“People are fed by the food industry, which pays no attention to health, and are treated by the health industry, which pays no attention to food.”Wendell Berry
Since the time I remember, I’ve always been lean. Borrowing from the societal perception, I too believed that in order to get big, I must eat meat. I wanted to become big and strong like my father, an army man of a given stature. So I planned to start eating meat against my family’s wish. Since all my family members are vegetarian, only vegetarian food is cooked and eaten inside our house. My father, an army man, was the only person who had eaten non-veg earlier, that too under harsh military situations.
“Do whatever you want to do, just don’t remorse later”, said my mother, which was enough for me to go ahead. The next challenge was to find an eatery, as there wasn’t even a single one within 20 km radius of my house. People who did eat non-veg, got it from the meat market, which was too far and shady for a 15-year old me.
Covering a long distance was also out of question due to the fear of rampant abductions by the Chambal dacoits in the area. Parents were scared to even let their kids play anywhere but in the neighbourhood. My parents too got afraid after a boy was kidnapped from my colony. He was nailed to a tree as his parents delayed ransom payment.
After months passed, one day while discussing holidays with my friends, it struck me – What about Hashim? He is a Muslim, from the ‘Go to non-veg community’. Me and Hashim were good friends, and more than good on football field as a duo. So I explained him my trouble, and he happily obliged. He invited me to his house for upcoming Eid. On the said date, I dressed up and went to his place. He had become this non-vegetarian friend to invite me to dinner so I could also taste it.
But when the food finally came, he confided in me that he was not an avid meat lover. That shocked me! A boy from a hard-core non-vegetarian family saying he didn’t like meat..That made me give up on the idea of eating meat altogether, though I still loved consuming dairy products.
Cut to 2020 wherein I follow a mostly plant based diet, also avoiding processed food and dairy products.
We become what we eat!
A popular saying about food. Though it might not be completely true, food indeed is something that has a major impact on our bodies. A majority of our energy and nutrition comes from digestion of food we eat, which in turn makes our bones, muscles, nerve system, etc. Our genetic makeup, culture, geography, has effect on our preference of food.
For the longest time in human history, food, procreation and security has been the main aspect of life. Food was a consistent need, which required gathering, hunting and storing. Communities which could store most food, both in their body and outside were most likely to survive longer. Calories in the form of fat, became a reservoir of life, as it increased survival chances in case of non-availability of food and harsh weather conditions. This life-saving role helped us develop a taste for high calorie food, with maximum fat content. This is the reason why ghee, cheese, meat and nuts are savoured by most of us.
Fast forwarding to today, we have a whole amount of food available for most of us. It isn’t the biggest concern for the majority. Physical work has also reduced because of the technical advancements. People in service sector, are least required to perform any physical labour. While our activities have changed, our taste preference hasn’t. This has led to storing of unnecessary calories in our body, hindering our normal physical as well as organ functions. Today, lifestyle diseases are the biggest killers in the world. They drain most of the money, especially from poor and the middle class.
Here’s what changed my food habits:
My fiancé had attended a nutrition workshop wherein she was explained in depth the benefits of eating a whole-food plant based diet, which involved only eating unprocessed, whole foods, all derived from plants. She was following this religiously which made me also rethink my eating habits. Although I didn’t change instantly, this was where it started.
I then started reading about the health impacts of eating only plant foods and the side effects of eating meat or dairy. I also watched videos like Forks over knives and What the health to gain an understanding of what would be in it for me if I followed such a diet. Here’s a summary of what I learned:
- Lifestyle illnesses like heart disease which are directly related to food and nutrition are the biggest killers in the world ahead of cancer and other threats.
- Eating only plant-based food has been shown to not just prevent heart disease but reverse it as well.
- Eating meat and dairy are linked to almost all lifestyle illnesses, sometimes finding a link to neurological illnesses too.
- Processed food is almost as bad or even worse than consuming dairy or meat.
As I started reading up more about nutrition and health, I realised that politics plays a major role in what we eat. The meat and dairy industries exist to maximise profits just like any other business. They don’t give a damn about our health. The nexus between the WHO, dairy and meat industry is as strong as the nexus between coal mines and the governments. Most of the articles on food and nutrition are funded by dairy and meat industries and it’s usually them who decide which paper should be publicised and which shouldn’t, what information should reach people and in what amounts.
Although it’s difficult to talk about ethics on an empty stomach and it is best not to talk about it when one doesn’t have a choice, most people today are spoilt for choice when it comes to food. People simply have to click a button to decide whether to go for that Chicken Biryani or for Plain Rice. Most non-vegetarians today defend their right to eat meat by firstly arguing that plants have feelings too and therefore it is somehow okay to kill animals. Secondly, that they have been eating meat for centuries without any harm. The problem with the first statement, even if it was true, is that animals consume a LOT of plants and require plenty of vegetation simply to exist. Therefore, by eating animals, we are doing a lot more harm/violence than we can ever imagine otherwise. The problem with the second statement is, well, Sati was also something quite common or popular once upon a time but today it would land you in jail.
The whole purpose of human endeavours should be to strive to live such that we make it fit for our current and future generations to live comfortably. Changing our eating habits can go a long way towards this end.
The shift in eating habits will not happen overnight. It has taken ages for people to realise the negative effects of consuming tobacco and yet, many more years to actually create awareness among public. It will be the same for meat and dairy or processed food for that matter. People in the west have already begun shunning meat and dairy in large numbers. It will take time before India does it too. But till then, the onus is on the public to make their own choices, ones that would keep them from falling ill because after all, we have only one life.