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Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Cambodian Cuisine Controversy

In Cambodia local people eat every animal including endangered species in a belief that all the powers of the animals they eat with be theirs -how ridiculous is that ?”

A friend on facebook posted this on this wall. A short but interesting discussion followed. Obviously the facebook wall ain't a proper setting for debates with similar tones with broader scope. But it did get me to write something.

Now most people do agree with the above statement. I would like to say I almost agree too. But actually I like to empathize with them. The Cambodians. The discussion had many interesting points which could be addressed in separate threads. But let me see if I can make a point.

I believe there are many cultures in History that have had similar beliefs. I remember reading about kings cutting out the heart of his enemies to get their power. People eat different animals and its parts for various reasons including reasons that even border on vanity. But the problem here is the animals here in question are endangered.

In Malayalam there is a old proverb which roughly translates to – the sin of killing is gone if u eat what you killed. Not a very palatable thought for the mass murders and war heroes. But I see the logic in the proverb. Humans beings, either evolved from primordial ooze or created by the creator, are naturally meat eaters, with our teeth and digestive systems. Nature has equipped us for eating meat. Now what we eat is our choice. And this choice all the vegetarians out there a very formidable reason to gloat about not killing innocent animals for food. The juicy steak simmering, all the spices and sauces teasing our self control was actually a piece of a living creature which was killed and stripped slice by slice to feed the human taste buds. But the fact is universal. Every living thing is food for another. The mighty blue whale too maybe food for much smaller scavenging little swimmers. A decaying human body is a feast for the maggots and as time passes, the body makes a fine fertilizer for life, plant and animal. The dead rotten bodies molecules and atoms are so daringly recycled, that a rather accountable part of it is in those crunchy chips you just gobbled up. The finality of justice delivered to the cruel act of your great grand father killing a snake might be in the mangoes you just plucked from your tree. Death isn't a constant in life, there is a life after death you just don't accept it since we consider that “us” is in the center of everything. How many times have you crushed a cockroach, just for the reason it was on your table, How many of you turns on mosquito killers just before you go to sleep. Isn't that killing too. The only reason being we humans decided to carve out a home in a place god meant to be shared and wouldn't want any other creature sharing your crib. If anyone who considers life has being equal, then all of us are mass murders. You dint even eat those mosquitoes. At least I killed that chicken to marinate it in tub of spices, roast it and then satisfy my natural hunger and my intriguingly pampered taste buds. And by the way did you know there are studies that suggest even plants feel pain and death?

Now the chicken I eat, gave me some fat, proteins, vitamins, sodium etc. Effectively I have taken the some part of the powers which kept it alive. Every human beings eat to absorb certain things to keep them alive, plant or animal, we metaphorically absorb some powers of the food we intake. Based on a set of scientific beliefs we understand this and have a mixed choice of items that we need to consume to keep us alive. Vision from carrots, chocolate aphrodisiacs, grapes for the heart, red meat for the muscles, banana for the brain etc based in facts and myths. Now if our beliefs were based on a religious grounds or cultural grounds, we would sacrifice goats for god, drink bhang in he name of Shiva, payasam( delicious south Indian sweet, yummmm yummmm) poured over Krishna' statue, or even consume wine and bread symbolically drinking the blood and eating the flesh of god, an example of divine cannibalism if god looked like human. human. But since its what most of what citizens in a modern society believe and consider is normal, we never label them as ridiculous. Maybe in an hypothetical alternate world, eating humans is a norm, Hannibal would be master chef and will have his own reality shows. I remember reading in a issue of “ The Walking Dead” a family choses cannibalism and they consider it normal under the circumstances. A certain place in Hyderabad has people swallow live fish to cure asthma, which have actually has a high success rates. So maybe in the Cambodian set of belief's, its possible to gain cool powers by eating certain creatures. When I tell my non Indian friends, even my superficially westernized Indian friends that it is a norm to use cow urine in Ayurvedic and other traditional medicines they laugh at how ridiculous and yucky the concept is. Rationally trying to convince them was a failure and all I was left with was new nick names which included the words cow and pee. Rationality and intelligence don't matter in a society where every one is conditioned. To break the barriers of belief is very hard especially if a major section of a society is standing in the way. Maybe the Cambodians will find it strange that majority of the world symbolically eats god's flesh and drinks his blood on a weekly basis. They might find it uneasy to understand how cannibalizing one's god is reserving a place by his side in heaven. Barbaric. They might be looking at this globally prevalent ritual, maybe with even more prejudice than a Hindu watching the rest of the world eat cows.

Finally the checkmate. Here is that poor endangered species has to take whatever the strange bipedal confused human beings do, to the grave. It's a very white man belief that human activity in earth is causing so much change and so we must ridicule and stop few sets of activities. Arrogance. Of course we are slaughtering the planet and leaving it in a toxic bloodbath. But to worry about a small group of animals which has run its course in evolution, while everything else we do is also stabbing the planet in its chest is a huge pile of hypocrisy. ( u thought I will say shit, right?). Air, water , soil. Every thing we have polluted. The air you would have breathe hundred years back is now extinct. The waters that Columbus traversed is extinct. But a new ocean still exist with tonnes and tonnes of human waste and toxicity. The textured scent of the soil, which your grandfather sniffed when it rained is replaced by black tar and Grey concrete. Anything and everything we do is causing extinctions every second. A whole family of mosquitoes went extinct last night when you turned on the mosquito repellent. The whole world is endangered. Remember the cockroach you squished under your heel, that little guy was supposed to survive a nuclear holocaust, you just squished all his life force. Instant facebook status message change and the last SMS you sent just probably gave few crows brain tumors. Did you know that the bee population in the world has drastically reduced, and one theory they say is that is is due to all the cell phone towers. Now would you stop using the mobile phone to save a species that might be soon extinct because humans forgot how to write letters or need to change what they say every five minutes, or we evolved into strange creatures the need for instant communication and social acceptance, with no sense of accountability.

Cambodians were probably eating these creatures long long ago. Only when the white man's grand entry did they get listed endangered. So now its the natives there, that has to be ridiculed and accounted for a set of beliefs they have had since ages. Life is precious even though its abundant on our little blue planet. But inst life equal too. We evolved from a single celled cell that emerged from a pool of liquid creation. With a small microscopic cell as our ancestor, can we still claim that we can't all life as equally important. Just because we can build huge shiny buildings and tweet doesn't mean we can decide what to kill and what to list as endangered. Our survival doesn't depend on polluting cars, glossy buildings or corporate hierarchy. We have survived in caves or mud houses with a small spear and nature's grace. But what we do beyond that has always effected our environment and endangered thousands of species. Cornering one particular sect of people for their novel beliefs about cuisine choices, in the name of preserving life is not fair fight. Of course victory will be yours. Dr Manhattan Vs Rorschach all over again.

If you don't eat your meat, you can't have any pudding! How can you have any pudding if you don't eat your meat! - The Teacher, Pink Floyd -The Wall.

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