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SPEECH OF MAHATMA GANDHI AT MEETING OF LONDON VEGETARIAN SOCIETY

SPEECH OF MAHATMA GANDHI AT MEETING OF LONDON VEGETARIAN
SOCIETY
LONDON,
November 20,1931

When I received the invitation to be present at this meeting , I
need not tell you how pleased I was, because it received old memories
and recollections of pleasant friendship formed with vegetarians. I feel
especially honoured to find on my right Mr. Henry Salt. I was Mr.
Salt's book, A Plea for Vegetarianism, which showed my why, apart
from a hereditary habit, and apart from my adherence to a vow
administered to me by my mother , it was right to be a vegetarian. He
showed me why it was a moral duty incumbent on vegetarians not to
live upon fellow-animals. It is, therefore, a matter of additional pleasure
to me that I find Mr. Salt in our midst.

I do not propose to take up your time be giving you my various
experiences of vegetarianism, nor do I want to tell you something of
the great difficulty that faced me in London itself in remaining
staunch to vegetarianism, but I would like to share with you some of
the thoughts that have developed in me in connection with vegetarianism.
Forty years ago I used to mix freely with vegetarians. There
was at that time hardly a vegetarian restaurant in London that I had
not visited. I made it a point, out of curiosity, and to study the possibilities
of vegetarian restaurants in London, to visit every one of
them. Naturally, therefore, I came into close contact with many
vegetarians. I found at the tables that largely the conversation turned
upon food and disease. I found also that the vegetarians who were
strugg- ling to stick to their vegetarianism were finding it difficult
from hea- lth point of view. I do not know whether, nowadays, you
have those debates, but I used at that time to attend debates that were
held between vegetarians and vegetarians, and between vegetarians and
non-vegetarians. I remember one such debates, between Dr. Densmore
and the late Dr. T. R. Allinson. Then vegetarians had a habit of
talking of nothing but food and nothing but disease. I feel that is the
worst way of going about the business. I notice also that it is those
persons who become vegetarians because they are suffering from
some disease or other—that is, from purely the health point of view it
is those persons who largely fall back . I discovered that for remaining
staunch to vegetarianism a man requires a moral basis.

For me that was a great discovery in my search after truth. At
an early age, in the course of my experiments, I found that a selfish
basis would not serve the purpose of taking a man higher and higher
along the paths of evolution. What was required was an altruistic
purpose. I found also that health was by no means the monopoly of
vegetarians. I found many people having no bias one way or the
other, and that non-vegetarians were able to show, generally speaking,
good health. I found also the several vegetarian found it impossible
to remain vegetarians because they had made food a fetish and
because they thought that by becoming vegetarians they could eat as
much lentils, haricot beans, and cheese as they liked. Of course, those
people could not possibly keep their health. Observing along these
lines, I saw that a man should eat sparingly and now and then fast. No
man or woman really ate sparingly consumed just that quantity which
the body requires and no more. We easily fall a prey to the
temptations of the palate, and, therefore, when a thing tastes
delicious,we do not mind taking a morsel or two more. But you
cannot keep health under thsose circumstances. Therefore, I
discovered that in order to keep health, no matter what you ate, it was
necessary to cut down the quantity of your food and reduce the
number of meals. Become moderate; err on the side of less, rather
than on the side of more. When I invite friends to share their meals
with me, I never press them to take anything except only what they
require. On the contrary, I tell them not to take a thing if they do not
want it.

What I want to bring to your notice is that vegetarians need
to be tolerant if they want to convert others to vegetarianism.
Adopt a little humility. We should appeal to the moral sense of the
people who do not see eye to eye with us. If a vegetarian became ill,
and a doctor prescribed beef-tea, then I would not call him a
vegetarian. A vegetarian is made of sterner stuff. Why? Because
it is for the building of the spirit and not of the body. Man is
more that meat. It is the spirit in man for which we are concerned.
Therefore, vegetarians should have that moral basis—that a man was
not born a carnivorous animal, but born to live on the fruits and herbs
that the earth gorws. I know we must all err. I would give up milk if I
could but I cannot. I have made that experiment times without
number. I could not , after a serious illness, regain my strength unless
I went back to milk. That has been the tragedy of my life. But the
basis of my vegetarianism is not physical, but moral. If anybody said
that I should die if I did not take beef-tea or mutton, even under
medical advice, I would prefer death. That is the basis of my
vegetarianism. I would love to think that all of us who called ourselves
vegetarians should have that basis. There were thousands of meateaters
who did not stay meat-eaters. There must be a definite reason
for our making that change in our lives, for our adopting habits and
customs different from society, even though sometimes that change
may offend those nearest and dearest to us. Not for the world should
you sacrifice a moral principle. Therefore the only basis for having a
vegetarian society and proclaiming a vegetarian principle is, and must
be, a moral one. I am not to tell you, as I see and wander about the
world, that vegetarians, on the whole, enjoy much better health than
meat-eaters. I belong to a country which is predominantly vegetarian
by habit or necessity. Therefore, I cannot testify that that shows much
greater endurance, much greater courage, or much greater exemption
from disease. Because it is a peculiar, personal thing. It requires
obedience, and scrupulous obedience, to all the laws of hygiene.
Therefore, I think that what vegetarians should do is not to
emphasize the physical consequences of vegetarianism, but to explore
the moral consequences. While we have not yet forgotten that we share
many things in common with the beast, we do not sufficiently realize
that there are certain things which differentiate us from the beast. Of
course, we have vegetarians in the cow and the bull—which are better
vegetarians than we are—but there is something much higher which
calls us of vegetarianism. Therefore I thought that during the few
minutes which I give myself the privilege of addressing you, I would
just emphasize the moral basis of vegetarianism. And I would say that
I have found from my own experience, and the experience of
thousands of friends and compa-nions, that they find satisfaction, so
far as vegetarianism is concerned, from the moral basis they have
chosen for sustaining vegetarianism.

In conclusion, I thank you all for coming here and allowing
me to see vegetarians face to face. I cannot say I used to
meet you forty or forty-two years ago. I suppose the faces of the
London Vegetarian Society have changed. There are very few
members who, like Mr. Salt, can claim association with the Society
extending over forty years. Lastly, I would like you, if you want to, to
ask me any questions, for I am at your disposal for a few minutes.
Mr. Gandhi was then asked to give his reasons for limiting his daily diet to
five articles only, and he replied:

That has no connection with vegetarianism. . . . There was
another reason. I had been a pampered child of nature. I had acquired
then that notoriety that when I was invited by friends, they placed
before me ample dishes of food. I told them, I had come there to
serve, and personally, I should find myself dying by inches if I
allowed myself to be pampered like that. So, in limiting myself to five
VOL.54: 13 OCTOBER, 1931 - 8 FEBRUARY, 1932 191
ingredients of food, I served a double purpose. And I must finish all
my eating before sundown. I have been saved many pitfalls by that.
There are many discoveries about that in regard to health reaosns.
Dietists are saying that we are more and more tending towards
simplifying diet, and that, if one must live for health one must have
one thing at a time and avoid harmful combinations. I like the
process of exclusion better than that of inclusion because no two
doctors have the same opinion.

Then I think the restriction to five articles of food has helped
me morally and materially—materially because, in a poor country
like India, it is not always possible to procure goat's milk, and it is a
hard thing to produce fruit and grapes. Then, I go to visit poor
people, and if I expected hothouse grapes, they would banish me. So,
by restricting myself to five articles of food, it also serves the law of
economy.

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