November is ‘World Vegan Month’ and I am giving it a shot. I’m vegetarian, but have decided to take another step forward to fulfill a promise made to every furry friend I have had. I’m going vegan. To be vegan is to rid one’s diet of not just chicken, meat, sea food or eggs but all animal products including dairy and even honey!
I owe this to Jimmy… to his love and how it has been a blessing to me and my kind for as long as I can remember. Jimmy was my dearest friend and confidante. He was a bow-wow, who helped me deal with my insecurities and fears of a disturbed childhood ridden with several rapes, financial crises and loneliness. All it took for this loving canine to heal me, was listening to me with commitment and compassion as I unloaded some of my heaviest burdens.
Whenever I came back home, Jimmy would greet me with unbridled joy. But when he could sense that something was weighing me down, Jimmy would gently lead me to my room and insist that I shut the door. He would rub his head under my chin and urge me to share my anguish with him.
I would open my heart to him and talk to him whenever I felt sexually violated, hopeless and powerless. I’d often break down in tears and Jimmy would lick them… his own way of comforting me. While Jimmy did not speak any human language, he understood every word I said to him. He was a dog, but no less than god for me.
Jimmy died at the tender age of 4 and a half of a health condition common to pedigree German Shepherd dogs. He was very special. He was a natural mother to kittens that I fostered. The kittens would look for treats in his stomach fur and would scratch him, but he would never attack them, but would rather reprimand them by growling at them.
His compassion towards other animals, in fact prompted me to stand by his funeral pyre and promise him – I will stand by the values of compassion that Jimmy lived for. So was born, an animal rights activist who slowly metamorphosed from being an animal rights activist to also being an advocate for human rights. It was my compassion for animals that made me compassionate towards humans and today I’m an equal rights activist!
I believe animals are not for eating, wearing or entertaining the human (un)kind. We do have alternatives to everything from a Gucci bag to a leather purse and from a glass of milk to chicken tandoori. So why not try those. You like fur. Just replace Fox fur with faux fur! Don’t let a poor buffalo be skinned so that you can wear a fancy leather belt. That crocodile what happily swimming about before it became your shoes!
But the most effective way to lead a vegan lifestyle is to make deliberate and definite changes to your diet. Just the thought that I’m not stealing milk from a baby calf by forcing its mother to give it for my consumption is reason good enough to build a case for veganism. It’s not as if my neighbour would eat an extra chicken or egg or drink and extra glass of milk if I didn’t!
My non-vegetarian friends often ask me “plants don’t have feelings kya?” This is where I’d like to point out that plants don’t have a central nervous system. They have no evolutionary need to feel pain. They don’t have a brain or heart and therefore don’t feel fear or anything for that matter! But animals have all these things and are terrified before they are killed and feel pain as they are slaughtered.
I dread to even think about the amount of negative energy that I would be putting inside my stomach. But I guess, humans as a species would never understand.
There is nothing Hindu or Muslim or higher caste or lower caste about vegetarianism in today’s world. I know several Muslim friends who are vegetarian. I have been bullied for being vegetarian. People say it is an upper caste thing, because I have an Iyer surname. Well, caste never came to my head, when I said I love animals, it came to yours – so who is caste-ist?
Reverse caste-ism, is still caste-ism. I don’t discriminate or spread hate, even against meat eaters. As a true Indian, tolerance of different cultures is a way of life for me. You can read my article against the meat ban here.
But while I’ve spoken at length about my reason for being vegetarian, I’d like to draw your attention now to why I’m going vegan.
A walk into any dairy farm and a view of the milk production units will give us an understanding that this is far from the romanticized version of young Krishna in Gokul. Young calves are deprived of milk in their infanthood, just so you and I can have our chai-coffee.
Artificial stimulants like pumps and other machinery cause cows tremendous discomfort and even pain. As a nation that worships and kills over the well-being of cows, it is interesting we care nothing about how she feels when forced to produce milk. The reality of how that milk lands at your doorstep is far more disturbing.
Watch this video – it is minus any bloodshed:
It will not be easy to give up milk or milk products. No milk in my coffee, saying no to ice cream, no shrikhand! I love paneer and it would be the hardest thing to give up but I will switch to tofu. Tofu is basically paneer made from Soya Milk. It’s worth a shot, right?
Many vegetarians are also egg-eatarians. While I’m not going to question your logic in eating an unborn child, but sparing the grown parent, I would urge you to go to your nearest chicken farm where most of the male hatchlings are killed because they cannot produce eggs. Also, how would you like if someone harvested your ova and sold it as food saying, “It isn’t a baby yet, it hasn’t even been fertilized.”?
Honey is harvested at the cost of the lives of millions of bees. Is it ok to kill a bee because it is not even an animal, and is “just an insect”? Do you know how important the role of bees is in pollination? Also, do you know bee keepers cut off the Queen Bee’s wings to prevent her from swarming her troops to protect themselves? A bee only stings when threatened, otherwise it just goes about its life making honey.
I’m never going to force anyone to follow a diet. But would urge you to watch this video called Earthlings and then make an informed decision. Though, it may churn your stomach and conscience a little, it will also show you the truth that is, as is.
But if you would rather listen to a goddess for all religions and all castes, watch this:
Ellen De Generes, the gay goddess, is one of the people who influenced me deeply. So, if you think I am doing wrong, blame Ellen.
So, I am going vegan… for a month for starters. I hope I can overcome temptation and turn this into a long term commitment. Wish me luck!
(Harish Iyer is an equal rights activist working for the rights of the LGBT community, women, children and animals. ‘RainbowMan’ is Harish’s regular blog for The Quint)