Can I be a vegetarian in Pakistan?
The idea of being a vegetarian is still a strange and unheard concept in Pakistan. Primarily because there aren’t enough vegatarians, and there are hardly any restaurants catering to vegetarian needs. When you come across a vegetarian here, you find them striving to sustain this ‘spiritual’ state.
Two years ago, I watched the biographical documentary of Mahatma Gandhi and got convinced that I should spurn eating anything which has life and would go through immense pain to become edible. I did quite a lot of research on this subject, listened to the arguments proposed by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and was fascinated by the number of famous people who had adhered to the philosophy of veganism and vegetarianism.
At the time, this was enough for me to vow never to touch anything non-veg. But soon after, brawls erupted between me and my family over the issue because I wouldn’t eat home-made meals if they were not vegetarian. I would search the bazaars to see if they had something to offer to assuage my hunger, given that it did not compromise my principles. Unfortunately, it was all futile.
Whenever I came close to shunning this philosophy at the sight of something appetising, I would recall a saying by Gandhi:
“Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
Before I could hope for a world free of oppression, I had to work on myself.
My mother, despite being a religious person, supported my decision and wished she could do the same. But she still saw this as a short-lived phase of spiritual ambitions. In my determination, I ended up starving myself of nourishment; having meals devoid of proteins and nutrients required by my body. Eventually, with deteriorating health causing unbearable weakness; I succumbed to the difficulties and stepped back into eating non-vegetarian food. I still regret that I couldn’t stick to being a vegetarian for long.
Nevertheless, the experience was enlightening and spiritual for me. I felt connected to the basics. Vegetarianism, to me, is reflective of simple living; a life devoid of gluttony and indulgence. I felt that I had detached myself from the cruelty carried out against animals for appetitive desires.
What saddened me most was the realisation that had I been living abroad, being a vegetarian wouldn’t have been so hard. People here usually laugh, tease or argue if you tell them you are a vegetarian. Also, there aren’t enough restaurants that offer a variety of vegetarian dishes, that too at affordable prices. These factors play a major role in making potential vegetarians rethink their decision and serve as a handicap to those still fighting to practice what they believe in.
Local organisations need to promote this cause like PETA does and pave the way for veganism and vegetarianism in Pakistan. If a large number of vegans emerge here, sooner or later we will see the emergence of vegetarian restaurants too. Recently, there has been a rise in healthy eating options, with restaurants that offer a variety of salads and vegetarian dished, but since there are only a few of these places, it becomes an expensive, once in a blue moon treat and not something that can become part of a daily routine. We, in Pakistan, need to realised that humans can easily survive on non-meat food too, and contrary to popular belief, it is actually healthier. Culturally, Pakistanis are meat lovers and all our festivities revolve around some sort of protein but what we fail to understand is that excessive meat intake is severely detrimental to our health. And we know how to go excessive.
Being a vegetarian is a personal choice and the motivation behind this decision varies from person to person. But as a country, one that was part of a primarily vegetarian country before partition, we need to embrace it and not raise our eyebrows at those who choose to call themselves ‘vegetarians’. I also hope that one day we can respect the creatures living on Earth and understand that we do not have any supreme authority to kill, use or exploit them for our own desires.
For those who will say we have religious duties to fulfill, I am in no way disagreeing. Yes, we can have meat so long as we stick to the religious prescribed manner, but I do not remember religion saying we ‘must’ eat a tonne of meat a day. Religion says it and so does common sense – practice moderation! Looking towards moderation in our daily intake of meats may be difficult, but it is not unfathomable. And if you can’t do it, don’t judge those who can.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.