The spread of coronavirus begs opening up a philosophical debate around freedom and choice. You are free to choose what you wear as long as it is not affecting the lives of others. You can choose the god you want to worship as long as your veneration does not affect the lives of those who pick to pray to another god, or hold no god at all for the matter of fact. Similarly, you should be free to eat what your gut can take, as long as you are not over-exploiting resources and causing irreversible imbalance in the food chain system. On the flip side, avoiding certain foods for religious reasons is another dimension of choice and freedom (or the lack of it).
What to make of a large part of the world populace whose eating choices and habits come at costs such as the recent spread of coronavirus whose epicenter is Wuhan, China. In no time, the virus has spread to all but one continents. So much so that WHO has declared it a global health emergency. Owing to the globalised nature and the over-dependence of the world on China today, it is almost impossible to confine the spread of a malady infliction world’s most bustling organ – China.
Attempting to quarantine an outbreak in China means putting millions of air travelers in a deadlock, which is difficult but lets assume doable. How to cater for the trade dependency the entire world has on China, thousands and thousands ship containers and planes leaving Chinese ports and runways to deliver commodities to every nook of the world? Products manufactured, packed and shipped by millions of Chinese workers.
Developing countries are at a greater risk than the developed nations. Firstly they are naturally comparatively ill-equipped to deal with endemics and any emergencies of such scales. Secondly, they are mostly densely populated, sanitary conditions already insufficient and technical expertise next to nothing. Because of being densely populated, the risks of the endemic getting out of hands are even higher. Thus making the poor nations doubly disadvantaged in the face of global emergencies.
What you choose to eat and how you choose to consume it has much far-reaching implications than you might think. Meat is a part of human civilisation for thousands of years. Its deeply ingrained in diets, habits and cultures around the world. As much as we relish it, we need to be mindful of the its wider impacts. It is not the animal life alone that gets slaughtered and its flesh then chopped and tendered for your watering mouth that you need to think about. It involves a whole chain of stages from the birth (better to call it breeding in today’s industrialised animal farming practices), to rearing, slaughtering, packing and finally transporting the meat to your local superstore – each stage having a social and environmental footprint.
The beef steak on your plate has a price tag for which people who have not been a part of the supply chain will pay. The expectation is not for everyone to go vegan tomorrow. The appeal is to be little more conscious of what you consume. Does your craving for a pound of meat outweigh the 2.5 thousand gallons of water used? (Yes I have double-checked my numbers).
If you are someone who is beyond moral limitations of eating animals and has been conformed by culture in eating both domesticated and undomesticated animals, then at least be mindful of the possible impacts of what you consume can have on you and others.
You can believe that you are free to choose to eat what your gut can take, and what your culture dictates. But kindly do not infect ‘others’ with the choices you make. In today’s interconnected world and the obvious viral nature of contagious diseases, others can range from those sharing the same roof with you to those in another part of the world. In no time, someone in distant part of the world can be at the same risk level as someone within your arm’s reach.
Please eat sensibly. Just because your culture permits something does not make it healthy, morally upright and environmentally suitable.