Saturday, March 07, 2009

The Indian Diet

In a lot of countries people divide themselves into two populations according to diet; the vegetarians and the non-vegetarians. There might be a couple of additional marginal groups but the variety in diet types is still fairly limited.

Among Indians, we find a plethora of dietary groups. Here's an abridged list:

  • Pure vegetarians (plants only)
  • Regular vegetarians (plants primarily, but eggs are fine, especially when eggs are hard to detect, as in cakes)
  • Eggetarians (plants and eggs)
  • Jain vegetarians (plants, but not all plants)
  • No-beef group (the cow is holy)
  • No-pork group (pigs are unclean)
  • No-beef-and-no-pork group (the cow is holy and the pigs are unclean)
  • Chicketarians (chicken is fine, but no other kind of meat)
  • No-meat-on-certain-days-of-the-week group (because life is not confusing enough?)

For many, the adherence to their form of diet is not just a preference, but is followed with a passionate vigor. When offered several things on a plate, some of which are a strict no-no, they do not simply ignore the no-no portion and eat the rest. They will often send back the entire plate and go hungry. This is pretty extreme! It is fine to have rules, and to stand up to them, but only if the rules make sense. Vehemently defending silly rules is not the mark of maturity or intelligence.

This finicky diet preference is not usually well thought through and logically arrived at. In most cases is something that people inherit from their family. They know that the diet preference is somehow loosely linked to family or religion, but they can't exactly pinpoint how. It is a preference that is inherited through religion, society, or family. Nobody thinks it through, nobody digs deeper.

This lack of a questioning attitude leads to a inconsistency in beliefs and rational thought.

Let's take the chicketarians, for example. If they're vegetarian because they don't want to eat a thinking and feeling animal, then how is it they're willing to make an exception for chickens? Even if they're in it for religious reasons, where exactly does it say in a religious text that it is okay to eat chicken, but no other animal?

If the dietary preference was rational, we should be been able to feed pork to a no-pork person by breeding the pig in extremely clean surroundings and feeding it carefully. But I doubt this actually possible. In the movie Pulp Fiction, a strongly-worded dialogue tries to get into why Jules doesn't eat pig: What if a pig has personality (search for pig on the page)? If pigs are bad because they eat dirt, what about mushrooms? The tasty button mushroom grows on manure. Whatever is offensive about pigs is doubly true of mushrooms.

It might be beneficial to re-examine why we don't eat certain foods. Preferences without rational reasons are not worth keeping.