Being a vegetarian in Lahore is not easy. It is a city dominated by the carnivorous types. Meat is everywhere; from street vendors to top-end restaurants. The more the meat the merrier. But it’s not just the simple question of the quantity, it is also the status afforded to gosht-meat. Meat consumption is also dominated with the wealthy rather than the poor, who still consume a more balanced diet. Thus there is evidently a distinction between the class of people who eat meat. Having said that during my first visit to HyperStar (one of the largest malls in Pakistan), I noticed how expensive some vegetables were. Especially those which are not locally in demand. Mushrooms were nowhere to be seen and peppers/capsicums were priced exorbitantly. Price will most likely follow demand but why is that some vegetables and lentils are even more expensive than meat, surely this is not right.
This gradual shift of people’s eating habits has hardly been noticed. In countries with high levels of poverty, it is often a question about getting enough to eat rather thinking about over-consumption. But undoubtedly Lahore before 1947 was not so dominated by meat, the diet would have been varied to reflect the multi-cultural nature of the city. Many of the elder inhabitants attest to different eating habits as recently as the 1970s and even the 1980s. The change in what people eat is not just to do with the political and demographic changes brought about by 1947, they are also to do with modern eating habits. Yet interestingly meat consumption in Pakistan has gone up particularly when we compare it to Bangladesh. The main difference between the two is most likely explained by the fact that the Bengali diet has a lot more fish than real “meat”.
The Real Meat http://www.dawn.com/news/1207254
I’m not a vegetarian for any religious reasons, the habit started more out of change in circumstances and then for ideological and pro-animal reasons. These early encounters in my teens have subsequently remained with me. Over recent years I have become more flexible but a few things stand, no red meat and certainly a preference for veggie food whenever possible. Without preaching, I have encouraged my friends to reduce meat consumption, starting with maybe abstaining from meat once a week. There are of course some sound environmental and health benefits to a vegetarian diet.
Eat less meat to avoid dangerous global warming, scientists say https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/mar/21/eat-less-meat-vegetarianism-dangerous-global-warming
Can eating less meat help reduce climate change? http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-34899066
As I’m living and working in Lahore, food is an important part of my “experience”. So it’s sad to say that while Lahore has embraced gosht-eating so wholeheartedly, it has also forgotten how to cook and handle vegetables. Some households still produce some good basic veggie food, others experiment with more fashionable veggie food, perhaps for health reasons. Overwhelmingly though they are gosht lovers. The kebabs and tandoori chicken might be unparalleled but it has be said that across the border in India, there is much more choice and acceptance of veg food. India perhaps is the only place where the term veg/non-veg is used; it highlights the importance and priority on veggie foods as opposed to it being a side order. India also has one of the lowest rates of meat consumption in the world, though this varies from state to state. The choice and creativity in veg food in India is unparalleled I think.
Mapped: The countries that eat the most meat http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/maps-and-graphics/world-according-to-meat-consumption/
Top Meat Consuming Countries In The World http://www.worldatlas.com/articles/top-meat-consuming-countries-in-the-world.html
My solution is let’s make vegetarianism fashionable and cool! The same way that perhaps having meat became so pervasive and a marker of upward mobility, perhaps we can do the same with opting for the healthier veggie option. By making it fashionable perhaps the elite in Lahore can embrace this trend and start spreading some health conscious habits.