Edited Excerpts from an interview
Do you think that going vegan would be pragmatic in a country like India with such diverse food habits and food cultures?
Absolutely. People have their own food habits all over the world. For instance, I am English. Our national dish is roast beef for which I am very ashamed. But I grew up eating it. If I could change from loving it to finding it repulsive when I found out instances of cruelty to the animals — long before anybody knew about the environmental devastation of raising cattle and anybody had found out the negative health effects it results in — anybody can change.
Hence it is practical in India too?
Yes, more than practical. Because you have more vegan dishes in India like lentils, pulses, all the different kinds of breads, rice, fruits and vegetables. No other place in the world has as many wonderful vegan options as India. It is extraordinary what you have and the dishes here are phenomenally tasty. So there are no excuses in India (laughs).
Having meat, especially beef, is the ethnic food habit of religious minorities and backward classes in India. Should it be changed?
It is their habit more than anything. It is not necessary according to their beliefs, since Christians compulsorily don’t have to eat meat and Prophet Mohammed spoke about kindness to animals. There is no hadith saying that Muslims should eat beef or any other animal. The habit can change.
Vegetarianism is a Brahminical custom in India. Is it good practice to force others to go vegan?
It is good practice to tell people they can’t rape women and abuse children. It is good practice to make sure that people don’t kill their neighbours over petty issues. Similarly, it is good practice not to kill animals just because you like their taste and someone told you your grandparents did this. People should think about it. When they come to a rational decision — whether they are in favour of killing and violence and ill-health and environmental degradation — the answer might be ‘no’. Once they have made the choice, they can decide to eat something else. It is not hard.
In the Indian context, many Hindutva outfits are trying to impose vegetarianism on others. Would you call this cultural fascism?
Although the motivation may be religious or political, the outcome is good for the cause of environment and health. If I were in charge, I would make all animal killing and abuse of women and children illegal and it wouldn’t be for religious reasons.
But in India, Beef ban is mere politics. Not for the love of animals.
Do we really need to get hung up on the reasons why somebody wants to stop killing? It is a good thing.
These incidents are counted as clear violation of “freedom to eat”. What is your opinion on this?
In other words, it is freedom to kill and freedom to have a fleeting taste that you have five minutes in your mouth and it’s gone. What kind of freedom is that? Freedom to not care and to be cruel. This is a selfish, greedy freedom that we don’t need.
Unfortunately, the backdrop of the whole debate on the beef ban in India was on that angle. All over the world, it is the same. When people don’t want something to be taken away, they complain. They protest, saying it is violation of their freedom.
In Dadri, Uttar Pradesh, 50-year-old Mohammad Akhlaq was lynched by a mob for allegedly keeping beef in his house. How do you see this incident?
I know somebody got killed and it is really disappointing. People get killed all the time over political issues. People are being killed right, left and centre by isis terrorists. Everyone says violence is terrible. If it is terrible, get it out of your diet. You can’t stop people from being beheaded and can’t stop crazy fanatic people from killing each other.
In India, people are killed all the time for stupid religious reasons. This is not unusual and something we should be shocked about. Because none of it is right. Forget arguing over why we are being asked to be non-violent. Let’s stop focusing on religious perspectives of such issues. Religious fanaticism is hurting humanity and animal life. When people get excited and hateful about another person’s religion, they will indulge in violence and damage.
Do you think that the BJP is playing politics by banning beef in some states?
It is not in my interest to be involved in whether or not they are. All I care about is stopping suffering.