Food and Faith

January 5, 2011

The other day Hemant Mehta “the Friendly Atheist” posted a reflection on his vegetarianism. He is of Jain origin, but as his sobriquet implies he doesn’t follow that or any religion. (He describes himself as “ex-Jain,” though I suspect that if he were living back in India he would be regarded by most people as still a Jain, just as a non-practicing non-believing Jew is still a Jew.) Yet, having been raised in the strict vegetarianism of his family, he finds that he is still a vegetarian, with no desire for meat, even though he no longer believes in the reasons he had been given for such a diet; and the arguments he can think of for vegetarianism, if led to their logical conclusion, should lead him to veganism, which he can’t bring himself to contemplate (Indian culture is very dairy-oriented, if you haven’t noticed). I recommend the post (and the numerous comments appended) – it is a fascinating example of a bright young individual trying to think through the exact nature of his dietary and other choices.

I myself am an opportunistic feeder and would never be comfortable joining a religion with strict food taboos. I was raised to be omnivorous and have no desire to change. Yet I can understand the appeal of vegetarianism/veganism; I am not a great believer in moral absolutes (a topic for another post!) but I can’t help feeling that it would be somehow more civilized if we could live without slaughtering our fellow animals. I suspect that in another century or two people will look back on the way we eat today with the same shock and incomprehension with which we contemplate the prevalence of slave-ownership among the founders of our democracy. But this is not a cause I feel myself called upon to embrace, not a change I feel personally driven to make.

Ah, the complex relationship between religion, diet, habit, culture, logic… The heart has its reasons, says Pascal; and so, I would add, do our other organs.

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2 Responses to “Food and Faith”

  1. Hemant Says:

    Thanks for the kind words. It felt good to get some of that out since I’d been thinking those things for a while 🙂


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