A three-part attempt to get to the heart of a matter that splits society into two opposing camps 

Is not meat-eating a throwback to the brutish past, and vegetarianism the mark of an evolved being?

ALTHOUGH agriculture is held by anthropologists to mark a great leap forward in the civilisation of man, does not the fact that he didn’t give up meat in the process, now that he knew how to grow grain, denote an evolutionary flaw of sorts in the course of that epochal change?  For did it not show a basic (with the accent on ‘base’) instinct that was still bestial in nature?  Was mankind destined— some would say, doomed — to remain carnivorous?

To those who detest meat — and meat-eaters in equal measure — like PETA activists (plus, closer to home, some of my kith and kin), the continued presence of pork, chicken, beef, mutton and fish on tables across the globe is deplorable.  This outlook goes beyond the bleeding hearts lobby, though, and the dialectic transcends the usual plea to compassion.  It has proved a daunting task to melt the hard hearts of meat-eaters, albeit aware in painful detail of what the animals they eat are put through so that flesh gets to plate.

As an aside: a local rationale that the longer the gap between killing and eating (ergo dried meat), the less the toll on one’s karma, strikes one as a clear case of wishful thinking!

Taking up cudgels now on behalf of the anti-meat cause is the green brigade.  Unlike animal-lovers, environmentalists appeal not to the milk of human kindness, but to our bloody-minded sense of self-preservation.  To put that meat on our menus is costing our planet dear in terms of water usage and methane effluence, not to mention pollution from transport, be it truck, tanker or carrier.  Sustaining this ‘meat-tooth’ lifestyle is simply not tenable in the long haul, you see.

So there you have it, our choice is a stark one: get civilised or get stuffed, i.e., go extinct.  It has now become vital to our evolution, if not survival, as a species to quit this vice.  The dice is loaded against, and the sands have run out on, that dietetic leftover from our primeval past.

Dissecting the diets – Can a pure veg regimen do the nutritional needful?

AN exclusive vegetarian diet includes all sorts of plant food, and dairy products, but shuns, like sin, meat and animal-based foods and by-products.

Studies carried out on veggies find an increased risk of deficiencies in iron (anaemia), zinc and vitamin B12.

Before non-veggies jump in here to gloat, “I told you so,” let me add pronto that adequate nutrition may be had from a purely vegetarian diet.

All veggies have to do is tuck into all sorts of fare, with an apt input from each food group.  Through such selective ingestion, a veg diet can meet all one’s nutritional needs.  To focus on foods rich in iron, calcium, zinc, and vitamin B12 is to head off a potential lack and hit the heights of health.  Needless to say, these may all be had from a wide array of non-meat sources.

It goes without saying too that the key to this equation is a lifestyle with a healthy dose of exercise.  As the man said, with a slight twist of my own, there is no substitute for (a) hard workout!  If you omit that side of a way of life, no amount of greens will do you much good, Popeye’s spinach endorsement notwithstanding.

Dissecting the diets – Is a non-veg diet as wholesome as it’s cracked up to be?

NON-vegetarians are gorging themselves on more and more high fat content pork, chicken, turkey, beef and seafood than ever before.  A recent study showed that Americans (poster boys of non veg world) ate far more of these foods than they did fifty years ago.  And, though we may deny it till we’re blue in the face, and despite all the ‘Go home’ graffiti aimed at them, what the Yanks do now, the rest adopt next.

The biggest spike in consumption has been for poultry.  The chicken crossed the road to get away from Col. Sanders is my branded-new answerTM to that classic riddle!

While chicken and fish may not cause chronic disorders per se, when deep fried in partially hydrogenated oil, they turn toxic and into a most potent cause of heart disease, thanks to their trans fatty acid content.

Research has found that non-vegetarians have:

•  shorter lifespans and are more prone to prolonged ailments than their veggie peers;

•  on average, more heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes;

•  a tendency to eat less fruits and vegetables than is beneficial.

Who then is the hands-down winner in the veg-non-veg standoff? 

THE answer is – and this may come as a bit of a shock — that one can be just as bad as the other for the undiscerning.  As per current trends, both classes of consumer eat more refined cereals (white bread, white rice, etc.) than whole grains (whole wheat bread, brown rice, etc.) than is good for them.  Polishing refined grains for appearance’s sake robs them of their food value by way of shorn vitamins and fibre.

The plethora of packaged processed goods on shop shelves appeals to both non-veg and veg tastes.  Excuse the pun, but we continue to pay through our noses for the privilege of shooting ourselves in the food!  The recent Maggi imbroglio reared that ugly head of consumerism and exposed its potential perils.

We, and above all the young ones among us, are more into junk food, such as baked and fried goods, and less into health food, like fresh fruit and vegetables.  Hidden in these tidbits we so love to snack on are unhealthy dollops of salt.  This lethal combo, applicable to both veggie and non-veggie nibbles, gives rise to lifestyle diseases like obesity, heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

So, the bitter pill to swallow is that both non-veg and veg diets can kill us, if we go on wolfing down refined food (starved of useful natural nutrients) and those containing saturated fats and cholesterol.

In the final analysis, neither palate is better when both encompass self-styled fast food.  The corollary being that each diet can provide peak health, prevent nutrient deficits and avoid chronic diseases, if the focus is to choose the right stuff in terms of quantity and quality of food.

Next Week: The middle path may well be a bit of both, but the way forward must entail giving up meat

Contributed by 

John Chirmal

YDF, Thimphu