The More Veggies, the Better
Could the food habit debate be based on geographical and climatic differences rather than cultural and communal ones?
have been doing for aeons – the more veggies, the better.
Any perusal of eating habits down the millennia will also reveal to the lay food historian that northern—ie colder—cultures have a tradition of eating more animal products than warmer southern ones. The reason could simply be climatic, developed over a period when air transportation and cold chains did not make anything available anywhere, round the year.
My mother, a vegetarian, had a tough time when posted in Germany in the 1950s as the only vegetables available in the bleak long winter were potatoes, carrots, turnips and smelly brined cabbage. Is it surprising then that the traditional food of the Germans leans heavily in favour of sausages and other cured meats along with potatoes and sauerkraut?
Conversely, eating meat in a hot, humid climate like most of India would have been pretty perilous in the times before ice houses and refrigerators. Freshly slaughtered animals – large or small – would have had to be eaten pretty fast, as any leftovers would go bad in a matter of hours. No wonder most people then preferred to get their proteins from lentils.
That could also possibly be the reason why cow slaughter – that Vedic practice some people love to quote these days while deriding all the others – was also only for special occasions. Consuming such a large animal would have been difficult unless many were to be fed. Given the problem of preservation, maybe that is why it ended up being forbidden.
Now, it’s not hard to be vegetarian even in Siberia or northern Canada, though the carbon footprint may be pretty humungous. And while all invaders from the north may have had a hard time keeping up their dietary preferences in the heat of the Indian plains back in the day, today it’s not difficult to be exclusively “non-vegetarian” any more.
Actually, technology has made it easier for both to flourish. Time was when the north Indian summer heat considerably curtailed vegetable variety. Besides lentils and pulses, ‘desi’ watery vegetables of the gourd family were the mainstays in the scorching north and west. But the more humid eastern and southern areas had a wider selection of veggies.
That could, in turn, be the reason why there is a greater variety of vegetarian dishes in those areas, though the technological advances of the last 100 years may have drastically altered the dietary preferences of people in all four directions. This would also hold true for other countries and continents, when it comes to changes in food habits.
It is also often quoted that a majority of Indians are “non-vegetarians”. However, that does not mean they suddenly now have a meat-based diet, like say, the Germans of yore did. Just as Germans today eat more veggies with their meats than before, Indians eat more meat (or at least some meat or egg) with their lentils and vegetables than they did before.
The worldwide move to eat seasonal and local in effect harks back to age-old practices. It means Germans should not want hothouse veggies in the dead of a European winter any more than Indians should insist on heavy meat dishes in the midst of a hot subcontinental summer. It’s also useful to remember that seasonal eating predates religious precepts.
So, could it be that the food habit debate be located in geographical and climatic differences rather than cultural and communal ones? If that can be established and disseminated, perhaps many of the biggest bones of contention – pun unintended – would disappear.