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November 2008

By Rajesh Oza

Dear PMG:

With another holiday season upon us, I wonder if I might compromise on my strict vegetarianism. Although at Diwali my family enjoys Indian food, at Thanksgiving the kids seem to want a traditional turkey meal. As the children grow older, it becomes harder to refuse them this small request. Yet, I do feel wedded to my Indian upbringing, which forbade eating meat.

Dear Friend,

“I may claim to have become a vegetarian by choice. I blessed the day on which I had taken the vow before my mother. I had all along abstained from meat in the interests of truth and of the vow I had taken, but had wished at the same time that every Indian should be a meat-eater, and had looked forward to being one myself freely and openly some day, and to enlisting others in the cause. The choice was now made in favor of vegetarianism, the spread of which henceforward became my mission.” (M. K. Gandhi, 1929, 1957).

You have a choice to continue prohibitions inherited from your parents and grandparents or to choose for yourself (and your children) a vegetarian or non-vegetarian diet. To blindly follow what your Indian ancestors did is as much a folly as blindly embracing American values. The key here is to choose, much as Gandhiji did. Upon landing in England, he weighed the vows made to his mother against the eating of meat. Between these two options, he chose vegetarianism because of its non-violent implications, even though at one time he believed that eating meat conferred a kind of equality with the British colonial masters.

Complementing Gandhiji’s philosophy, there are some contemporary reasons for a vegetarian lifestyle. Those with a cholesterol issue will suggest giving up burgers (and probably also ghee). At a less personal level, consider the link between vegetarianism and the nonviolence that Gandhiji espoused. As noted in an article in The New York Times titled “Rethinking the Meat-Guzzler” (January 27, 2008), “if Americans were to reduce meat consumption by just 20 percent it would be as if we all switched from a standard sedan—a Camry, say—to the ultra-efficient Prius.” Furthermore, “though some 800 million people on the planet now suffer from hunger or malnutrition, the majority of corn and soy grown in the world feeds cattle, pigs and chicken.”

The key here is to choose a lifestyle for yourself that you believe is sustainable for you and for generations to come. Perhaps that means mashing up potatoes into the shape of a football or using tofu to create a faux turkey. Just a little bit of creativity will allow you to blend old and new traditions that your children can claim as their own.

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