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HEALTH > DIET AND DIET REFORM > PART I > SECTION I : GENERAL > Carrion-Eating
16. Carrion-Eating
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 difference?
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?
Yours sincerely,
M. K. Gandhi

II
Dear Mahatmaji,
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 purposes.
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.
Yours sincerely,
G. V. Deshmukh
Harijan, 8-4-1933