By Devraj Singh Kalsi
Reading the nutrition chart on labels of packaged foods becomes the favourite pastime through your bifocals or progressive lens once you turn health-conscious after reaching a certain age. Those carefree days of feasting on anything in any quantity are gone. Anxiety shoots up after you gobble a gulab jamun. The glucometer starts ticking in your mind. You are smitten by guilt even if you are pre-diabetic. One gulab jamun pronounced the culprit for the imaginary spike in the sugar level.
It has become a successful business strategy to combine healthy with unhealthy these days. Restaurants and other eateries sell paneer roll but you know it is fried in oil. Since it has cottage cheese inside, you are told it is a good source of protein for your body to stay healthy. And you end up ordering a double paneer roll, ignoring the fact that oil is not good for the heart. Those big chunks of paneer allure you in the ads – and the visual treat tempts you for gastronomical excesses. Gradually, you convince yourself that cottage cheese is indeed good for the bones, and you need a good quantity of calcium from a vegetarian source to ensure they do not crack up under pressure from detractors. Expectedly, the frequency goes up as the paneer roll becomes your favourite ‘heaathy’ snack.
Having rummaged through articles on good sources of protein, you know the vegetarian diet has glaring deficiencies in this regard. Being a committed vegetarian, you do not try out animal sources. But the fear of protein deficiency haunts you, compelling you to dig up other vegetarian sources. If you need confidence to flex muscles in front of big bullies in your locality, you must have brawny biceps – not radish-shaped arms fit only to lift bathroom buckets. Protein shake becomes your predictable supplementary choice before you hit the gym floor.
Vegetarians often compromise when it comes to health though they hesitate to admit that. I have seen them almost puke at the sight of their vegetable chops being fried alongside fish cutlets in the same oil and pan. Such buddyhood is incompatible, intolerable and revolting for fanatics. But the same vegetarian folks pop cod liver oil capsules for stamina and justify it as a valid medical option to stay healthy. Likewise, animal fat is avoided but Omega-3 capsules are eagerly popped every day after lunch to keep mind and body in sound health.
Even though they know all about walnuts and their Omega content, they call it a hard nut to crack, preferring the cheaper alternative of medical supplements marked with a non-vegetarian symbol. Ask them why they are okay with that, and they are super quick to respond by saying their frail bodies need these. If the word goes around that non-vegetarian food is the ultimate secret behind longevity, will there be a sharp decline in the number of vegetarian folks?
Take the case of those who do not consume eggs, but they love pastries and cakes with eggs even though eggless variants have flooded the bakeries. As the form of egg has changed in the preparation process, they do not feel it is a cardinal sin to try out this option. While there are many who eat vegetarian stuff at home, they are very fond of non-vegetarian stuff outside. Striking the perfect balance between vegetarian and non-vegetarian food keeps them healthy though this truth is rarely spoken in this fashion.
The population of vegetarian people also includes those who have eaten non-vegetarian food before their retirement from carnivore fare. Some give up give up their favourite fish, egg, and meat for spiritual succor. While they need applause for showing the strength to resist, they think they have done the right thing as their organs cannot take in rich food after a certain age. To prevent digestive problems, it is better to have a vegetarian diet. Once again it boils down to convenience. The desire to stay healthy governs this decision – just as they chose to eat non-vegetarian food more for strength rather than taste.
There is perhaps another category of people who have switched from vegetarian fold to non-vegetarian diet in their old age. They say they have been quite cautious and avoided non-vegetarian food during their younger days but in old age they need solid strength that comes from animal sources alone. So, their decision to turn non-vegetarian after reaching sixty is right. Here, too, the desire to live healthy is the prime reason for the switch past their prime.
The other day I was reading the health benefits of chia seeds, flax seeds, watermelon seeds, and fox nuts along with their nutritional value. Items not tried before also become the focus as the age sets in to get familiar with the best sources of staying healthy in mind and body, along with keeping a glowing, radiant skin. The search for super foods continues and the health freak seeks the daily dose of multi-vitamins to remind himself that he will remain healthy because he consumes it regularly now. Even if one consumes the most powerful sources of health, one has one’s own health challenges setting in due to aging. The fascination with reversing age inflates the budget and leads to growing stress instead of delivering effective results despite consumption of healthy items on a regular basis.
Consuming fruits and vegetables is seen as a frail attempt to maintain health, but the tendency to strike out sweet fruits leads to explore other choices that are not well-balanced. A lifetime of rich diet based on vegetables and fruits should deliver the satisfaction of leading a healthy life but the presence of random fast food intake offsets the long-term benefits.
So, it is perhaps, best to keep oneself undefined as a vegetarian or non-vegetarian because the need to stay healthy always decides what you prefer and for how long. In a lifetime there are several stages and there are several stages of being a pure vegetarian, a pure non-vegetarian and a mix of both based on convenience.
Devraj Singh Kalsi works as a senior copywriter in Kolkata. His short stories and essays have been published in Deccan Herald, Tehelka, Kitaab, Earthen Lamp Journal, Assam Tribune, and The Statesman. Pal Motors is his first novel.
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