How to turn a bawa vegetarian: A three-stage processs

Stage 1

Give him a liver-related disease (typhoid will do at a pinch).

1. This will ensure he has to live on a diet of completely unspiced mush (of the curd-rice, steamed vegetables, coconut water variety) for a month or so, thus blunting his taste buds while simultaneously making him crave flavours.  This will make him go crazy crazier, thus creating an ideal environment for you to subvert him.

It will also offer you considerable opportunities to indulge in minor sadism, by eating his favourite foods in front of him. You will do this because you think such actions (and you) are funny.  You’re mistaken on both counts.

2.  Keep exposing him to strong aromas of his favourite meaty foods, such as fried fish, dried spiced minced meat, and prawn curries.  His Pavlovian response to the same will make his liver anticipate the influx of such foods, and since he still can’t process them, will in turn make his innards roil with nausea.

If he’s strong enough to withstand this treatment – do not despair!  Keep finding smellier dishes that will make him gag – starting with dried Bombay Duck.  You will succeed, because you are that mean.

3.  Once he’s recovered enough to wibble-wobble around, take him to a fresh fish/meat market in India.  On a hot, summer afternoon.

Make sure to highlight all the aspects of the place.  The permanent sheen of every surface, blessed as they are by the fish-scales sent flying by scraping blades.  The little channels in the grimy floor that are clogged with a mixture of blood and other bodily effluents.  The cats that lounge everywhere, feasting on the entrails flung aside.  The small black spots on every body that on closer inspection are discovered to be flies.  The squawks of terrified creatures who are not afforded a cover for their cramped, filth-ridden cages.  The complete lack of any information about the provenance of the ‘goods’.  The realisation that terms like free-range, organic, sustainable sourcing, and non-force-fed are as alien to the surroundings as a peach sorbet is to a desert dune.  The pervasive smell of fear, and death, and callousness, and inhumane indignity that will require 16 showers and a lifetime to forget.

But you will not let him forget.  After all, you are a true friend.


Stage 2

Take him to his second (adopted) ancestral land.  You know, the land half his community wishes they had been able to get to once their foreign friends left Indian shores six decades ago?  The land whose nominal ruler (and her family) is still cheered and adored by many of his elders and peers, and whose potraits and tacky commemorative pieces are still proudly displayed in their houses?  Yup, Eng-er-land.

When there:

1.  Wait for him to realise that the majority of the red meat available in the country is either those of relatives of Betsy or Babe or from a sheep that has been allowed to live for less than one of its possible 12 years.  Oh, and that the horses he sees roaming wild in forested parts of the country are actually being bred so that the French can slice steaks out of them to douse with vinegar.

This will ensure that he no longer feels the need to eat red meat.

2. Take him around the supermarkets and show him the rows and rows of clean, almost-clinical meat products.  All the prime cuts, with none of the gristle, in humongous chilled and frozen stacks.  Point out the sheer amount of resource wastage caused in terms of fuel and electricity and plastic and water caused because every animal that is killed has to be cleaned and processed and its parts separated and the good bits washed and wrapped nicely to be sent to a cold storage unit that will then drive them to a warehouse that will deliver them to stores.  Highlight the concept of ‘Use by’ dates and the sheer amount of food thrown away by such stores due to health & safety reasons.  Highlight the fact that people in these countries end up throwing away nearly a fifth of the food they buy, probably because they bought it while it was on offer rather than because they needed it.

3. Find him a job related to the food industry.  A job that gives him access to detailed reports that highlight exactly the kind of stuff that goes into the feed given to poultry, the hygiene levels of the places that mass-process them, the number of product recalls due to cases of salmonella and e.coli contamination, and the quality and nutrition levels of the final product. All caused by the pressure that the buyer-business puts on the producer-seller. All caused by the continued consumer desire for cheap goods.

You will now begin to notice a distinct aversion in him towards poultry as well.

4.  Expose him to the impressively dedicated green movement that churns out studies that
* explain the impact of over-fishing on marine ecology,
* highlight the vast amounts of forested land that has been razed and converted into ecologically useless grazing land for animals,
* measure the levels of greenhouse gases released by flatulent bovines whose sole purpose of existence is to land up on a plate,
* showcase how the demands of the meat-farming industry are convincing more farmers to produce only corn to the detriment of other crops,
* underline the economic impact of such demands on global food prices and on the bio-fuels industry.

5.  Introduce him to meat-substitutes such as mycoprotein, some of whose experiments are now remarkably similar in taste and texture to meat.  Join in as he fools dedicated two-meat-meals-a-day friends by using these products, at the same personal cost and a tenth of the environmental one.  Watch as he enjoys his fake-kheema and fake-chicken biryani without (almost) being able to tell the difference, and passing off the difference as a regional taste.  Encourage him to spread the word so that the levels of scale begin to tilt the cost even further in his favour.

You will by now have got him hooked onto alternative foods that satisfy any cravings he may have left for meat products.


Stage 3

Drag him back to India after a few years.

1.  Notice how he realises the stark difference between the monitoring, reporting, and disclaiming cultures in both countries.  The near-invisibility of a food regulator, the almost-total lack of interest by the consumer in the contents and background of their shopping, the un-education of producers in methods that can be better and nicer.

2. Let him observe the pressure that increased demands by a more affluent populace places on an already creaking system.  Let him wonder about the problems faced by cold storage facilities in a country with intermittent electricity, and the pollution being caused by facilities that have the werewithal to afford massive generators, and the impact on the economy of these subsidised fuels being used for private use.  Let him consider the innovative shortcuts that Indian producers, by nature ingenious and business-savvy, must be taking in order to further inflate their profit margins.  Let him realise the soaring growth of the organised foodservice industry that has led to tiny restaurants popping up in places with water shortages, and let him wonder how hygienic these places are.

This will cause him no end of hesitation if he ever succumbs to the lure and is tempted to buy or order meat in an Indian city.

3.  Read to him reports on the growing toxicity of water bodies in the country, several of whom are officially just a flow of sewage with no marine life.  Read to him reports on the unchecked use of pesticides in the country by farmers who don’t know better, pressurised and encouraged by big groups that will happily lie about side-effects in order to please shareholders.  Read to him reports on the rapid mutability of animal-borne viruses and the growing statistical certainty of a pandemic caused by the massive population increase of the country.

4.  Introduce him to people from different parts of the country, who describe and cook with regional and seasonal vegetables and grains.  Encourage him to experiment with different flavours and ingredients and cooking styles, till he can concoct a delicious, wholesome, easy-to-create dish that has up to 15 ingredients and yet does not include a single piece of meat, fish, or poultry.

Congratulations, you have accomplished your mission!

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