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"Go Veg, Young Man!" -- Eating Through India

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"Veg or non-veg?"

I beg your pardon? Come again? One more time?

Acquaint yourself, dear reader, with this query should you be fortunate enough to find yourself on a plane to India one day. For India, encompassing all of its dozens of "countries within a country," is home to the world's largest vegetarian population, and that is a very, very good thing for you. This inquiry is one you will receive on a regular basis.

I've come a long way, baby. Raised in a primarily carnivorous family where roast beef, shepherd's pie, and other English gastronomic delights were the norm, I consider myself today a "quasi-vegetarian." This quasi-vegetarian consumes chicken or fish perhaps once (or occasionally twice!) a week, generally in social situations where it's somewhat awkward or impractical to go "veg." (Before I both horrify and alienate my vegan readership, know this: I'm desperately trying to ween myself off such indulgences, but occasionally the appeal of all-you-can-eat sushi is too much to bear. This probably isn't helping my case much, is it? But now I'm getting off topic.)

Indian cuisine is, without question, the most sensually pleasurable dining experience on the planet. I do not, indeed can not conflate "Indian food" into one general category, as the food varies so much from south to north, east to west. However I can say this: I never had a bad meal in my eight months there. Combine intoxicating aromas, sublime textures, and the tastes -- ye gads, dear reader, the tastes! -- with oven fresh rice and/or naan and there can be little doubt that if there is indeed a culinary God, he/she is from Mumbai ... or Jodhpur ... or Kolkata... or...

India is the easiest country for the indoctrinated carnivore to eat vegetarian. Restaurants will advertise various curries under the simple headings of "veg" or "non-veg," (or rather, "meat.") Simply put, India always affords one the option to eat vegetarian, and I almost immediately noticed the improvements in energy level and health -- physical, sexual, spiritual, etc. -- upon consuming a purely vegetarian diet.

I am often asked by friends and family at home why I no longer choose to consume "red meat," that slightly more pleasant term for "cow flesh." Estranged now are the gracious aunts, uncles, grandmothers (never grandfathers -- need I explain the generational divide?), and parents for whom the preparation of a healthy steak or hearty chili was once a rite of passage when cooking for yours truly. No more. I simply can no longer bring myself to eat beef after spending so much time, and planning on a great deal more in the near future, in a nation that venerates cattle so. You'll guess that I am far from Hindu. However, I feel like I "get it," in my own limited way, when it comes to the Hindu's reverence for the cow.

Walking through the crowded streets, dodging rickshaws and chai wallahs, vendors and Volkswagons, the cow takes it all in stride -- pausing to consume some garbage here, be blessed by a holy man there. The Indian cow lets nothing faze it, which is at various moments bemusing and bewildering to the foreigner experiencing these same anarchic streets for the first time. The cow's gentle presence became a great comfort to me in moments of exhaustion, peril, or frustration, and for this reason, it shall never end up on the wrong end of my fork again.

So when (you'll notice I no longer bother to add "if") you experience India, go veg. Your insides, environment, and gentle bovine companions will no doubt thank you for it.

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