Food for thought: dogmeat
99% of people have a problem with at least 33% of this menu – and the 33% is not the same. It would depend on who is being asked and where you are! West Uttar Pradesh will have a problem with cow, Mumbai with dog, Lakshadweep with pig, Saurashtra with all three, Mizoram with neither!
Through this article, my idea is not to portray anything as ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ nor is it to say that we are all living hypocritical lives. Rather, it is to draw attention to the fact that most of us, no matter how educated, rational, and logical we believe ourselves to be, subscribe to non-scientific belief systems that are not guided by rationality and logic alone but by other parameters too. And thus, when we consider what is ‘normal’ or ‘acceptable’ we must acknowledge and recognize that these are not watertight, rigid bounds but highly fluid- they are a function of the cocktail that is society, individuality, space, time, personal experience, and so on.
So when Bhurelal, a farmer in the Gangetic floodplain will not eat cow-meat, not because of his religious inclination but because he feeds his cow each day, revels in the way it moos to him each morning and licks his palm, the way it allows his daughter to climb up on its back and on the whole, is an emotive, affectionate, loyal individual being to him- is no different from Natasha in Mumbai taking her Labrador out for a walk, playing fetch and kissing him on the nose when he rolls over. And neither is this any different from Alex, from California who has Babe the pig as a loyal pet scampering about the house and being a sentient, nonhuman companion!
A shepherd with his livestock in the Gangetic floodplain
The notion that only certain animals feel pain and emotion may not necessarily be true in the way we believe it to be - not only is there a clear bias in the species studied but also, one of the most widely consumed animals, pigs, have been shown to have a higher emotional as well as intelligence quotient than dogs! All these animals exhibit behaviours that we interpret as being emotive, affectionate, and intelligent such as parental care, grooming, reconciliation, and so on.
pigs are shown to have a higher emotional as well as intelligence quotient than dogs!
So before we consider something ‘abnormal’, ‘ruthless’, primitive’, etc, we should realize that we too are subscribing to a belief system. So when our sensibilities start ringing sirens at the thought of dogmeat on a menu- we should acknowledge that it is just our belief system playing itself out - and that in another geographical location, our habits shall be perceived and received with the same alarm bells!
Think bonded labour, sati, untouchability, child marriage- all practices that were considered ‘normal’ and part of ‘daily society’ in a different space, and time not too far back. On the other hand, atheism, and the theory of evolution were all considered ‘abnormal’, and followers were persecuted! Maybe these practices had their relevance in that spatial-temporal context, or maybe they did not – but that is not the point being discussed here.
A beef burger is no different from dog dumplings or pepperoni pizza itself, nor is it any different from the animals’ perspective- they are all ending up in the pot. And whether the animal was ‘bred’ to be eaten or not is of no consequence; think of most of the seafood we consume- none of it was bred to be eaten.
A large kingfish, probably several years old. Was trawled in the Arabian Sea- never ‘bred’ to be consumed.
And about personally choosing to eat certain animals but not others, is not hypocritical, but simply a manifestation of a very human trait- that of shaping decisions based on philosophical thought and not solely utility. So there is no real dissonance when somebody adores bacon but does not enjoy the thought of barbequed dog or a beefburger- simply because it is a personal decision – all that is crucial to remember is that this decision was made on philosophical, personal parameters, and not necessarily an absolute, scientific one. Just as I dislike chillies in my food while somebody else adores them.
there is no real dissonance when somebody adores bacon but does not enjoy the thought of barbequed dog or a beefburger- simply because it is a personal decision– all that is crucial to remember is that this decision was made on philosophical, personal parameters
Nagaland comprises several different tribes and sub-tribes, each with varied traditions
And while I broach this topic; simply being vegetarian does not absolve anybody of their footprint on animals and the planet. Of those I know of, a vast majority of real-estate mafia are vegetarian, fashionistas, industrialists – vegetarians again. But yet, they all cause the death of several more animals through their actions- and these are more permanent and gruesome than the hand-to-mouth butcher in an abattoir. Even if you do not eat meat, but have 30 shirts that have been grown from cotton by inducing chemical warfare, a genocide on all insects- followed by permanently destroying habitats of several other animals, you are just as ‘cruel’ to animals (fashion is the second most polluting industry). Similarly, if you have a massive house, tens of cosmetics products etc. Would you consider Adani, a vegetarian to be less ‘cruel’ and less destructive for animals than Athung, a Naga hunter? Obviously not. I find a strange negative correlation between how ‘cruel’ a sect of peoples’ habits seem and how large is their footprint on animals itself.
the idea is not to guilt anyone into indulging into what they enjoy and desire but to acknowledge that there is nothing ‘abnormal’ and everyone has a footprint
Again, the idea is not to guilt anyone for indulging in what they enjoy and desire but to acknowledge that there is nothing ‘abnormal’ and everyone has a footprint- some more visible than others while some, like me, have the privilege of keeping it under wraps- that does not mean that it does not exist or is lesser than those whose footprint is more visible.
By this, I do not condone the brutal and unnecessarily inhumane treatment of animals such as chicken battery cages, the Yulin dog festival of China, squeeze-stalls for cattle – these are undoubtedly cruel and twisted according to what society considers today – but I simply mean that they are all in the same boat – all just as ‘cruel’- the taxonomy of the animal does not change how ‘cruel’ it is for the animal.
Thus, the Nagas and Mizos and innumerable other people across the world with all their varied food habits are no more or less cruel than any of us- we are all in the same boat and bear a footprint on animals and the planet.
Maybe a few generations down the line, the belief system shall change and that population will look back at us and wonder how we practiced what we do… But that is exactly what it is, a belief system- our descendants are not likely to look at and wonder how we believed in gravity- as that is well-rooted in an absolute science!
We have similar inconsistencies about several of the decisions we make - murder in the cold blood is a complete no-go but the death penalty continues, swatting a butterfly is not acceptable but squashing a cockroach with a shoe is- these are inconsistencies that stem from different belief systems that we subscribe to!
swatting a butterfly is not acceptable but squashing a cockroach with a shoe is – these are inconsistencies that stemming from different belief systems that we subscribe to!
It is perfectly alright to accept that we do subscribe to a non-scientific belief system, culture, tradition – the works- it is a human trait and human beings shall exhibit human traits.
But to look down the bridge of one’s nose at people with different food habits, cultures and thoughts is unscientific and in my opinion, unfounded. Recognizing that the innumerable peoples like the Nagas, Mizos, Garos, and so on simply subscribe to different belief systems and make them no more or less ‘cruel’ than any of cosmopolitan or mainstream India goes a long way in achieving our shared goal of a more content, tolerant, and equitable society.
to look down the bridge of one’s nose at people of different food habits, culture and thought is unscientific and in my opinion, unfounded.
:: Addendum with respect to the ban on the sale of dogmeat in Nagaland. So whether you strongly disagree or vehemently support the ban on the sale of dogmeat in Nagaland, it is imperative to note that this opinion stems from a non-scientific belief system. And there is no absolute ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ – it simply is a personal, subjective opinion. While I love my two dogs, Mowgli and Tama and would not be comfortable with them ending up in the pot; I know Noyonmoni of Assam who does not want his cow, Pooja to end up as a beefburger and also of Ziro Marak, of the South Garo Hills who has chosen not to slaughter his pig – because he has grown extremely fond of it! All personal beliefs without calling for the unilateral imposition of their beliefs on everyone across the country.
I strongly feel that this homogenization of cultures that make India, India is a saddening phenomenon, and we as a people would be happier and more content if we were more accepting of others’ beliefs and our disagreements.Looking forward to your thoughts on arjunk [at] ncbs.res.in
Tama and I taking a break when running in the Himalaya