As 2014 comes to an end, everyone starts reviewing their annual activities, professionally or personally. New resolutions are chalked out even when the old ones may or may not be fulfilled. Like Aamir Khan from the papa kehte hain song intro, I had not resolved to do anything. No really, I mean it! But today, today I could think of just one thing…that I have turned vegetarian!
As a kid, I was a very fussy eater. All of my close and distant family members can attest to that. For hours, my mom would run behind me with food, stuff it in my mouth if she caught hold of me, and then force me to chew it as I would stare at her with mouthful of food, crying. The only food item that motivated me to eat was tandoori chicken. My parents’ joy knew no bounds when they saw me relishing a chicken leg piece at our favorite restaurant. That day, I hogged the chicken as if I was never given food before. I had officially tasted meat and then there was no stopping me. My drive to eat chicken slowly started encompassing all of it’s edible forms and also started expanding to other edible animals.
Given my love for meat, deciding to become a vegetarian was not sudden for me. It had been brewing in my mind for a couple of years but never found a reason good enough to justify myself. Every time I would decide to quit meat, I would debate with myself saying, “it’s a food chain and you are up there, so it’s fine if you eat meat”, or “where will you get your protein from” or simply “it’s so yummy, how dare you think of giving it up”.
I felt that by being a non-vegetarian, I was less fussy. People did not have to cook a separate vegetarian dish at a potluck, just for me. Also, majority of the people I interacted with were meat eaters and they always had this enthusiasm of making us taste a novelty meat item at the restaurants or at their homes. I felt I would insult them if I say no. There was no pressure and I would end up liking all of those delicacies. And then again, there was the pot of chicken biryani slowly cooking in the makeshift dum. As Neeraj removed the dough seal, the aroma of biryani would pull me away from being vegetarian.
My meat eating in India was restricted to chicken and fish. After coming to the U.S., my scope broadened to include pork and beef. Since I was not religious, I was open to try out anything and everything that was tasty. I still have great memories of eating pork tenderloin with my boss at a local bar, experimenting deer meat at a friend’s barbecue party, digging chicken wings at the super bowl get togethers, feasting on the thanksgiving turkey and relishing the chicken tikka masala cooked by my neighbor. The crispy bacon strips and spicy sausage with scrambled eggs was my comfort food when we stayed up late working on our thesis. Be it the Goan fish curry, the Bengali fish fry, the bland salted oysters, crab cakes, I think I have revelled sufficiently in the meat land.
The seeds of turning vegetarian were sown in my mind when we visited a hog farm as part of an educational/industrial visit through my work place in Indiana. It was no less than brutal to see the hogs packed up in close confined spaces, living, breeding and dying in their own stink. The smell of that brutality was tough to get rid of off my body and mind. When I narrated these thoughts to my advisor, he confessed to me that, coincidentally, he turned vegetarian after seeing a truck packed with hogs being taken to the slaughterhouse. Amma (Neeraj’s mom) and his sister have never touched meat for the same reason of causing animal harm. After this experience, I started watching videos, debates, documentaries and read as many articles and experiences I could find to help me make this decision. I was piling up inspirations and then, after two years of incessant discussions, reading and screen time, I decided to turn vegetarian in the month of April this year. When I cite animal harm as the main reason to give up meat, people ask me if I have turned vegan, giving up eggs and dairy products or giving up leather and wool as the next step after giving up meat, since there is a lot of animal harm in these aspects too. To such questions, my response is that people draw their own borders. Currently, I am drawing my border at giving up meat. Who knows, these borderlines may extend to encompass other degrees of animal harm.
It feels nice when you do not make any resolutions in January of every year, but when you look back at the year in December, you see that you unknowingly resolved to achieve something and actually achieved it. Now, as I embark on another exciting India trip, I muster all my inner strengths to stick to it.