The BJP has kicked up yet another storm (Not that the Congress hasn't had its fair share!). The Karnataka State Assembly has passed a bill that proposes to ban the slaughter of cows in the BJP ruled state. The protests are well under way, and justifiably so. Not only such an act infringes on one's right to choose her/his food, it also reeks of unmistakable discrimination. Why is it permissible to kill chicken and other animals, but not cows? The move is clearly motivated along religious and/or cast-based lines, and must be met with shrill dissent by the seekers of equitable democracy.
However, what has appalled me even more is a call to "beef up" in some elite quarters, as a means to oppose this unjust move. Some have gone hysterical to the point that they are chest pumping about heightening the consumption of all kinds of meat, just to spite the state govt! It's a classic case of trying to right one wrong with another wrong. Even if one brushes aside the animal rights* angle, there is still an immensely compelling case for curbing our meat intake. No, it's not spiritual, either. It's about conserving our scarce and fragile natural resources [water, air and land], and in turn, saving many of the millions that currently starve to death.
A recent, rigorous study by Worldwatch puts the contribution of animal products to the overall greenhouse gas emissions at a thumping 51%! It's not entirely unexpected though, as the UN FAO's 2006 report (Look for 'Livestock's Long Shadow') had also found it to be the largest climate change culprit, and the IPCC too has been reiterating it quite frequently. In the Indian+water context, this NIH paper attributes a kg of chicken to as many as 7700+ liters of water (so much for the 'technological' advances fostering animal growth!), whereas the corresponding figures for veggies lie in the lean range of 100 to 550 liters! In other words, substituting every kg of chicken with veggies results in a mammoth water saving of over 7000 liters! As if all this aint enough, enormous chunks of agricultural & forest land are used up for cattle breeding. In plain terms, meat production is awfully resource-inefficient as it entails years/months of resource (e.g., food/fodder, water, land) consumption, to raise animals, for one-time output.
Some would argue that it's easy for me, a Gujarati, to take such a lofty position, because, meat has never been an integral part of my ancestral 'culture'. I concede. Just staying off meat hasn't been mighty tough, although Gujarati youth increasingly indulge in chicken these days. What hasn't been a child's play, though, is giving up eggs (and with it, many long-cherished dishes) and severely curbing milk products. I still take milk/milk shakes to offset the anti-inflammatory pills, have the odd ice cream while with parents, and share the occasional cheese/paneer dish while dining out with a big group. However, from taking a paneer dish almost on a daily basis for office lunch just months ago and delightfully devouring sweets and ice creams, the transition to a resource-efficient diet has been anything but easy. Of course, there's definitely room for improvement (for instance, hopefully, I will switch to soya milk sooner rather than later), but I am amply clear that this can't be viewed in a binary light like many religiously driven vegetarians do. Very few of us can change over radically overnight. So, the key is to first trim down the intake, and subsequently, try to phase it out.
Coming back to the original topic, raised consumption of beef/meat is as catastrophic as the discriminatory bill. The matter of meat must no longer be brushed off under taboos of 'cultural preference/inevitability'. Let fact-based logic prevail over faith-based sentiment. In the present case, the logic is ridiculously simple: Two wrongs don't make a right!
* 95% of the Americans feel that it's to wrong to unnecessarily hurt animals; yet 95% of them continue to do just that by eating them [Source: 'A life connected']! The myth about meat being a necessity for protein/calcium (even B12 now) has been conclusively dispelled [Peruse Prof Campbell's interview]. On the contrary, meat cutback is recommended to avert increasingly many diseases such as heart ailments, kidney stones and multiple types of cancer.