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.