Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Mutton Curry for Vegetarians

Someone had scrawled graffiti on a post halfway across the golf-course. I used to pass it every day as I was walking my dog. "Meat means murder," it said. "All meat eaters are fascists."

I'm a fascist and a murderer, then. I eat meat.

It's an extreme statement. But is it justified? I think not. A fascist is someone who seeks to impose his will by force, and I don't care one way or the other whether another person wants to be a vegetarian or not. In fact - by that definition - whoever wrote that graffiti is a fascist, since they would have me eating only vegetables whether I like it or not. As for meat meaning murder, this is even more absurd. Murder implies malice, and there is no malice whatsoever in my desire to eat meat.

Time and time again I've been struck by the fact that extremist views in fact undermine the very aims they seek to impose. Death is a part of life. We all die in the end. When I die my body will feed the worms, no doubt. What we should be aiming for is the eradication of suffering. In other words: the humane and ethical treatment of animals while they are alive. This is a far more realistic aim, than that we should expect every human being on the planet to give up meat.

If animal rights activists were really sincere in their desire to help animals, then they would want to enlist the support of meat eaters too. No one wants to see animals boxed up in confined spaces for the whole of their lives, never seeing the sky, never skipping about in the fields. No one wants to see animals screaming in terror at the prospect of dying. No one wants to see animals clubbed to death, or left bleeding, half alive. No one wants to see animals force-fed on a diet of ground-up animal parts, turning naturally vegetarian animals into cannibals. There are many meat eaters who would happily see the end of veal crates, and the transport of live animals. And almost every meat eater who can afford it would be perfectly willing to pay more for their meat if they knew that the animal had had a happy life, and a dignified and painless death.

I was a vegetarian for a number of years. The reason I packed it in initially was that I got a job in a steelworks, and the canteen simply didn't serve vegetarian food. There's only so much manual labour you can do on a diet of mashed potatoes and cheese. And, the truth is, vegetarianism tends to be the preserve of the middle classes.

I went on the hippy trail to India. India, of course, has a fine tradition of delicious and varied vegetarian food. So no problem there. But those countries in between - Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan - are all almost exclusively meat-eating.

I'd already come to the conclusion that the insistence on a vegetarian diet, regardless of the circumstances, was both rude and impractical. There were vegetarian restaurants along the way, set up exclusively to cater for western tastes. But the normal Afghan fare - their equivalent of fish and chips - was pillau rice: a mound of rice fried in meat fat, with a scrawny lump of meat buried at the bottom. Poor man's food. Pillau rice was what the Afghans ate. And that - I decided - was what I would eat too.

In Pakistan I ate mutton curry. To this day I have a taste for cheap cuts of old meat - such as mutton or goat - mulled in spices over several hours, till the stringy flesh grows succulent and falls off the bone. It's a pity that such basic forms of meat are so difficult to find in this country. This is how most people in most parts of the world eat. In China they eat every part of the animal, even the feet. Nothing is wasted. It's only in the decadent west that we relish the tenderest parts of lamb and veal and other baby animals, and then throw the rest away. And it's only western travellers who will visit another country and then demand that they cater for our delicate tastes.

To be invited into someone's home, and then to put the host to so much trouble by insisting on the particularities of a certain diet, smacks of churlishness to me. To do the same in someone else's country seems rude in the extreme.

So let's unite to end barbaric factory-farming methods - shall we? - and leave out the insults.


Chip Nelson said...

Here in rural South Carolina they eat possum (oppossum). These left over creatures from the age of dinosaurs are all over the place, especially at night and can be found in various configurations on the road side dead on the ride to work in the morning. Sometimes one will hang out on our porch which makes my wife call me on her cell phone to shoot it before she can get out of her car and come inside. They can't be coaxed into going away. You can yell "shew" all night long and they just dig in and hiss. We moved here from NY in 1999 and I still can't bring myself to eat one regarless of how it's cooked.

But the part of your entry that really got to me was that somebody had painted anything on a golf course. Truly, it's hard enough to focus on the task at hand without having this or that slogan as a greeting to the fairway.

When I'm not on the golf course I work in a state prison. I think I know what murder is amd is not. Eating meat? No, eating meat is not murder nor is shooting prehistoric possums. Murder is a premeditated act that results in the death of another human being. I have plenty of real murder 1 convicts that will attest to that.

Perhaps gun ownership as well as spray paint ownership should be better regulated. And, any sort of political slogan on a golf course should net the defacer a stiff pranging.

I enjoyed your bolg Sir.

Anonymous said...

What, you couldn't work in a steelworks on a veggie diet ?

Utter rot sir. I've been veggie since 1982 and cycle 2000-3000 miles per year.