Meat: The never ending question

I turned vegetarian more than three decades. Recently, I reviewed that decision. Here's my story.

By Hb Singh OPINION |

This question has consumed so many and for so long.

In the Sikh world, at least in the last few decades, there has been a raging debate on meat. Do we eat it or not? At some point of your Sikh journey, I bet the question came up as well.

Does Gurmat condone eating of meat? In fact, if you take a step back, does Gurmat hold a position on the consumption of meat? Is meat even an issue in Sikhi?

I got acquainted with Guru Nanak and his teachings in my late teens. That’s when I also got introduced to the meat debate.

As I took up voluntary work with a Sikh youth group, I saw up close the issue discussed and debated vigorously. I could identify the meat-eating group and the ones who didn’t. Loosely, their thinking was also aligned with the mool mantar debate, though not necessarily across the board.

I started off as a meat eater. We had plenty of meat when growing up. Mother would cook chicken or fry fish. I loved them in curries. I loved them fried. Sometime dished out in sambal, a condiment made from chilly and spices, popular in this part of the world.

We also had crabs and prawns. Mother’s crab masala was simply out of the world! And the crab rasam. High in protein and low in fat and calories, they say it’s a solid way to beat off cold and flu. Nah. We lapped it up for its taste. My eyes would be all teary. “Oh, pedas (spicy hot),” I would go.

We even had jangli suri (wild boar) with our saag (spinach). On occasions, my late dad would  hunt them in the jungles on the fringes of the Puchong tin mining where he worked. He would borrow a rifle from a colleague and hunt down the animal with his friends.

Then, at some point, I dropped meat. I aped my friends – many of them active in Sikhi activities. They were mostly vegetarians. At that point of time, I understood vegetarian as some kind of a higher calling, for lack of a better word, in Sikhi.

I remember ordering my first meal after turning vegetarian. I was a young journalist with a Kuala Lumpur-based Malay newspaper. At lunch, I went to one of the road-side stalls where I’ve grabbed countless bites before.

I stopped at a tiny stall run by a Malay lady and was about to place my order absent-mindedly. I halted briefly, mulling what to order now that I’m a vegetarian.

Makcik, mee goreng satu, tak nak daging,” I said. Translation: Madam, one plate of fried noodles, no meat.

Ayam boleh?” she shot back (Translate: Chicken, ok).

Daging is literally meat in Malay. It also refers to beef. Vegetarian food is generally foreign to Malays, though more are exposed to it today. So, I knew I had to be more precise.

Makcik, daging tak nak, ayam tak nak, ikan pun tak nak.” (Madam, no beef, no chicken, and no fish either).

Anak nak makan mee kosong, ya?” she asked, giving me a little look. (Translate: So, son, you want to eat plain noodles?)

I nodded, sheepishly. My first vegetarian order didn’t go down so smoothly. The food was plain and tasteless.

Then came another little drama as I wanted to pay.

Mee kosong, berapa ya? (Plain noodles, how much, ah?)” She charged RM1, probably half or a third (I can’t recall now) the usual price of a plate of noddle.

I was never the strict vegetarian. You won’t catch some of my vegetarian friends eating at that stall. They would prefer joints where no meat at all is cooked. But early on, I decided my vegetarian journey will be the easy going type. As a journalist, I would be required to travel. So I wanted to give myself leeway in my choice of diet.

Recently, I reviewed that decision to turn vegetarian. I’m now back to eating meat, though it makes a small part of my diet. It’s not for the taste, though.

I may have settled my personal meat eating debate, but the debate rages on. It crops up at forums and camps.

In this discussion (see video below), at 36:36, the presenter is spot-on with his observation. He noted we don’t ask a parcharak (preacher) or a granthi or a giani if we are allowed to eat gulab jamnu or a burger. “No where in Gurbani is it written you can eat goll-gaphey, but we do it nevertheless. But when it comes to meat, we start looking for a parcharak to resolve the question. That’s the wrong person to ask. We should instead ask a dietician or a doctor, not the preacher,” he says.

SEE VIDEO: SinghNaad: Is consumption of meat a sin?

I found the goll-gaphey mention amusing. But that is not why I’m flagging the video. The discussion is on a more serious note. You may have asked why I ditched my vegetarian diet. If you’re interested, I’m inclined to the views expressed by the preacher in this video. In a nutshell, meat is a non-issue in Sikhi. The real ‘higher calling’, if there is one, is in managing our desires and wants, and, above all, our ego.

Do I expect you to follow suit? Absolutely not! Remember, I’m easy going. I’m fine whichever way you whip your food, as long as you can respect my decision.

Hb Singh is a Kuala Lumpur-based journalist with some experience in dealing with Sikh organisations, both from within and outside. 

* This is the opinion of the writer, organisation or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Asia Samachar.



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  1. Gurfateh Ji, maaf karna, but is this Bhai Sahib suffering from a mental condition that makes him stupid?

    Please forward this to HB “Singh”

    Please review this 2 minute video about the topic.

    This is a basic issue of cruelty and ethics. You don’t need to refer to Guru Granth Sahib for this.
    Never-mind that Bhagat Kabir specifically has Bani about eating fish.

    Best Regards,
    *Dr Paul Aulakh BDSc (Hons) (Melb) *

  2. Firstly, I have a Vegan lifestyle although I believe HB Singh’s article is well intentioned and I get the idea behind it. In the marketplace of ideas, there are bad and good ideas. And the root bad or good idea can breed more sub ideas. Unfortunately, when it comes to religion, some ideas have enjoyed the privilege or immunity. You repeat a lie for a thousand years; and it could end up being a scripture. In the search of the truth; ideas that has enjoyed the favoritism of the crowd can suddenly be eliminated, refined or replace by a new contender. Unfortunately, the lack of civilized intellectual debate in our Sikh community without throwing punches or knocking of one’s turban has make it difficult to root out bad idea.

    Let me unpackage this so there is little room for misunderstanding. For example, in today’s Sikh world, there are two opposing ideas; equality for women vs preserving historical practices. Thanks to the marketplace, it has become clear that equality for women or those who identify with other gender role is long overdue. As the grip of ego loosen on us, the more we are able to see the soul; which doesn’t have a gender.

    I grew up in a kirtani household which are very much rooted in puritanical fundamentalist version of Sikhism. By my late teen, I’ve joined one of those organizations. However well intentioned; it promoted separatism instead of oneness with everything. It took me many years to realize that the Sikhism version we have today comes from a bundle of books instead of just SGGS with opposing ideas and that lead me to question my ego centric ‘false sense of superiority’ of being a pure Gursikh. I think this is what the article maybe addressing. But I have another important view point on this topic of animal based human consumption.

    It has taken much time to evolve to my current point of view on Sikhism with the following core ideas; compassion, meditation, non-violence, equality and no forcing.

    On the ground of compassion and equality for all living being, we should reduce and eventually eliminate all forms on animal-based consumption. The SGGS has written in the form on poetry and is full of idioms. ‘Swas Swas Naam Jap’ may mean meditate as much as possible instead of ‘meditating in every breath’ which we know is not humanly possible; we have to sleep and work. Gurbani rightly doesn’t go into the argument of weather eating meat makes us impure or not. However, it does plainly say killing or use of force is unenlightened. I guess you can make an exception when it comes to survival.

    This brings us to the topic of compassion: May I share with you something very enlightening as below:

    “Granted, these animals do not have all the desires we humans have; granted, they do not comprehend everything we humans comprehend; nevertheless, we and they do have some of the same desires and do comprehend some of the same things. The desires for food and water, shelter and companionship, freedom of movement and avoidance of pain. These desires are shared by nonhuman animals and human beings. As for comprehension: like humans, many nonhuman animals understand the world in which they live and move. Otherwise, they could not survive. So beneath the many differences, there is sameness. Like us, these animals embody the mystery and wonder of consciousness. Like us, they are not only in the world, they are aware of it. Like us they are the psychological centers of a life that is uniquely their own. In these fundamental respects’ humans stand “on all fours”, so to speak, with hogs and cows, chickens and turkeys. What these animals are due from us, how we morally ought to treat them, are questions whose answer begins with the recognition of our psychological kinship with them. Nobel Prize winner Isaac Bashevis Singer wrote in his bestselling novel Enemies, A Love Story’ the following: “As often has Herman had witnessed the slaughter of animals and fish, he always had the same thought: in their behavior toward creatures, all men were Nazis. The smugness with which man could do with other species as he pleased exemplified the most extreme racist theories, the principle that might is right”. The comparison here to the holocaust is both intentional and obvious: one group of living beings anguishes beneath the hands of another. Though some will argue the suffering of animals cannot possibly compare with that of former Jews or slaves, there is, in fact, a parallel.”

    On the topic of health: Series of documentaries that I watched in 2011; ‘Forks Over Knives’ which was based on the China Study & ‘Earthling’ led me to the conclusions that the Whole foods (unprocessed) plant based VEGAN lifestyle was the healthier and ethical way to go. For modern medicine is very good at curing the symptoms based on the mantra that ‘There is no money in healthy people and no money in dead people; the money is in the middle where people are sort of alive with one or two chronic diseases. The china study was one of the most comprehensive nutritional studies ever done without any industry conflict of interest. There is now overwhelming evidence that the vegetarian diet is not sufficiently healthy due to the over consumption of dairy and processed food.

    This would mean that I defy both dominant groups in our community. We have to question the very taboo topics of the ingredients use in our Degh and langar. Replace refine sugar & ghee with molasses and vegan version of the ghee? I leave you all to ponder and meditate on this topic with the following: If you believe, it means you don’t know and If you know, you don’t have to believe anymore.

    This response is written with much respect for the author of the original idea. If needed, I hope we can agree to disagree.

  3. At last! A rational voice on meat consumption. I wonder why you avoided the ‘halal’ issue? The SRM is quite specific about not to consume meat killed ritualistically as in halal (applies to us in the west for kosher). Well done – Maas Maas Kar murakh chegeday. There are Gurbani quotes by some of the Bhagats who were vegetarians and even threats of condemnation to hell, but no Guru Sahib frowned upon meat consumption. The above Gurbani phrase from Guru Nanak. It never was an issue in the past in Malaysia. We lived in the ‘kemeray’ behind High Street Police Gurdwara KL, where other police families including my mother, used to cook meat, and eat it of course. And no Punj Pyaray insisted on vegetarianism during Amrit Samachar. But, eat healthy. As you said, listen to advice from medical experts and qualified dieticians. Too much gulab jamun, jelebian, semosay, and ledoo too are bad for health!