Lest we forget

Not long ago, when we were not what we are today, one thing that really didn’t bother us was what we consumed.

Some cultivated land, some reared cattle and others bartered what they grew or produced.  Rice, corn, wheat or barley was in short supply, but we were happy.  Farmers grew vegetables in summer and dried them to save for winter, when supply was scarce and import non-existent.

Each farmer reared a few cows to meet their dairy needs, kept a few hens and pigs.  They consumed the meat when the cow or the ox died, or sold it to neighbours, if not offered to the nearest monastery.  They would kill a pig for their annual lochhoe.  The leftover was rationed to last for a long time.

When a cattle dies of accident, the meat is made available to neighbours.  Most of the time, they sell all the meat, as they wouldn’t consume a cow that had helped the family for years.  It was a simple but healthy and self-sufficient society.

Then we started developing.  Concrete buildings replaced paddy fields, farmlands have fallen fallow as villagers move to towns to live with their children and grandchildren.  We have more income to dispose and are spoilt for choice.  We are richer, yet poorer, at least in our consciousness.

Suddenly we cannot live without meat.  Indeed, it is a sign of prosperity.  Our lochhoe is judged by the variety of food and meat served.  That is with a plea from the zhung dratsang to observe no-meat lochhoes.  A wedding or promotion party is grand, if the lunch on display has 19 items of curry, majority of which should be meat, starting from liver to lungs to trotters and the famous phangu.

We have an insatiable hunger for meat, going by the amount we import.  We are gripped by consumerism that has become a new culture already.  The dry vegetables, once a necessity in winter, have now become a delicacy.  The dolam kam, kakuru kam, lom and ema shukam were winter vegetables because there was no choice.  We get all kinds of vegetables now, thanks to roads and imports.

The ongoing discussion on the agriculture ministry’s initiative to start a meat-processing unit is a timely reminder to question ourselves.  We are driven by religious sentiments, yet not observant of them.  We listen to more religious discourse, many in English, from various sources.  We are more enlightened, yet most of us cannot change our food habits.

Given the present predicament (religion vs economy), nobody is right on the debate of starting or stopping a meat-processing unit or slaughterhouses.  But what we learnt is there is a healthy debate that is good for making decisions.

The government feels that they are at the receiving end for a well-intended initiative.  They should convince people or listen to them.  Some of the observers have started suggesting solutions.  That is healthier than eating meat.

3 replies
  1. MIGNIEN
    MIGNIEN says:

    The debate beteween the one who prefer to look on the rear mirror whithout thinking to the future , and the moderns who want development of Bhutan is very healthy ; this tiny democraty learn what is an open debate .
    Like IRFAN coclusion , this debate get loss time on decisions to balance budget .
    If a great majority like to eat meat , it gives a signal of better living ; animal proteins are immediatly assimilable ; while vegeterian food take time to give energy in a society of rapidity . And why breeding is so intense in the rural areas ?, Some says they eat their animals when they are dead ! Doctors will say they are eaten away !
    And why dead animals are offered to monasteries !!!
    Some bouddhist ways are strange and hypocrit
    reason and feeling must be a little separated when the subject is the best managment for the well being of the population .

  2. sorryla
    sorryla says:

    the very people who are against meat cannot live without it.
    take for example many lamas,officers, etc…. and as some body has rightly put it has mixed religion and economics when it comes to meat.

  3. irfan
    irfan says:

    Every cuisine has its own traditional identity which is always influenced by the environment we live in. It may be because our environment influences our systems including the food habits. While some of the tourists find Bhutanese meat dishes a bit dry or with lots of cheese, I always like it. During slightly warmer summer days, some may prefer it to be curried meat. When local meat consumption styles get discussed, some also talk about availability of other cuisines. If locals are believed to be over consuming meat products, many are probably not sure about what amount our future tourists will consume. But the tourists always adjust with whatever the local cuisine has to offer. Whether to consume meat or not and how much we consume is personal choice and same is true with the cuisine we prefer over another. If it’s not about totally banning meat products, meeting part of the demand through local production makes economic sense. But the subject of debate is not vegetarian food against meat dishes; we are talking religious sentiments against some economic intent favouring reduced import of meat. And any debate on that will mix religion or religious belief with economy while not any religion can be debated as either for or against the economy.

    This difficult debate reminds me another debate where greed is considered as a good thing. The logic is that if greed is driven by rightful ambitions beyond just personal gains without harming others in any way, it’s a good thing. But greed resulted from any form of jealousy is always a recipe for just disasters. There is no end to this debate, decisions must be made.

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