the spirit and not of the body. Man is more than
meat. It is the spirit in man for which we are concerned. Therefore
vegetarians should have that moral basis, that a man was not born a
carnivorous animal but born to live on the fruits and herbs that the
earth grows. I know we must all err. I would give up milk if I could,
but I cannot. I have made that experiment times without number. I could
not, after a serious illness, regain my strength unless I went back
to milk. That has been the tragedy of my life. But the basis of my vegetarianism
is not physical, but moral. If any said that I should die if I did not
take beef-tea or mutton, even under medical advice, I would prefer death.
That is the basis of my vegetarianism: I would love to think that all
of us who called ourselves vegetarians should have that basis. There
were thousands of meat-eaters who did not stay meat-eaters. There must
be a definite reason for our making that change in our lives, for our
adopting habits and customs different from society, even though in some
times that change may offend those nearest and dearest to us. Not for
the world should you sacrifice a moral principle. Therefore the only
basis for having a vegetarian society and proclaiming a vegetarian principle
is, and must be a moral one. I am not to tell you, as I see and wander
about the world, that vegetarians on the whole, enjoy much better health
than meat-eaters. I belong to a country which is predominantly vegetarian
by habit or necessity. Therefore, I cannot testify that that shows much
greater endurance, much greater courage, or much greater exemption from
Because it is a peculiar, personal thing. It requires
obedience and scrupulous obedience, to all the laws of hygiene.
Satisfaction in Vegetarianism
Therefore, I think that what a vegetarian should do is
not to emphasize the physical consequences of vegetarianism but to explore
the moral consequence. What we have not yet forgotten is that though
we share many things in common with the beast, we do not sufficiently
realize that there are certain things which differentiate us from the
beast. Of course, we have vegetarians in the cow and the bull - which
are better vegetarians than we are - but there is something much higher
which calls us to vegetarianism. Therefore, I thought that, during the
few minutes which I give myself the privilege of addressing you, I would
just emphasize the moral basis of vegetarianism. And I would say that
I have found from my own experience of thousands of friends and companions,
that they find satisfaction, so far as vegetarianism is concerned, from
the moral basis they have chosen for sustaining vegetarianism.
In conclusion, I thank you all for coming here and allowing
me to see vegetarians face to face. I cannot say I used to meet you
forty or forty-two years ago. I suppose that the faces of the London
Vegetarian Society have changed. There are very few members who like
Mr. Salt, can claim association with the Society extending over forty
years. Lastly, I would like you, if you want to, to ask me any questions,
for I am at your disposal for a few minutes.
Mr. Gandhi was asked to give his reasons for limiting
his daily diet to five articles only, and he replied. "That has
no connection with vegetarianism.. There was another reason. I had been
a pampered child of nature. I had acquired then that notoriety that
when I was invited to friends, they placed before me ample dishes of
food. I told them I had come there to serve, and personally, I should
find myself dying by inches if I allowed myself to be pampered like
that. So, in limiting myself to five ingredients of food, I served a
double purpose. And I must finish all my eating before sundown, I have
been saved many pitfalls by that. There are many discoveries about that
in regard to health reasons. Dietists are saying we are more and more
tending towards simplifying diet, and that if one must live for health,
one must have one thing at a time and avoid harmful combinations. I
like the process of exclusion better than that of inclusion, because
no two doctors have the same opinion.
"Then I think those restrictions to five articles
of food have helped me morally and materially, because in a poor country
like India it is not always possible to procure goat's milk, and it
is a hard thing to produce fruit and grapes. Then, I go to visit poor
people, and if I expected hot-house grapes they would banish me. So
by restricting myself to five articles of food, it also serves the law