Mumbai debates: To eat or not to (m)eat

As the veg-non-veg battles acquire a political colour, ordinary Mumbaikars talk about subtle and not so subtle messages on the table. Food for thought

Vegetarians and non-vegetarians have co-existed in Mumbai, seated at the same tables in educational institutions and work places for years. As the Mumbai meat ban drama unfolds, vegetarians and non-vegetarians give us some food for thought about their eating experiences.

The Bombay High Court on Monday stayed the ban on the sale of meat, tomorrow. Pic/AFP
The Bombay High Court on Monday stayed the ban on the sale of meat, tomorrow. Pic/AFP

College student Cheryl Baretto, 17 says, “For birthday parties, my friends and I have to buy eggless cakes since our vegetarian friends do not eat cake with egg. These are expensive and stretch the pocket money we get.

There are a few friends who do not like to be near me when I eat non-vegetarian food. It makes me feel very sad that my friends overreact because of the food, I eat.”

No non-veg
For Raina Dsilva (25) it was the workplace that laid down the rule. The finance professional says, “At my earlier workplace, the management would not allow non-vegetarian food. They had a vegetarian only rule. We had to get only veg food to work.”

Mumbai locals, the city’s lifeline are a seething cauldron symbolic of the city’s diversity, amongst other things. These differences should be the cause for celebration. For commuter, Sujeet Nagmote, 23, though, it was not so. He was told not to eat non-vegetarian food in a local.

He says, “I was eating a chicken burger and a couple who were sitting next to me started lecturing me on how I should not eat non-veg in front of them. I was shocked when they told me to stop eating since I was hurting their religious sentiments.

Fortunately, the other passengers came to my aid.” Nagmote was allowed to continue eating his snack by fellow commuters who said that he was free to eat chicken in a local train. Ginelle Dsouza also had a similar experience while in Gujarat. She says, “When I was staying there, I got bad vibes from vegetarians, when I ate non-veg food.

In Mumbai too, I have felt people give me that disapproving look especially when I eat a chicken sandwich or burger in a train or bus. I have not faced anyone telling me not to eat yet, but the way they look at you makes swallowing your non-vegetarian food tough.”

Teacher Shilpa Ghosh, 27 says, “Many vegetarian women tend to get into the impurity angle. Men are more accepting in that way, and less dramatic. I was once unaware that a colleague was vegetarian, so I shared my tiffin with her. When she came to know I had given her non-veg food, she reacted as though I had contaminated her.

She accused me of disrupting her faith. It was very embarrassing. I apologised, even though, I was not at fault, since I was unaware but the scene she made has made me very cautious about sharing non-veg food with others.” Charmi Gada (26) though says she prefers non-vegetarians not eating chicken or other meats in front of her.

She says, “Most of my friends who eat non-veg are really nice and have vegetarian food when they are out with me. They respect my sentiments. If someone does happen to eat non-veg, I walk away.” That may be too extreme a reaction for some vegetarians who believe in live and let live.

Free choice
Prachi Kerkar, 23, a physiotherapist says, “People should be free to eat what they like. I don’t eat non-veg, that is my choice and so I respect those who eat. There are many nutritional benefits of eating certain non-veg foods which no vegetarian food can give. I mind my own plate and let my friends eat their food freely.”

Media professional Dazy Verma (25), says, “I think if I am a true friend I should let my friends eat what they like. I don’t force them and they don’t force me. We hang out together and eat our respective foods enjoying each other’s company.” There is a dash of philosophy too mixed in with this logic.

For 26-year-old Jayna Punamiya, judging anyone on their food choices is narrow-minded. She says, “I am a Jain. There are many who think of themselves as saviours of the world by preaching and enforcing vegetarianism as the self-defined ‘ahimsa’ principle. Vegetarianism is a huge problem if it is an ethical issue and not a matter of choice.

Wonder how ‘ahimsic’ it is to judge anyone based on their food choices and ban or enforce certain kinds of food. Enforcement is a violent streak.” Kartikeya Jain, 22, says, “I am vegetarian and a Jain. I believe in jiyo aur jeene do (live and let live).

I let my friends eat what they want and I do the same. I do not eat non-veg, this is my choice and I respect the freedom of my friends who do eat.”

Cosmopolitan
Prince Wellington, 20, a college student says, “Many of my friends who are vegetarian also eat non-veg food at times. They love the fish that my mother makes. We all share our tiffins, and if I happen to bring non-veg food they have no problem, in fact, they taste it often.”

Advertising professional Saloni Gajjar (26) says, “I’m a vegetarian and I think it is utterly ridiculous to clamp down on personal food choices. It is my choice to be a vegetarian, how and why should I want to impose my choice on others is beyond comprehension.

My non-vegetarian friends eat their food with me on the same table. There is no stigma attached to their food choice; it does not make them bad people.” College student, Sujoy Kamat, 18 says, “I had an argument with my parents recently.

They feel that I should stop being friends with non-vegetarians as they say paap lag jayega (sin will be committed) if they feed you non-veg food. But I think that we should be good humans above all. That is what God judges us by, rather than by the food choices we make.”

What can we say, except amen to that.

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