One of the biggest shifts we see lately across the globe, especially with those who imagine themselves to be rational is a rising disdain for existing traditions of older civilisations.
Most of us, the educated and informed find the inherited traditions to be limited and hence limiting for personal growth as they restrict personal freedom based on logic that looks irrational, so there is a trend to question them using new-found knowledge of science and prove that these traditions existed only because of lack of understanding that humans had about the patterns of reality before science appeared to show us the light.
Unfortunately for the new age rationalists, just when it was going hunky dory with AI and internet and all kind of great techy-stuff, cometh a small, insignificant strand of data called coronavirus, and presto, all hell breaks loose.
When an event like epidemic appears, the very nature of reality as we see it gets altered as an epidemic is an anomaly from a short term perspective that we use to live life.
As we haven’t experienced the pattern that an epidemic belongs to, we are caught napping, and this is where there is deeper wisdom that we need to grasp about old traditions.
A tradition is nothing but an algorithm generated by crunching data at a meta-level by a society or a civilisation.
Older a civilisation, more data it would have crunched over a greater length of time. As patterns come at different scales, an older civilisation would have managed to experience and sense long-cycle patterns like epidemics that are rare but devastating when they occur.
Though events like epidemics are rare, as they are catastrophic when they occur, so for a long-living creature like a civilisation, there is a need to respond to them via traditions, and this is where the Indian notion of vegetarianism needs a special mention.
Though West have lately started realising that there is something not really right with the short-term wisdom of science that they use and have started favouring ideas like vegetarianism, in India it is still a backward tradition that is often blamed for general lack of physical strength to even psychological lack of aggression.
As animal proteins are closer to home for us (as we too belong to animal kingdom), there is a scientific justification of them being easier to digest and convert.
Vegetarian diet, on the other hand comes from a kingdom of life almost furthest possible from us and hence it is a food that is low yield and extremely difficult to digest.
Looking at the fact that both animal and plant kingdoms were available to consume for a large civilisation like India, and yet a trend appeared that opted for the more difficult option of preferring plant diet over animals obviously looks strange especially because edibility of both plants and animals were known to ancient India that did have carnivorous populations too.
Though it is a tradition that looks irrational and weakening (as something as big as enslavement of India is linked with the dietary preference of the people) on a short-term perspective, when viewed in the context of a calamity of an epidemic, there is something deeply meaningful therein if we understand the biological context to the issue.
Even though all life on earth seems to be having a common origin, the tree of life stands fundamentally divided in six kingdoms, with plant and animal kingdom contributing to most of the non-microscopic life-forms that we consume.
As plants and animals parted company almost a billion years back, both kingdoms have enough genetic common base for both of them to be part of a common food-cycle due to having share molecules of life, but both are otherwise as different as chalk and cheese (especially metabolically). Due to having a billion year genetic divide, both have one clear difference that we don’t relate to, till something like coronavirus appears.
Plant and animal kingdom being genetically far apart, parasites that use them as hosts have also evolved in separate silos and hence, it is difficult to find any parasite/pathogen that can jump between this massive genetic gap and move from plants to animals.
So, by shifting to plant-based diet, humans may end up with a con of low yield and less empowering food intake, the pro that really matters is that this moves closes the door for any new pathogen to arrive amongst us suddenly and cause an epidemic.
So Indian vegetarianism, when looked at from the perspective of coronavirus and not Olympic gold medals, it is possible that it is taking cognisance of a deeper pattern that science is yet to recognise.
While shift to a plant based diet may have its ancient context of a world without medicines that can kill a lot of pathogens, there is a modern dimension of this issue that is even more pertinent.
As we have now connected globe and have caused a virtual Pangaea with ships and aircrafts shuttling biological materials from one ecosystem to other without any consideration, people are ending up getting exposed to all kind of biological material that they may not have evolved for.
In this situation, a global shift to vegetarian diet may be a move that can really reduce the chances of more such disasters.
Ancient India may have understood the issue of epidemic indirectly, but now, thanks to modern genetics, we can see the science behind this tradition.
As we now realise what an epidemic can do and the fact that they are not as rare (as we were imagining thanks to a false sense of security created by science), we too need to develop suitable traditions that we can pass down to future generations for their safety. So, even if they end up losing the scientific knowledge base, they will still be protected.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.