‘History is a set of lies agreed upon’, once said the Great French Emperor (or barbaric Imperialist, depending on whom you ask) Napoleon Bonaparte. And wasn’t he right on the money! In recent times, readers might have been exposed to re-interpretations of history and re-interpretation of those ‘re-interpretations’ and ad nauseam, painstakingly argued, stitched together from ancient texts, and piled high with degrees.
This column won’t do that. I don’t have a big degree. I won’t confuse you with re-interpretations. And I won’t pretend to be neutral. All I will give you is a fresh look at the world, and a fresher way of looking at it.
(For the purposes of this article, the term ‘beef’ will be applicable only to the meat of the species – Bos Indicus, the Indian cow. While other meats are also classed as ‘beef’ – such as those of buffalo or gaur or other ungulates, they are not our concern and will not come under the purview of this article.)
In recent times, we have seen an explosion not only in the production and consumption of beef, but also in the public narrative advocating its usage as a staple by the general population. Some would have us believe that beef was a fixture in Indian households before the coming of Modi. Others would have us believe that the devout folk raising gopurams in the South chowed down on beef during lunch breaks. And yet others would place the prohibition on beef on those ‘evil’ Aryans who came riding into India on their Tiger tanks and Panzerfausts wearing Hugo Boss suits.
But what on earth does that have to do with beef-eating?
Let’s look at this rationally:
1. Animal protein is a source of energy. But then why would these Aryans willingly deny themselves nutrition, especially since proper nutrition was always a concern in the past?
2. Extra supply of animal protein would be a great resource for the ruling classes. But then we find that the highest of castes and richest of tribes were the ones who explicitly criticized beef eating. Even now starving farmers across most of India would die before touching beef.
3. Hindus are obsessively criticized by modern Liberals for giving into ‘superstitions’ such as the prohibition of beef. But then why would the Arya civilizations of India and the States in Southeast and East Asia that were influenced by Arya Dharma have been the leading civilizations of the world for so long?
We find that none of these doubts have any answer from Indian intellectuals, save the usual rants on the barbarism of Hinduism and vegetarianism.
Instead, we will take a more cohesive, holistic view of the situation. As I have already stated, we will avoid textual analysis for most part – if only to avoid claims that I am being partisan to Hindus – despite the fact that Liberals seem to have full license to target Hindus and Hindus alone. Therefore, I will avoid any and all scriptural and cultural arguments entirely and merely consider historical ones.
When we look at the world around us one critical (and yet, virtually unspoken) problem seems to plague us all – the lack of water.
So, where does all this water go? The answer is simple.
It takes nearly 2100 liters to grow a single kilogram of rice. It takes almost 1800 liters to produce the same amount of wheat. Potatoes require a mere 300 liters but cheese requires a stunning 3,000 liters for a single kilogram. But all of these pale in comparison to the resources required to produce animal protein, especially since animals require purer and better quality water.
White protein, or chicken meat, demands an incredible 4,500 liters to produce a single kilogram. Pork, similarly, requires an incredible 6,000 liters to produce a similar amount. Mutton production comes around a similar figure. Sheep meat requires almost twice this amount – over 11,000 liters in order to produce an equivalent amount. And beef?
To produce one kilogram of beef, a staggering 17,000 liters of water is necessitated. Weight for weight, beef is likely the most wasteful and energy-inefficient form of animal protein ever produced.
When one properly looks at history, instead of going about that task with the ‘Communist Manifesto’ in one hand and ‘God of Small Things’ in the other, one finds that Beef consumption, instead of being common and popular as Liberals often claim, was vanishingly rare and, across most of the world, completely unknown.
All Classical civilizations either practiced forms of vegetarianism/veganism or a limited form of non-vegetarianism where they desisted from harming conscious life as much as possible.
Readers might be well acquainted with recommendations and laws promoting the preservation of animal life in the Indian subcontinent. What they might be unaware of is that from Japan to Rome, vegetarianism, or at least avoidance of meat, was associated with scholarship and civilization. The Chinese philosophers abjured ‘violent consumption’ – the consumption of beings with conscience and intelligence. Zoroastrian texts called for avoidance of killing. The Japanese ban on the consumption of all beef was the longest and most consistently regulated in history by a central authority. Across Southeast Asia, bans on the consumption of beef, and often on all meat in general, were commonplace.
Ancient Egyptians subsisted almost entirely on grains and fruits, with even fish being rare in meals judging from isotopic analysis of bodies. Diodorus writes that Ethiopians and Libyans and even the Greeks living in Asia eschewed non-vegetarianism save for eggs and fish. Even in Classical Europe, philosophers and scholars such as the Platonists, the Pythagoreans, and even several Cynics called for abjuring all unnecessary deaths. One notable name was Roman mathematician and logician Porphyry. Unlike the common belief that the spread of the Shakyamuni’s ideas were responsible for this, we find that several of these schools of thought were already around way before his birth.
But why would this be the case? Simple:
1. From a purely materialistic point of view, it made sense in a resource-poor age to avoid consuming anything which lead to excess wastage of resources. While less developed and sparsely populated States were unable to enforce resource usage discipline, the Classical civilizations could – and did.
2. From a purely financial point of view, large-scale livestock farming was ultimately inefficient and harmed the future generations. Unlike what several modernists might think, the ancient peoples were well aware of the importance of the environment, water storage, and land stewardship.
3. From a purely cultural point of view, the act of abstaining from meat differentiated the ‘civilized’ races from the ‘barbarians’ – a fixture among all Classical civilizations. In India’s case, so did the act of milch pastoralism. Unlike what is commonly held, milch cows are not a fixture of nomadic culture and are rarely seen in such groups. Goats, sheep, and other ‘hardier’ animals are. Milch cattle – of the sort prized and venerated by Hindus – are predominantly seen in rich agricultural communities.
4. From a purely civilizational point of view, the slaughter of sentient beings, be they of a lower form like fish or a higher form like cattle or elephants, is but the first step to murder and complete social anarchy.
It is obvious that sustainable energy-efficient cultures were the ones which enjoyed a massive societal advantage over the rest, leading to the Classical Era – a period of prosperity and productivity that wouldn’t be equaled again until the 19th century.
Instead of the common idea that beef-eating was widespread, we find that it was rare and found primarily among the less-developed and barbaric peoples, and only rose to prominence as the great Classical empires began to collapse in the late 5th and 6th century. It is then that we find that beef-eating grew – and almost purely for cultural and religious reasons. The growth of the popularity of beef across the world began with the rise of polities common among the more barbarous States, such as the savage Arabs who overthrew the Persian and Indian kingdoms or the rise of Germanic barbarian States on the corpse of the Roman Empire.
Disdain for Classical learning and philosophy was a fixture at this time; even in places where Classical thought lingered – such as Constantinople – the damage was severe.
Readers might be interested to note that Porphyry, one of the most noted Roman vegetarians mentioned earlier in this article, was one of the most famous critics of Christianity in its early days so much so that almost all his works were destroyed by the Church in the later centuries.
Even so mere prudence and economic sense prevailed. A cursory analysis of medieval European recipe books demonstrates that beef-eating was vanishingly rare throughout Europe. ‘The Forme of Cury’, a 14th century English text, lists beef in less than 5% of its recipes, with even extremely rare and expensive items for Europeans like sugar and pepper finding mention in a third of all recipes. The ‘Libro di Cucina’ from Italy barely mentions beef. The Enseignements from France lists Saffron – the most expensive spice even now – three times more than beef.
The medieval Europeans used expensive Indian spices, worth as much as gold, and precious sugar from Egypt many times more than they used the meat of their own local cows.
As a matter of fact, we find that eating beef was restricted to only the richest or the closest to the Church in Europe. One of the rare medieval texts that does mention beef in any substantial manner is the ‘French Du Fait de Cuisine’, meant for use by the royalty and clergy. Even in the Middle East, the consumption of beef was virtually non-existent due to both cultural and economic reasons. Medieval Arabic mentions of recipes barely mention beef compared to mutton and poultry.
So, why did beef even become popular? The answer lies in Western Imperialism and cultural genocide.
The genocide of Native Americans left Western Imperialists with extensive territories in the Americas which could be used for plantations and livestock farming to enrich the nobility of Europe. This led to an explosion of beef-eating in Europe and the myth-making of beef-eating in the rest of the world. Even now in India, we find a degree of myth-making over beef that is almost unprecedented since the Dravidian theory – the creation of a Robert Caldwell, a missionary with no scholastic background, who was openly described by historian Dyron Daughrity as intending “to develop a history which asserted that the indigenous Dravidians had been subdued and colonized by the Brahmanical Aryans”.
The same Dravidian Theory – and the Aryan Invasion nonsense – will later be used to demonize Tamil Brahmins and spark off the idea of Tamil Nationalism – an idea which has led to much grief and suffering.
Even now dubious ‘translations’ by Westerners and Liberal intellectuals are peddled to push the myth of beef-eating by Shri Rama and Shri Krishna as well as other absurdities. Increasingly, young modern Indians take pride in spitting on their culture. What can be more disheartening than this?
These issues have been taken up elsewhere, so I will not spend much time on them.
Similarly, research by historians such as Hanu G. Das has proved that few, if any, Malayali Hindus ate chicken, let alone meat, pre-20th century. It wasn’t until the introduction of the inter-caste dining in the state that poultry became common, but even so, the vast majority of Hindus across all castes were strictly vegetarian. The ‘popularity’ of beef wouldn’t even figure until the 1970s when the entrenchment of Communism, the loss of traditional Malayali traditions, and the flow and customs from the Gulf would irrevocably change Kerala and create the myth of a ‘beef-eating’ Kerala. An absurdity since even now fish and rice are several times more popular than the Malayali ‘traditional’ dish of Porotta-beef.
(But isn’t Porotta a North-Indian preparation? Don’t tell the Dravidian nationalist. He’ll get angry!)
Similarly, the promotion of beef-eating was vital in weakening existing social systems in nations as far apart as Japan and India from the 19th century onwards. The social impact was horrendous with the bloody Boshin War and the ultimate rise of Japanese Imperialism and continuing attacks on Indian cultures even now; but the environmental impact has been more widespread.
Over 50% of all greenhouse emissions are due to livestock farming. Over 70% of all rainforest destruction stems from the beef industry. The beef industry uses a third of the world’s freshwater and produces 65% of the world’s nitrous oxide (or laughing gas) – a pollutant over 300 times more damaging than carbon dioxide.
And yet from the intellectuals who continually bemoan the bursting of crackers once a year and call for lip-service such as switching off lights for an hour a random day once a year, there is virtually no outrage at all!
Instead, my friends, what we have is the worship of beef – the final piece in the jigsaw puzzle called the Aryan Invasion Theory, the idea that two thousand million billion trillion quadrillion years ago a bunch of blonde-haired, blue-eyed, Hugo Boss-wearing Nazi savages came riding into India and forced everyone to give up on beef, for some reason.
The proof for this is that Hitler was a vegetarian and some chap named Max Muller who’d never been to India in his life said so in the 1800s. And this stuff is taught to Indian kids even now.
Your tax money at work, my friends!
‘History is a set of lies agreed upon’, as the great emperor Napoleon – savior of France from the British-led hordes of the West – once said. But the emperor lost. Who knows what will happen in the future?