December 11, 2019
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Our Gastronomic Past

Our Gastronomic Past
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IS the backlash against meat-eating a modern cult or does it have a history? Meat was integral to the western diet. Ancient Greeks ate meat with orgiastic gusto. Those who didn't were perceived as odd, dangerous. Like the idiosyncratic Pythagoras, who turned vegetarian declaring animal life harboured human souls, asked disciples to shun meat, lest unwanted spirits sneak into their bodies. Pythagoras was passe with the hedonistic Romans, who ate meat mindlessly. Both Christianity, Judaism and Islam gave the practice religious sanction. It was different in the Orient. Specially India, where the Hindus, Jains and Buddhists subscribed to a non-violent animist ethic.Thus, eating meat was generally taboo. And remained so till the advent of the meat-eating Muslims and English.

Aquinas, Milton, Shelley, Newton, George Bernard Shaw's spirited advocacy of vegetarianism was never warmly received in the West. But, the proverbial last nail in the coffin of vegetarianism was hammered in by 18th-century French philosopher Rene Descartes who pronounced animals devoid of consciousness, thereby silencing vegetarian apologists who ascribed human traits and emotions to animals. It was only in the 20th century that the ghost of vegetarianism was resurrected by a band of eco-moralists who questioned the hypocrisy of meat-eaters who, though remarkably sensitive towards their pets, slew animals reared in appalling conditions to satisfy their appetites. Vegetarianism's greatest heroes today are the modern, scientifically aware, medically conscious health-freaks—proteins, vitamins, fats and carbohydrates is what they look for. To them that's where the meat lies.

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