I had arrived at New York's JFK Airport on Nov. 19, 1996 and was immediately struck by the hundreds of cars all around the airport plying on various "spaghetti" flyovers and highways. Born in a small sleepy town of Pali in Rajasthan and having lived most of my life in small towns in India, I was ready for all cultural shocks, the very first being the environmental one. I asked my friend Ajay who had come to pick me up, "How exactly are all these cars be sustained once the fuel supply is over?" Ajay, having arrived just a couple of months before me, also from India as a software engineer like myself, proudly declared, "Oh! This is America! They can run their cars even on water, don't worry!"
Such was the faith of many Indians, Americans and others who rely on modern science and technological aids such as cars and cell phones, mostly invented in America. With the impending environmental crisis looming large over the humankind, is this faith weakening in the second decade of the 21st century, almost 20 years after my first American encounter? Last month, after my latest visit to New York, I posted this on my Facebook:
1st thought whenever I reach NYC, how will all this sustain itself? 1st thought whenever I reach India, how has all this sustained itself?
And immediately, one of the grad students challenged me, "For someone who works and teaches in the Anthropology department, how can you be so comfortable making such a broad, over-simplified, and generalized statement like that?" What ensued was my defense of India as the sustainable country and USA at the other extreme.
First, I compared the meat-consumption of India with the U.S., U.K., China, Brazil and many other countries and concluded that India remains the most vegetarian country in the world, even in the 21st century. Although only a minority of Indians practices asceticism, fasting and celibacy, the main diet of majority of Indians largely consists of rice, wheat, pulses and vegetables. Even those who are classified as "non-vegetarians" depend largely on vegetarian food as the chief components of their diet, while egg, meat and fish are consumed occasionally.
This shows that even after the advent of modernity and globalization, Indians have successfully preserved their vegetarian habits that were laid down by their dharmic traditions several millennia ago. Interestingly, meat eating is now linked to global warming. In a groundbreaking 2006 report, the United Nations said that raising animals for food generates more greenhouse gases than all the cars and trucks in the world combined. Senior U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization official Henning Steinfeld reported that the meat industry is "one of the most significant contributors to today's most serious environmental problems." On the one hand, we find a long tradition of avoiding the meat in Indian dietary habits, and on the other hand, the latest reports from U.N. declare that the meat eating is one of the main reasons for global warming. Even after Western media reported about the connection of meat eating with global warming, leading environmentalists such as Al Gore, who got the Nobel Prize for his work in this regard, failed to take any notice of meat consumption in the food habits of Western society.environment ] [ global ] [ global-warming ] [ sustainability ]