Martin Luther King Jr, the famous civil rights icon once said, ‘the arc of the moral universe is large but it bends towards justice’. It would be accurate to modify the saying to today’s age to say that the arc of the world is large but bends towards Sanatan Dharma’. Today we will examine one aspect of Sanatan Dharma, the respect for animal life, and how the cruel practice of raising animals for meat is close to being torn down.
Let’s first examine the key research and reasons that will collectively draw the curtain or at least significantly curtail the meat industry in the coming years.
Meat production is responsible for almost 15% of all global greenhouse emissions and UN bodies now consistently call for reducing or eliminating meat consumption in order to meet global emission targets.
Modern science is coming around to the dharmic point of view that meat-eating is not ideal for most individuals. Processed red meat has been designated as a level 1 carcinogen (definite cause of cancer) by the World Health Organization and red meat has been designated as a level 2 carcinogen (probable cause of cancer). Fish contain numerous micro-plastics that mess with the endocrine system and chickens carry with them hormones and antibiotics that are impossible to get rid of in the final product.
The latest research has firmly established the emotional, intellectual and psychological intelligence and complexities of animals. The examples are too numerous but just to list a few – crows in Tokyo use car traffic to crack open walnuts by dropping the unopened nuts in front of cars that are stopped at red lights, elephants mourn their dead, honeybees learn new nectar extraction techniques from each other and studies have shown that fruit flies indulge in alcohol from fermented fruit when they do not have great mating prospects.
Shaky legal standing
It makes no sense that killing and eating a cow or sheep is fine but killing a dog or cat is considered an act worthy of legal prosecution in most countries. Even amongst farm animals, there is little consistency. For example, horse meat is legal in certain European countries but illegal in the US.
Availability of alternatives
The past few years have seen rapid growth in plant-based alternatives that look, taste and feel like meat. Many fast-food chains have introduced these offerings and even McDonalds will begin offering the ‘McPlant’ in 2021.
Based on the above, most western countries are witnessing a rapid growth in vegetarianism and veganism and even countries such as Brazil with a culture and history of meat eating have seen explosive growth in meatless diets. And this is before we come to China which has a goal of cutting meat consumption to half within 10 years.
How should India approach this topic? Firstly, the dietary suggestions by the Ministry of Health need to exclude meat and meat products. There are no nutrients in meat that are not available in the traditional Indian diet and even the propaganda around protein doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Per the USDA, the average male requires 56 grams of protein per day – that amount is easily obtained from a lacto-vegetarian diet.
Secondly, just like the International Day of Yoga, the government should start a UN based movement to urge a no meat month across the world during the month of June (when the World Environment Day usually falls). It is said that any habit followed for 21 days becomes part of one’s daily life and a month of avoiding meat will accelerate the giving up of meat consumption.
Thirdly, a dharmic version of PETA needs to be launched, backed by money power to buy promotional messages by celebrities. Meat-eating in India needs to gradually be seen like smoking – a harmful yet legal habit, but by no means, ‘cool’. The Bollywood and Cricket addicted public needs lectures from its stars and there’s no faster way to get them to speak up than good old-fashioned money.
The abolishment of meat-eating might seem like a fantasy given how engrained it has been in human culture since the very first ape walked upright and scavenged the remains of a prehistoric lion’s kill. However many practices that existed outside Bharat for almost the same amount of time, such as slavery and no rights for women, were also wiped away in a relatively short amount of time. The cruel, senseless, and unnecessary farming of animals for meat is destined to meet a similar end.