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Excuses for eating flesh

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Even though people have been vegetarian for centuries (Confucious, Plato, Jesus and his brother John, Leonardo da Vinci, Einstein, are some that I can think of outside India), the term vegetarian was coined in 1839 and referred to people who ate a plant-based diet.  

For the last 200 years, since commercial slaughterhouses were invented, people became strong meat eaters and the result has been devastation on the planet. Now both realization and reaction has set in all over the world. Being vegetarian is fashionable. Few people will now insist, in public, that they are die-hard meat eaters. Most say, apologetically, “we don’t eat meat at home” or “we don’t eat it very often”. Many people will say they are vegetarian – but they eat some fish, others eat eggs, others milk. I know one vegetarian who eats the gravy of meat dishes with the excuse that it is made of vegetables! Everyone has a different definition of what they do and don’t want to eat – as vegetarians.

You must have heard this answer from a lot of people, whom you ask whether they are vegetarian or nonvegetarian: “Both”.

The road from carnivore to vegan is paved with small concrete steps, each with their own designation and description:

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Omnivore: one who eats everything.

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Carnivore: one who eats meat.

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Pescatarian: someone who doesn’t eat meat but eats fish. The term pescatarian was coined in the early 1990s and is a combination of the Italian word for fish, “pesce,” and the word “vegetarian.” Some Bengalis call themselves vegetarians because they won’t eat meat, and fish are labelled Jal Torai or vegetables of the sea. Even with pescatarians there are subgroups: for example, Jews eat fish, but are not allowed to eat shellfish. Some people eat fish but are allergic to shellfish.

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Lacto-ovo vegetarian: someone who won’t eat meat, chicken, seafood or fish, but will eat dairy products and eggs .

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Lacto-vegetarian: someone who won’t eat meat, eggs, fish , seafood or chicken, but will take dairy products, such as milk, cheese, yoghurt, butter, ghee, icecream, paneer and confectionary. Punjabis and Gujaratis come to mind.

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Ovo-vegetarian : someone who does not eat meat, fish, seafood, chicken or dairy products but eats eggs. This is usually justified by saying that the eggs are not “fertilized” so they are vegetarian.

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Pollovegetarian: someone who doesn’t eat meat, fish, eggs or dairy but will eat chicken.

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Pesco pollo vegetarian: the person avoids red meat but eats chicken and fish.

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Macrobiotic: A follower of this diet is mainly vegetarian, but it sometimes includes seafood. This “vegetarian” focuses on eating local and seasonal foods that balance each other. More than a philosophy, this is done for health reasons.

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Living food eater: I don’t think this includes raw meat or fish (otherwise we go right back to the top with carnivore.) This person eats only raw foods. The concern is that heating foods above 116°F destroys important enzymes that help with digestion. This person also believes that cooking diminishes the vitamin and mineral content of the food.

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Fruitarian: a person who eats only fruits and vegetables, often including beans, nuts, and grains, usually raw. These foods are taken from the plant without killing it.

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Vegan: no meat, poultry, fish, seafood, eggs and dairy products — and foods that contain these products. No honey, gelatin, albumin, rennet. No wearing of animal products like leather, wool, silk

Whatever the path being taken and the level of commitment, the reality is that cutting your meat consumption is a positive step. Reducing the amount of meat in your diet benefits your health, promotes animal well-being and helps the planet support the growing human population. Each vegan saves about 200 animals a year and makes a positive impact on saving water, lessening pollution and land degradation, saving hundreds of trees and lessening suffering.

The word most currently in vogue is “flexitarian” which means “semi vegetarian” – primarily a plant-based diet but can include meat, dairy, eggs, poultry and fish on occasion, or in small quantities. Someone who has just started the journey towards self-awareness. A Meatless Monday beginning.

When a trend starts, obviously scientific study follows. An interesting study on the psychology of flexitarianism has been done by Rosenfeld, Rothgerber and Tomiyama (published in Food Quality and Preference Feb 4, 2021).

Flexitarians are omnivores who attempt to limit the amount of animal products they consume. While the number of vegetarians and vegans remains low in most countries, the number of flexitarians is far larger, with numbers as high as 14% in the U.K, according to a recent poll done by YouGov, a U.K. polling company. According to the YouGov poll, 18% of women from 18-24 are flexitarian, and 3% are vegan. For men in the same age range, 10% are flexitarian and 1% are vegan. For both men and women, individuals under 35 are more likely to be vegan or vegetarian.

But vegetarianism isn’t just a diet choice. It’s a lifestyle and identity chosen for a variety of reasons, including moral, environmental and health. Vegetarians differ psychologically from omnivores. So what is the psychology of flexitarians?

Researchers recruited 564 flexitarians and 154 vegetarians and asked them why they avoided meat, and whether the flexitarians intended to go vegetarian in the future.

This is what they found:

There were no age or income differences between flexitarians and vegetarians on average.

Both had a large number of vegetarians in their social network.

But they found, unlike vegetarians. that flexitarians were much less likely to say that avoiding meat was central to their identity. They were less judgmental of omnivores’ choice to eat meat, and less likely to feel that eating meat was morally wrong.

However, the flexitarians in the study believed that society judged them far more positively for avoiding meat. The researchers found that flexitarians were less likely to be avoiding meat for a cause beyond themselves, like animal welfare or the environment, or even personal benefits like health.

Vegetarians were much less concerned about how their diet was viewed by society. They had adopted the diet for causes outside themselves – and a few for health reasons.

The researchers asked flexitarians whether they intended to go vegetarian at some point. Almost all of them said yes, and one of the main reasons they gave was that society looks favourably on vegetarians.

 Both the study and the poll showed that flexitarians are nearly three times more likely, than the general public, to say that they are “actively trying to reduce their meat consumption.” The poll showed that flexitarians, who intend to go vegan or vegetarian, are more likely to be students or part-time workers, live at home or with housemates, and expect a child in the recent future. They also tend to rely more on online media than print or television, and use social media at a higher rate. This suggests that they are in the under-30 demographic. 

Flexitarians are also more likely to engage in general socially-conscious behaviour, like recycling and buying fair trade. They are generally more concerned with a brand’s social views and ethics, than the general population. Flexitarians and pescatarians consume dairy or meat substitutes at a far higher rate than the general population. They are also willing to try out new foods.

The problem lies now with defining flexitarianism. A vegetarian and a pescetarian are clearly defined. But a flexitarian eats everything. People are unreliable when it comes to assessing their own behaviour. Someone who eats meat daily also describes himself in public as a flexitarian. So, while he is conscious of where he should go, the lure of the palate is infinitely greater. While a significant amount may say they’re attempting to cut out meat and dairy, fewer will likely follow through.

So, how does one turn a flexitarian into a vegetarian ? If one goes by this data, I would think the best way to do it would be to make the word flexitarian far more popular, and bring it up constantly when introducing, or talking to, someone who has decided to lessen their meat habit. You need to solidify their meat avoiding identity, and to encourage them to take pride in it and bring it up in their own conversation. If they felt they were part of a large community going in the same direction, they could be persuaded to walk on the same road as vegetarians.

These are people who are very aware of “society” and its trends. Which means that personal benefit is a strong psychological factor. So, pushing the health benefits to them would be helpful as a backup tool.

 To join the animal welfare movement contact gandhim@nic.in, www.peopleforanimalsindia.org



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Sat Mag

When a wonderful human being crosses the great divide

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Sarasaviya took this picture of Punya and Milroy at their home after the “Abhimani” Legendary Award was conferred on Punya, during their last visit to Sri Lanka to attend the Sarasaviya Festival in 2016.

“There are friends,
There is family,
And then there are friends
That become family”

Such a friend was Milroy, whose passing away a few days ago, we learnt with heavy hearts and deep sorrow.

To those who didn’t know him, he was the husband of Punya Heendeniya, the actress who captivated the hearts and minds of a nation by her portrayal of Nanda in the film classic “Gamperaliya”; Nanda was the quintessential Sinhala upper class village maiden who valued tradition over love.

To MBS (Siri) he was a lifelong friend “who stayed forever, beyond word, beyond distance, beyond time”.

To me (Kumar Gunawardane) who came to know him through Siri and also through his brothers, he was a pleasant companion, and good friend.

PUNYA:

“He loved music, sing songs and kalawaa (art) in all its forms. That is why he married me. He went out of his way to help the needy in whatever way he could. He did everything for me and the children.

“In the last year or two he took to understanding what real Buddha Dharma was.

“May he attain the supreme bliss of Nibbana!”

SIRI:

“We met on the very first day in the “Block”; alphabetically we were next to each other, Milroy de Silva and MBS de Silva. That day, wearing our white jackets and ties back to front, we had to march to the Anatomy laboratory, jeered by serried ranks of haughty seniors. The naked bodies lying on marble slabs was nauseating. I was directed to the appropriate cadaver by a tutor and paired with a brilliant student JBC De Silva, to dissect the upper limb. Confused and bewildered I could only gaze at the colleague carving the other arm. He looked equally nonplussed wielding a scalpel nonchalantly, while another student recited the instructions from Cunningham’s manual of Anatomy. Our eyes met and that was the start of a beautiful friendship; a coming together of the high-spirited and full of joie de vivre. We immediately downed tools and scampered to the canteen to revive ourselves with a cup of tea, laced with condensed milk, and the cheapest available cigarette ‘Peacock’. Our interests were similar; studies took a back seat, larking around taking precedence. The friendship was sealed further when we joined Bloemfontein the formidable male medical student hostel alternatively feared and lauded.

“I remember our first Block dance at the King George’s hall. He was smartly dressed in black tuxedo pants and a cream jacket; only missing element was a lady companion. I, who wore a black shirt and a white tie, had a beautiful girl on my arm. I asked Milroy where he came by his tuxedo and he disdainfully replied I have two brothers who are doctors and one tuxedo for the whole family and now it is my turn to have it!!

“Our bonds strengthened during our intern year. Milroy returned to his roots in Galle and I joined him a few months later at Mahamodara, the hospital by the sea. It was a year of back breaking work, but also a year of fun and frolic.

“Milroy was then posted as chief (District Medical Officer) of the Moneragala hospital. But “I was left high and dry, Milroy, thoughtful as ever arranged for me to work with his brother Dr A.S.H De Silva, who had a thriving general practice just down the road from the hospital. Three months later, I got a posting to Buttala, which was then a mostly elephant and serpent infested jungle. It was classed as a ‘punishment’ station by the Health Department. The attractions however were the proximity to Milroy, and also the predecessors who included medical giants such as Professor Rajasooriya and the distinguished surgeons Dr Bartholomeuz, and R. L. Spittel the Surgeon of the Wilderness. In this pastoral outpost Milroy was bowled over by the image of Punya. He was at a loss to reach her. I advised him to write and he did so with panache. She invited him to visit them at Mirigama, her hometown to meet her folk. They teamed up in Punya’s own words for 52 years seven months and 22 days; a match made in heaven.

“As a dutiful father, he wanted to give his son and daughter the best education available and so it was that he and Punya migrated to Zambia. It was here that they demonstrated hidden strengths of character which helped them overcome adversities and even threats to their lives and move over to England. Milroy re-invented himself and rose to top of the ladder to become a consultant psychiatrist. His two children also became consultants in the NHS, the son a gastroenterologist and daughter an endocrinologist. He acknowledged freely Punya’s role not only in all his triumphs, but also in the hazards and misfortunes in their paths.

“Yet, more than all this was his humanity and humility, generosity to those less well endowed especially relatives and also to those medical graduates at the threshold of their careers. They were gracious hosts; Punya was an accomplished cook and less well known, a euphonious singer. I and my good friend Karu had the good fortune to enjoy their hospitality on many occasions in London.

“Milroy my friend, “To live in the hearts of those we love is never to die”

“May your journey in Samsara be short and my you attain the Supreme bliss of Nibbana!”

 

KUMAR:

I first got to know Milroy at Bloemfontein, the medical student’s hostel adjoining Carey College. He was a dapper figure, stylishly dressed with an unceasing gentle smile on his face. His chums, Siri, Gerry, Wicky and others were always friendly with us juniors and never intimidating. Their banter and capers in the dining room and the spacious portico were invariably hilarious.

My friendship with Siri was cemented in the hurly-burly of the Galle hospital, where I too did my internship. When I was unemployed after its completion it was Siri who arranged for me to work with Dr ASH, Milroy’s brother. ASH and Kingsley, another brother became my friends and mentors.

“Punya was a heartthrob of many young bucks of our era. But only one, Milroy, could win her hand and her heart. What a splendid partnership it was.

The Buddha Dhamma teaches that death is natural and inevitable. Yet it is sorrowful and we pray for you and your family’s peace and comfort. Their sadness is soothed by the beauty of your life, a life well lived. As the Buddha said death has no fear to those who fashioned life as a garland of beautiful deeds.

May you attain the Supreme Bliss of Nibbana!

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Sat Mag

A New Arrival at the Pathfinder Wildlife Preservation Centre

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A newly hatched blue and gold macaw bred at the Pathfinder Wildlife Preservation Centre being attended to by a staff member Sisira Kumara.

The Pathfinder Wildlife Preservation Centre has a comprehensive collection of rare macaws, cockatoos, lorikeets, and parrots from Southeast Asia, Africa, and Latin America. The collection also includes a range of Arowana fish. This unique collection was originally presented to the Centre by Nimal Jayawardena, a leading business person, lawyer, and wildlife expert.

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Sat Mag

Imagining Malinda Seneviratne

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By Uditha Devapriya

I’d like to begin this tribute with a memory. I wasn’t always an avid reader of newspapers. My father, on the other hand, was. Somewhere in middle school, in Grade Eight I believe, I began picking them up once he had done with them, poring over the columns.

My eyes rested on certain topics more than others. They’d invariably centre on the war. How were we fighting the enemy? How was that enemy fighting back? What new conspiracies had been unearthed? Who had unearthed them? Who was next on the enemy’s kill list? The peace process, dead as a dodo long before it died, had floundered. Officially, we were back at war. As intriguing as that would have been, it was also disconcerting.

Even more disconcerting was the ambivalent stand of the English language press on the war. Not that the editorials called for a cessation of hostilities, much less a return to the peace process. But beneath the fine print, one could discern an almost confused pacifism, an almost abstruse neutralism.

This conformed to the same pattern: an acknowledgement of the heroism of the armed forces followed by a critique of government policy. Ultimately it all boiled down to, not whether the government was conducting the war properly, but whether the war had to be conducted at all. Even there the editors remained indecisive: they concluded that the LTTE had to be defeated, yet refused to endorse the war being waged to achieve that end.

None of that felt frustrating, of course. Cut off from the fears of a war next door, one could only revel in the delicatessen of wartime journalism. Yet it was clear the scales tilted to a side: very few writing in English advocated a military solution to the world’s longest running ongoing ethnic conflict. What explained their hesitation?

I didn’t bother finding out, but given the preponderance of those who wrote against the war, I was transfixed by those who wrote in support of it. Of them, one in particular caught my attention. Seven years later I met him: a coincidence I ponder over even now.

I have known Malinda Seneviratne in his many forms: writer, poet, translator, activist, editor, citizen, father, husband, and teacher. Yet I can’t recall why I wanted to meet him. Was it the eloquent prose, sharp as nails even at its most polemical? The equally eloquent poetry, haiku-like and evocative of both Neruda and Galeano? Or the activism, unabashedly nationalist in a country whose Westernised intelligentsia abhors such “tribalist” sentiments?

Malinda’s political education began with the Left, first with his father Gamini, then with a batch-mate of his father, Nanda Wickramasinghe (attached to the Revolutionary Communist League at the University of Peradeniya), and finally with Vijaya Kumaratunga and Ossie Abeygunasekera (until the latter’s defection to the UNP). The Ratawesi Peramuna, precursor to the Sihala Urumaya, came later.

His activism in (and for) the Ratawesi Peramuna followed his return from Harvard (where he completed his Bachelor’s in Sociology) in 1991. It was while in this group that he deepened his friendship with two of his biggest influences, Patali Champika Ranawaka and Athuraliye Rathana Thera. It was also his activities there that landed him in trouble; the police swooped on a meeting organised in 1992 at Wadduwa, following an exhibition of LTTE, IPKF, and JVP human rights abuses held in Matara, was intercepted by the police, who proceeded to arrest 15 members, including Ranawaka, Rathana Thera, and Malinda.

Held for three weeks, and tortured on the orders of a drunken OIC, they filed a fundamental rights case at the Supreme Court. Upholding their case, the Court, which acknowledged that the RP did not constitute a threat to national security and did not warrant the treatment meted out to its members, ordered the State to pay Rs 5,000 for each applicant. The Human Rights Library of the University of Minnesota later archived the case, “Channa Pieris and Others v. Attorney General and Others.” In the meantime, the Ratawesi Peramuna turned into Janatha Mithuro, a green socialist/nationalist outfit preaching the gospel of alternative development paradigms (what Ranakawa called the “third chapter of development”).

Malinda ended his political associations once he started out on his journalistic (and writing) career in the 2000s. By then he had gone through Janatha Mithuro, Sihala Urumaya, and the National Movement Against Terrorism (2006-7). These are, no doubt, colourful affiliations, befitting a colourful memoir. Yet, despite his activism, it’s hard to put a finger on his convictions: he just can’t be categorised in the same way his opponents, or for that matter his allies, can.

On the ‘national Question’, on the 13th Amendment, on our relations with India, indeed on global politics, he projects a provocative perspective. Thus, for instance, while he supported the Sihala Urumaya’s and Hela Urumaya’s parliamentary aspirations, he critiqued the latter’s decision to field Buddhist monks at elections. Even so, however, he does not oppose the entry of monks on a matter of unyielding principle: for him, they constitute a group having as much a right to parliamentary representation as any other.

In any case, whatever those convictions, the more I read him in my middle school years, the curiouser I got: then as now, what defines Malinda is the contrast, one could say paradox, between his ideological predilections and his poetic instincts. The two do get together, more often than you’d think, in his anthologies (just sample his poems on Geneva). And yet there’s a disjuncture between them. Perhaps this was what made me want to visit him.

Our first meeting went by innocuously enough. Lasting a little more than an hour, it ended on the promise of a second meeting, which transpired a month later – to be followed by another, and then another. The rapport between us grew quickly; by the time of the third meeting, he was asking me to come in and write to the paper he supervised as editor.

I hesitated at first. With characteristic flippancy, though, he shrugged my concerns aside: “When you work for me,” he promised, “you will write on everything.” I thus gave in: as with all 21-year-olds new to the trade, I wanted to write and be read in print. A few months later, in fulfilment of a promise he made before the January 2015 election, I was in.

Malinda taught several lessons as a writer, journalist, and senior. First and foremost among them was the line between writing news and writing features. For no matter what people may say, a good writer does not necessarily make for a good reporter. Pen and paper in hand, you need to record whatever it is that you’re covering is putting out to the public. Cutting through a morass of irrelevant anecdotes, you need to distil what you heard. And of course, you need to separate facts from comment: you can’t editorialise.

This proved to be a difficult exercise for me, far more difficult than the light pieces I ended up submitting to the features section. Suffice it to say, then, that insofar as Malinda taught me anything about journalism, it was that I could never aspire to be a journalist.

The second lesson was simpler: no matter how good (or bad) you may be as a journalist, if your editor doesn’t encourage you, your ink will dry. This applies to other professions also: where would Thomas Wolfe be, for instance, without Max Perkins?

Malinda, of course, was not my first editor. Yet he and I shared interests which immediately bridged the gap between him and me. In the end, I wound up writing on topics I had always wanted to talk about. That could not have been possible without him.

The third lesson, the most important one, was that writing to newspapers is never going to be a stable profession, especially not here. I learnt this lesson the hard way: five months after I got in, his paper closed down. Petrified for days, wondering whether I would ever be able to write again, I eventually came to realise that, as shocking an experience as it may have been to me, for Malinda it did not mean much: he’d been pole-vaulting from one paper to another from the day he left active politics for journalism.

His experience there became my guide: one evening, after the storm clouds of his termination had died down, he told me bluntly, “In this trade, if you’re good enough, you’ll never be out of tenure.” I disputed him. Six years later, having contributed to every paper he wrote to and is writing to, I realise I was wrong to do so.

Having read him and met him, I thus ended up learning under Malinda: a trajectory I am yet to go through a second time with anyone else in his line of work. I can’t really assess him, or do him justice, except maybe to note that, for the little or the lot he taught, he never demanded a payback.

Perhaps that’s just as well. For without taking away anything from what he did, I was hardly the only person he supported this way. Many others, most of them as young as I, all of them endowed with a superior penmanship, also found their way to the pages of the papers he oversaw. I know for a fact that he always insisted on compensating them – in full.

The West Indian international relations scholar Herb Addo once wrote that Andre Gunder Frank, from whom he learnt about the political economy of underdevelopment, “taught me nothing.” For his contemporaries, Addo argued, Frank “taught from a distance”, yet let his students develop as individual, independent intellectuals, in their own right.

By no means do I suggest that Malinda taught me nothing, or that he did so from a distance. But reflecting on how he taught all that one needed to know, and how he dismisses it today as though was just letting me evolve on my own, I wonder: was he, as Frank had been to Addo, a teacher in the Gibran vein, leading me to the threshold of my mind?

The writer can be reached at udakdev1@gmail.com

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