Dear Dr. Deshmukh,
I badly need your assistance in one or two things.
1. Is there any chemical physiological distinction between carrion and slaughtered meat? If
there is, what is it?
2. Do you know of any medical reason for the great repugnance that even
meat-eaters have against carrion?
3. If you are of opinion that there is no difference between fresh carrion and
slaughtered meat, can you say whether flesh of dead cattle treated two
or three days after death or even 24 hours after death would make any
4. You may know that some Chamars poison cattle for possessing the
carcasses and they are said to eat their flesh. Will not the flesh of
poisoned cattle affect the eater in any way? Is the flesh not tainted by
the poison, or are there any poisons which, while they kill the cattle
do not harm their flesh?
M. K. Gandhi
Between carrion of an healthy animal and slaughtered meat there is no
chemical or physiological difference. I know this will come as a
surprise to many, as the popular opinion is that there should be a
difference, but from the scientific as well as medical point of view,
there is none.
In the slaughter of animals, the animal bleeds and, nearly all the blood
being drained away, the slaughtered meat contains less blood. In the
case of carrion, all the blood remains in the tissues of the animals and
consequently the meat contains more blood.
Decomposition sets in every dead animal, whether killed or dead
naturally. This decomposition is liable to set in earlier in moist
tissues and tissues containing more blood. The carrion, therefore, is
liable to decompose earlier than slaughtered meat.
If the meat whether carrion or slaughtered is eaten before the
decomposition sets in, it will be seen that this difference between the
two vanishes at this stage. The larger quantity of blood in carrion
might even be to the taste of a certain type of people.
You might possibly think that meat, when it starts decomposing, is
universally rejected by human beings as food. It is not only the
depressed classes of our country who partake of decomposing meat, but
this practice is not uncommon in other parts of the world. Gypsies in
Europe have been known to be fond of this practice; they go to the
extent of even disinterring the dead carcasses of buried animals for
food purposes. Decomposing fish is estimated to be an article of diet
of more than three hundred millions of human beings in the world. It is
not even a matter of poverty or ignorance. Certain persons of superior
taste make a point of decomposing meat before eating, to pander to
their epicurean taste.
DISEASED MEAT: - But all this is in the case of healthy animals. This
cannot hold good in the case of diseased animals. Many epidemics of meat
poisoning have occurred in the West which have been proved to be due to
eating of meat from diseased animals, and the diseases in animals which
lead to poisoning are not the prominent diseases in cattle which kill
them, such as Anthrax and Glanders, but common,
pus-producing diseases which do not attract so much attention in life.
Hence the necessity of meat inspection in all civilized countries. In
Indian villages where this practice of eating carcasses is more common,
it will be seen how dangerous this practice is likely to be, on account
of animals dying of diseases to which no importance is attached but
which are particularly dangerous to human beings.
I do not believe in the economic reason of eating dead carcasses. After
all, in villages, animals do not die daily and the carrion forms a very
insignificant part of the supply of food — an occasional variety or
luxury, if it can be so called. Besides, the lower labouring classes in
villages are in no better position economically than the depressed
classes, and yet they can do without eating carrion.
On account of the excess of blood in carrion, carrion not only
decomposes earlier but is also difficult to preserve. Decomposition is
liable to set in earlier than even 24 hours in a hot climate like ours.
So, although treated, carrion meat is not so wholesome as slaughtered
meat as food.
POISONED MEAT: - The meat of poisoned cattle is not poisonous to eat.
This is another surprise. This charge of poisoning cattle has been
brought against the depressed classes from time immemorial - from the
Vedic times. I think it may be true, and may partly explain the
hostility of the agricultural Aryan against the Dasyu who destroyed his
agricultural wealth. You know how fond the Vedic population was of their
cows and cowpens and bulls and heifers. Poison is used by the Red
Indians'of America, also the Akas Tribe near Brahmaputra, in hunting for
food with poisoned arrow, but the meat of this poisoned animal is eaten
by them without any detriment to health.
Probably the poison used in India is strychnine (Kuchala) for
killing cattle, but the meat of the dead animal is not poisonous to eat.
Experiments have been carried on animals, such as dogs, by feeding them
on poisoned meat of the animal killed by vegetable poison such as
strychnine, escerine, pilcarpine, veratrine and mineral poisons such as
arsenic and antimony; and meat in all these cases has proved to be
harmless. The explanation is that, although the poison is strong enough
to kill the animal, the poison is further oxidized into a harmless
product and the meat, therefore, remains harmless. In the case of
mineral poison and caustics, very little is absorbed into the system of
animals and the meat, therefore, contains very little of the mineral
poison. Meat of poisoned animals, therefore, is harmless for eating
QUESTION OF REPUGNANCE: - I now come to the most difficult of your
question, as to why there is such repugnance against those who eat
carrion. That there is such a feeling of repugnance, not only in India
but all the world over, cannot be denied. Logically if there is not much
difference between the carrion of a healthy animal and slaughtered meat,
such repugnance should not exist; and if the repugnance is to exist, it
should then extend to all meat eaters. The answer to this question might
have been difficult before the advent of the science of Analytical
Psychology of Freud and Jung. In the light of this science an adequate
explanation can be given. The explanation lies in the fundamental
property of the human mind of Displacement and Transference (Verdraengung
and Verschiebung). Everything which is not killed but dead, decomposing
and putrefying excites a feeling of fright, aversion or repugnance in
the human mind. This instinct of repugnance is as necessary for Race
Preservation as other instincts; otherwise, this human animal would
have died of dirt long ago and have been extinct by now. If the dead
carcass instead is used for food or alimentation, which is one of the
two fundamental necessities of life, it can be imagined why so much
loathing is attached to this practice. The feeling of repugnance gets
displaced from the act to the person who does it. Economics, Logic or
Science does not seem to me to be capable of annulling this faculty of
displacement of the human mind. It is a psychological fact, in the same
way as the flowing of water or rotation of the Earth is a physical fact;
as such, use of carrion for food in normal times is bound to create a
feeling of loathing in the human mind, and feeling of repugnance for
the human being who practises this. The displacement is from the act to
the subject. The conclusion is plain: This practice must disappear. Our
depressed class brethren must give it up. Universal human psychology is
against it and, therefore, it must go.
G. V. Deshmukh