Oshwal Association of the UK Zoom talk on Vegetarianism and Veganism from a Jain perspective
Thank you very much Kaushikbhai and the Oshwal Association for inviting me to talk to you about Ahimsa from a Jain perspective. Special thanks also to Paresh Shah and Ashish Patani for hosting the event and technical support.
I will first start by assuming we are all vegetarians. That is we do not eat meat, fish or eggs. The next thing is to find out if we are unknowingly causing any Himsa or violence in our lives. A fruit called fig or anjeer in Gujarati is something we should avoid. Butterflies go inside this fruit and lay eggs and quite often cannot come out again as their wings are too big. They die and get swallowed in the fruit. So there is Himsa in eating this fruit and should be avoided
Honey or madh is another thing that should be avoided. Bees work very hard to collect the honey from the flowers and after all their efforts they manage to collect only a little drop on a teaspoon. The honey is collected for them to consume. We take that away from them. That is Himsa and so honey should be avoided.
The next thing is to avoid buying anything that involves Himsa. So we should not buy leather goods like leather shoes, sofas, purses etc. We should never buy fur coats. We should also avoid woollen clothes.
The meat industry and the leather industry are interrelated so leather should be avoided. I would like to tell you how I learnt about the commitment of our British vegetarians and vegans friends. Many years I had gone to an International Vegetarian Union meeting in Israel. From there some of us travelled to Cairo. We went to a hotel and were in a queue to get registered. There were some leather sofas for people to sit on while they waited. None of the group of people with me sat on the sofas because they were leather!
Do not go to meat restaurants even if they serve vegetarian food. Try your best to make sure your children and grandchildren remain strict vegetarians. Tell them even if they go hungry, they should not eat meat, fish or eggs. Gandhiji came to England in 1888; his mother got him to take a vow not to eat meat. She was simply not prepared to compromise on this principal. On the other hand we sometimes say, ‘since my son is going to University we do not want to insist on him being vegetarian.’ Ahimsa means you do not give up at the first challenge you face. When you have faith in your beliefs God will always find you food to eat. Not many people know that Gandhiji became interested in our Dharma and heritage when he met vegetarians in London. He got introduced to the Theosophical Society and leading vegetarian figures of the time like George Bernard Shaw, Anne Besant and many others. So had Gandhiji not had that vow he would not have come into contact with people who aroused his interest in important issues of the time
In Jainism we have a concept called Abhay Daan. This means giving someone protection from fear of death. An example is that a bumble bee has got into your room and is trying to get out. You are getting late for work. Would you make an effort to open your windows and doors and guide it out? This is Abhay Daan. This small Ahimsa will sow the seed of compassion in you to do more Ahimsa. When you have mice in your home or a sudden influx of ants do you panic and think of getting rid of them fast? Or do you think, ‘I will get a mouse trap which does not harm the mouse and release it in a safe place.’ When walking on grass or somewhere which has a lot of insects on the ground do you look on the ground and walk so as not to step on them?
So much cruelty is being committed to animals. In the UK every year 26 million cattle, 10 million pigs, 14 million sheep and lambs, 80 million birds and 950 million fish are slaughtered for food. There are at any time 4 times more chickens on the planet then human beings. Over 16 million animals are trapped in cages all over the UK at any time. They suffer in small cages before being killed. Those who think eggs are OK to eat should know that hens suffer greatly in cages and all the male chicks are gassed or suffocated straight at birth as they are of no use to the egg industry.
As if that was not enough, animals are hunted and exported alive to other countries for meat. Nearly 2 billion animals are shipped around the world. In 2017 Australia exported 640,000 sheep to Qatar. They are packed tightly and suffer greatly. The sick ones are thrown overboard and eaten by sharks. Turkey imported more than half a million cattle from Brazil and Uruguay. On arrival these animals face a brutal death. Jiv Daya or Ahimsa campaigners in this country have been campaigning hard to stop the export of animals from the UK. Some years ago a campaigner died in Coventry as she tried to stop a lorry bringing the animals. We gave her a Mahaveer award posthumously.
Horrific experiments are carried out on animals in the laboratories to produce weapons and medicine for humans. Millions of procedures take place every year on mice as well as monkeys and many other animals. There is a protest taking place outside Oxford University for many years and we have given the organisers a Mahaveer Award.
50 million pheasants and partridges are bred for shooting. They are kept in a cage and released. They are unable to fly properly because of being trapped in cages. They are then shot for fun.
So what can we do? We started the Indian Vegetarian Society over 40 years ago. We have organised events in many parts of the country and relentlessly campaigned for Ahimsa. We have supported many organisations working in the different fields of animal cruelty. We have given Mahaveer Awards to individuals and organisations working for animals. Fox hunting has been banned in this country after years of campaigns but illegal hunting goes on. Members of the League Against Cruel Sports go to these illegal hunts and disrupt the hunt by scaring away the foxes. The frustrated huntsmen and women attack these heroes. A few years ago we gave Mahaveer Awards to two individuals who were attacked and one was hospitalised after an attack. They had vowed to go back and keep protecting the foxes. Through the Mahaveer Awards so many of our British friends have come to know of Jainism and proudly keep the Mahaveer Award in their homes.
We also support animal sanctuaries run by many extremely compassionate and dedicated people. Over the last 4 months we have donated over £5000 to various sanctuaries. The Corona Virus has impacted sanctuaries with cash flow problems. They are also taking in more and more animals. Over the last 30 years we have donated over £130,000 to animal sanctuaries. Many Jain individuals and organisations have supported us and we welcome any support you can give.
For the last 39 years we have also organised a vegan lunch for our British friends. The PR impact of this is immense. They come to know us and our heritage better and love the immense varieties of food we offer. It is very important for us as an immigrant community to build strong connections with the host community. When the Potters Bar Oshwal Centre was bought there was some opposition from the local people. I suggested to Ashwin Shah, the then-president, that a Christmas Lunch should be organised and the villagers invited. He agreed. The result was that those who came were so happy to see the centre and a story was published in the village newspaper.
Today there is a vegan revolution going on in the country. The whole food chain supply here in the UK, all over Europe in the USA is turning towards a vegan diet. According to Richard Branson, future generations will not be able to believe that we ate meat. Our Jain population is around 60,000 in this country. But I consider all vegetarians and vegans and Ahimsa activists as Jains. So we are the biggest minority religion! All we have to do is to reach out to them.
That brings me to the question of going vegan. There is immense cruelty in milk production. Along with milk you also get blood cells and the pus all legally allowed. The male calf are killed at birth or bred for meat as they are of no use to the dairy industry. The cow suffers from arthritis, mastitis and many other conditions. The dairy cow lives at most 5 years but they can live up to 25 to 35 years in normal conditions. Most of the milk is taken while the cow is pregnant and has high amount of hormones. In the UK there are 1.8 million dairy cows. They give between 7 to 14 times more milk than they could naturally. They are confined in closed areas and cannot graze. They are fed high concentrate cereals. When a calf is born it is separated from the mother in a day. Normally the cow suckles the calf for a month. This separation causes immense suffering to the mother cow. The cow is worn out after 5 to 6 years and is sent for slaughter. If a male calf is born it is no use to the industry and is killed straight away or raised for beef.
One cow generates as much waste as 50 humans. Known as cowpats, the waste is channelled into vast lagoons attached to the farms. They emit noxious gases, cause water pollution with nitrates and e.coli bacteria.
Milk has lactose, a natural sugar and it could trigger diabetes. In our Indian families some people drink milk before going to sleep. It is a big mistake. Milk is difficult to digest and causes gas. Some children get eczema, asthma and other allergies from milk.
You can get vegan cheese, yogurt, ice creams – almost anything. You can also make vegan shrikhand! Complete your Ahimsa journey and go vegan. You will need to take a vitamin B supplement that is important. You can get B12 from fortified cereals, fortified plant-based milks, Marmite and nutritional yeast.
Our planet is on the brink of catastrophic disaster. The biggest cause of this is meat consumption. Billions of animals raised for meat are releasing methane gas, which is the biggest cause of global warming. The rainforests of the Amazon, which are the lungs of the planet, are being decimated to start cattle ranches and to grow soya to feed the animals. Such is the demand for soya that poor South American countries are using up their fertile land to grow this crop for export. Huge amounts of pesticides are used which is killing off all insects, birds and bees and earthworms. The population around the farms in South American countries suffer from a host of diseases due to the indiscriminate use of pesticides. In Surinam the dense forests are being cleared out and wild animals like the jaguar are facing extinction.
Crops are also being used increasingly for biofuel in the US. This puts more pressure to produce grains not to feed human beings but to feed animals and for biofuel. Over 40% of grains produced are fed to animals raised for meat. They could feed 3.5 billion people. The world population is set to rise from the present 7.5 billion to 9.5 billion by 2050. There will be mass starvation unless give up a meat-based diet.
Earthworms and pollinating bees are crucial for human survival and both of them are dying. Mother Earth is not getting its nutrients and we might only have three harvests before there is a collapse. We are decimating the planet and the future generations will face a catastrophe.
Over 50% of all freshwater resources are used up in slaughterhouses and for growing crops to feed animals. 550 gallons of water are needed to make a 5-ounce burger. The real cost of a burger is almost $100. It is only because the meat industry is heavily subsidised that burgers are sold cheap. Countries will go to war for water as deserts spread and droughts occur. Around 80% of global human water consumption is used up in raising animals for meat. In an increasingly thirsty world, there will be wars for water resources.
Animals raised for meat produce 13 billion tones of effluent every year. The faeces of animals and the blood seep into rivers and oceans and create dead zones where nothing survives. The US has huge areas of dead zones.
What we have done to the land, we have done to the rivers and oceans. Trillions of fish are killed and along with that the huge trawlers used for fishing are killing all marine life, whales and dolphins. The mangrove forests, which act as a buffer in a tsunami, are being destroyed. They are now producing farmed fish, which swim in their own faeces. They are fed other fish in a cannibalistic merry go round.
Because the rivers and oceans are so polluted fish have mercury, which is extremely harmful to anyone who consumes the fish. Omega 3, which the fish has, can be obtained by flaxseed or flaxseed oil.
Jains believe in the idea of ‘Parasparo Jivanam’, meaning that we are interdependent on other living beings as well as all other nature provided in the form of rivers, oceans, forests and mountains. In 1958 Chairman Mao launched a war on sparrows because they were eating too much grain. The whole country was mobilised to kill them. Around 195,00 were killed in one day in Shanghai alone. Millions were killed throughout the country. Sparrows were important to the food chain. The bugs they fed on thrived, the locust population spiralled out of control as did grasshoppers. The insects devoured the crops and famine followed. A salient lesson to human beings that when you disturb nature it reacts with ferocity.
In the West the emphasis is on taming nature and taking everything out of it. This is the reason why the world is on the brink of disaster. In our own lifetime we are seeing droughts, cyclones, hurricanes and many other disasters. Driven by short-term profits, the human race just does not see what is staring in its face. Future generations will suffer greatly for our folly.
The health benefits of a vegetarian/vegan diet are indisputable. Various forms of cancer, diabetes and heart diseases are linked with meat eating. The biggest challenge facing the medical world now is that antibiotics are not working. This is because 45% of all antibiotics are fed to animals raised for meat and they are losing their potency. Without effective antibiotics, diseases like TB and pneumonia will rise once again. Surgery, childbirth and organ transplant will all become dangerous without antibiotics.
High amounts of cholesterol is found in white meat, fish, eggs and dairy products.
After lung cancer, prostrate cancer in men is most common. Vegetarians are half as likely to contract it as meat eaters. People consuming meat daily have higher death rates from kidney cancer than vegetarians. Kidneys can cope with plant protein much more easily than animal protein. Pancreatic cancer is uncommon but fatal. Those who eat meat 3 times a week are more likely to get it. A quarter of all chickens are infected with Salmonella Campylobacter. Around 5.5 million people fall ill every year in the UK and around a 100 die from it.
Cooked or processed red meat is a source of carcinogens or cancer causing agents. Processed foods have hydrogenated vegetable oil used in some biscuits, cakes, pastries and margarine. It has 10 times more cholesterol raising power than dietary cholesterol.
Over 200 zoonotic diseases come from farm animals. They cause nearly 3 million deaths every year. The current coronavirus has also come from animals. In China, Vietnam and some other countries they eat wild animals. They are sold in what is called wet markets. Corona may have come from there or from some experiment on animals in Chinese laboratories.
Plant foods, fruit, vegetables, pulses like beans, peas, lentils, nuts and whole grain protect against numerous diseases including Alzheimer’s. The antioxidants contained in these foods help destroy the free radicals in our bodies and in the environment.
So there is one problem for all the major problems the world is facing today and that is meat eating. So what is there that you can do practically to help? Join the many animal rights groups that are active. Promote a meat free diet at every opportunity. Talk about it to your friends, especially children. Ask children if they are vegetarian and educate them about what meat eating means. Support animal sanctuaries.
And lastly each household should feed the birds and pigeons in their gardens before having your breakfast. Years are passing by and we should do good, compassionate deeds and build up good Karma. This Jain birth we have got is anmol – precious. Let’s not waste it. To protect our heritage now and for generations to come our diet is crucially important.
16 July 2020