INDIA: Fighting the 'McDonaldization' of Asia
By Neal D. Barnard, M.D.
The traditional Indian diet transforms simple ingredients—lentils, cauliflower, peas, spinach, potatoes, and other humble foods, along with a magical touch of spice—into masterpieces that are not only delicious, but healthful. The illnesses that plague the Western world—heart disease, obesity, and cancer—have been relatively rare among Indians following a traditional diet.
But a tragedy looms in India. Traditional plant-based diets are under assault by Western tastes. Meat, cheese, and fast foods are increasingly popular, and the damage has already started. Ischemic heart disease killed 1.1 million Indians in 1991 and rose to nearly 1.5 million in 1998. Diabetes and other chronic diseases have followed suit. Even many vegetarians have diets dangerously laden with fatty dairy products and cooking oils.
Last November, I traveled to India to lecture at more than 20 medical centers in eight Indian cities, speaking out against the "McDonaldization" of Asia and supporting the vegetarian traditions that are in danger of being forgotten.
In a country where some view vegetarian diets as a bit old-fashioned, I was unsure how well the message would be received. However, the auditoriums were packed and questions were endless. The elegant Taj Hotels in New Delhi and Mumbai put on special receptions with mouth-watering menus, all low in fat and entirely vegan.
Instead of a Westernization of Indian eating habits, it is clear that America and Europe need an Easternization of their own diets. The result could be powerful medicine for Western doctors who continue to face as difficult a struggle with chronic disease as Asian doctors are now beginning to encounter.
Dr. Barnard's trip to India generated an enormous amount of press coverage, with two national television appearances, more than 60 English-language newspaper stories, and dozens more in Hindi, Tamil, Gujarati, and other Indian languages.
A Message from India
By Maneka Gandhi
While vegetarian traditions have been strong in India since time immemorial, they have been badly eroded in recent years. The result is measured not only in human suffering, but also in the suffering of animals.
When dairy cattle are no longer productive, they are sold for the ever-growing meat market. Because slaughter is illegal in most of the country, the cows are marched hundreds of miles to places that permit this practice. The route is torturous, and when these unfortunate animals collapse from exhaustion or injury, their handlers break their tails, put hot peppers into their eyes—anything to get them moving again. The slaughter conditions themselves are unspeakable.
People who then add meat to their diets pay a price in chronic disease, which our hospitals are ill-equipped to handle. Heart disease and diabetes, in particular, have become epidemics.
As a Cabinet Minister, it is my role to promote respect for human life and the welfare of animals. I greatly appreciate Dr. Barnard's willingness to work with us toward progress on these important causes.