Talk to the Rotarians of South Croydon

by Nitin Mehta

I was invited to give a talk to the Rotary club of South Croydon on 14th November. The title was, 'Benefits of a Vegetarian Diet.’ It was a lunch time meeting at a Chinese restaurant. I first thanked the president who was also the owner of the restaurant for allowing me to speak at a meat restaurant! It  was obvious that I had to avoid hurting anyone’s feelings so I started with the experience of Mahatma Gandhi when he came to study in London in  the 1890's.

Gandhiji had taken a vow not to eat meat and when his ship docked at Portsmouth he was met by a Dr.Mehta. On the ship itself Gandhiji had survived on the food he had brought from home. Accompanying him on the ship was a Mr. Majumdar who had no problem with eating meat. Gandhiji stayed as a paying guest with an Anglo Indian family who were very kind but could only offer him bread everyday. They would ask Gandhiji to take a few more slices of bread while Gandhiji felt he could eat the whole loaf! Though very thin he has a good appetite!

One day while walking in London he came across a vegetarian restaurant on Farrindon Rd. In the window of the restaurant was a book called, 'Benefits of a Vegetarian Diet' by a man called Henry Salt. Gandhi bought the book and was converted to the vegetarian cause. He had his first hearty meal in the restaurant. He later became secretary of the Bayswater branch of the Vegetarian Society and had his first experience of public speaking.

Through his interest in vegetarianism he also came in contact with the members of Theosophical Society many of whom were campaigning for independence of India. Annie Basant and Madam Blavastky were among the leading lights of the time.

Years later when Gandhi came for the Round Table conference he addressed a meeting of the Vegetarian Society. Gandhi was administered the vow of not eating meat by a Jain monk. The concept of Ahimsa –non violence towards all life forms is the central theme in Hindu and Jain religions. However the ecological and the environmental damage done to the planet by 55 billion animals raised and killed every year is the reason many are becoming vegetarian. There are also many health benefits.

In response to my talk one of the senior Rotarians  thanked me and said that he was unaware of the link between environment and the fact that almost 2 billion  people could be fed if the food was not diverted to feed animals. He however said he would still not stop eating meat!

The owner of the restaurant -a Buddhist said that practising Buddhists are also vegetarian and in many cases Vegan. He invited our group to do an Indian Vegetarian cookery demonstration at his restaurant.