Nitin Mehta: Vegetarianism is a recipe for survival

From a talk by the founder of Young Indian Vegetarians, given at the National Hindu Youth Conference, held in London
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The Independent Online

Throughout history, many civilisations have come into existence, become very powerful for some time and then disappeared without trace. The Greek, Roman and Egyptian civilisations are but a few examples of powerful and mighty civilisations that disappeared. In contrast, the Aryan or Hindu civilisation has remained immortal. Time or "Kaal" has not extinguished a way of life, which is tens of thousands of years old.

I believe that non-violence and compassion towards those who are weak and at our mercy has such powerful force that a civilisation which practises these virtues becomes immortal. Animals share this planet with us and, as a "superior" species, we have to show them respect and compassion. In Hindu dharma, animals have a special place. Lord Hanuman, Lord Ganesha, and Lord Krishna's beloved cows all give the same message – live with the animals peacefully. The more violence the human race unleashes on animals the more it will be brutalised by it, which in turn will lead to wars and destruction to the point of extinction.

Vegetarianism is the logical extension of compassion towards animals and the saints and sages of India have emphasised the importance of this through the ages. Indeed, spiritual progress without a vegetarian diet is impossible. However, vegetarianism is not just important for spiritual progress but also for the survival of this planet, for good health and for feeding the growing world population.

According to David Gee former director of the Friends of the Earth, with every animal we kill we are slowly helping to destroy our planet. In the mad rush to produce more meat, the rain forests are being destroyed. Almost one third of world's entire surface is rapidly advancing towards becoming desert, due to overgrazing, which is leading to the breaking down of soil structure, reducing its fertility.

Animal waste is dumped in our seas causing massive environmental pollution. The manure produced by the billions of livestock in the world, gives off ammonia into the atmosphere, which causes acid rain.

Also, heart disease, hypertension, and many forms of cancer are directly related to high meat consumption. According to a study in the American journal Preventive Medicine, the health toll of a meat diet is costing the country billions of dollars.

It is estimated that there will 2.5 billion more people on the planet by the year 2010. The growing demand for meat means that food grains that can feed human beings are being diverted to feed animals. Almost 50 per cent of the world's maize is fed to animals. Maize is the staple diet of most of Africa – instead of feeding it to people, this protein rich food is fed to animals which are reared in intensive chicken farms. Almost all the soya beans produced in the US are fed to animals. This is a colossal waste – almost the entire population of India and China – nearly two billion – could be fed on the protein consumed and wasted by the United States beef herd. All in all, about 40 per cent of world's grain is fed to animals.

It was the philosophy of compassion that kept Hinduism alive against all odds but what about the future? India today is the largest exporter of meat in Asia. It exports soya beans to feed European livestock. India also uses 37 per cent of its arable land to grow fodder for animals that are raised and killed for export. Meat eating in India is growing. Even the sacred cows are slaughtered. According to Mahatma Gandhi, "Cows protection is the dearest possession of the Hindu heart. No one who does not believe in cow protection can possibly be a Hindu. It is a noble belief." Until and unless millions of Hindus give up meat eating and until and unless the violence against animals in the form of vivisection, hunting and killing stops, Hinduism will have lost its greatest protector – the almighty God – and it will succumb to the ravages of "Kaal".

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