Tag Archives: vegetarian

Tony Benn – the Vegetarian

Tony receiving the Lord Parshvanath Award at Trafalgar Square. It is being presented by late Sudha Mehta and Kumudbhai Mehta

Tony receiving the Lord Parshvanath Award at Trafalgar Square from the late Sudha Mehta and Kumudbhai Mehta

Tony Benn passed away on 14th March 2014 aged 86. Tony had been a vegetarian for many years and was present at the Vegetarian rally held on 22nd July 1990 in Hyde Park. The event had massive media coverage. Many newspapers reported the event titled,’Veggie Benn’. Tony became a vegetarian after his son told him about the colossal use of crops used in feeding animals to produce meat. At the rally Tony said that he felt very healthy as a vegetarian and he opposed animal exploitation as much as he opposes human exploitation. Tony often mentioned that he had met Mahatma Gandhi when he was a child. Gandhi had made a great impact on young Tony which shaped his concern for social justice and inequality. He was also a passionate campaigner for stopping all wars and advocated pacifism. The following quote from Tony shows his concern for animals:

‘The case for animal testing is now being directly challenged by scientists and doctors and their judgement must be taken seriously.’

By Nitin Mehta, who is the founder of the Indian Cultural Centre in Croydon and of the Indian Vegetarian Society.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Gandhi Foundation.

Doing Small Things With Great Love – by Bill Palethorpe

With as always (but particularly in our age of 24 hour news coverage) so many negative stories making the headlines is it any wonder that people increasingly feel powerless? Some decide not to get up in the morning whilst others turn to a hedonistic life. Well friends, as many Gandhi followers know, we all have the power and talents to act for the common good of other people, our non-human animal cousins and our beautiful ‘on loan’ planet. To quote Mother Teresa

“We can do no great things but we can do small things with great love”.

So with this in mind I would like to share with you three simple and inexpensive events that Eastbourne Quakers, vegetarians, military personnel, town councillors (including the mayor) and others, many of them complete strangers, have recently been successfully involved in.

i) During National Vegetarian Week last September local Quakers, vegetarians / vegans and friends ran two very successful simple outside vegetarian stalls. Organisations such as Viva!, Animal Aid, The Vegetarian Society, The Vegan Society, and Advocates for Animals, gave us lots of very interesting and colourful information and recipes plus posters and stall banners. Also friendly veggie companies were only too pleased to provide food samples as this is a very good form of marketing for them. We even persuaded a butcher delivering meat to local pubs to try several vegan dishes, he declared them all delicious and apologised for his day job! Buoyed up by our success we decided to repeat this event at a big pre-Christmas Eastbourne Street Party in December. Our local health food shop Sunny Foods offered us the use of part of their premises. The stall was extremely popular gaining us lots of contacts and converts with widespread local press publicity.

ii) Last Spring/Summer we had noticed foie gras on sale at the French Market that visits Eastbourne and many other towns throughout the Spring to Autumn months. Foie gras is produced from the diseased liver of a duck or goose that has been forced fed, causing the liver of the bird to swell up to ten times its normal size. A pipe is inserted down the throat of the bird and pulped maize pumped into their stomachs, frequently resulting in severe injury or death. We therefore decided to try and get the product banned from all council land and premises. It is illegal to produce it in the UK and an increasing number of other countries. Due to the free trade EU regulations however it can be imported from mainland Europe.

Duck Foie Gras

We approached Eastbourne Borough Council (EBC) who advised us to write to them with several signatures. On reflection we decided to organise a petition. Within a few days friends, neighbours, sympathetic shop keepers etc. had signed and we presented this in person to EBC. After months of discussion and meetings including providing them with excellent information from animal welfare charities they agreed to debate it at a full Cabinet meeting at the Town Hall on 31st March 2010. Prior to this they had watched a graphic DVD.

Quaker friends attended the Meeting and were amazed at the welcome we received and at the supportive speeches made by council officials and town councillors. Imagine our joy when the vote was taken and the LibDem and Conservative councillors joined forces and voted unanimously for an immediate ban. One councillor regretted that EBC had not already banned it and has now offered to approach trade organisations to influence their members to stop stocking the product at hotels, restaurants and other outlets. We have received a great deal of positive publicity both locally and nationally including a feature in The Herald (2nd and 9th April 2010) the main widely circulated local paper and The Friend the weekly Quaker publication.

iii) Lastly but by no means least a similar group of us in conjunction with the animal welfare charity Animal Aid of Tonbridge agreed to mount a local campaign to enable us to lay a purple poppy wreath in memory of all the millions of innocent non-human animals that have served and died in wars and armed conflicts. Some of us had already visited the beautiful Animals War Memorial in Park Lane central London. This is a powerful and moving tribute to all those brave animals which was unveiled six years ago on the 90th anniversary of the start of WW1.

Our format was broadly similar to our foie gras campaign. EBC agreed in principal to our request to take part in the formal Remembrance Sunday Parade and to lay a purple poppy wreath. However the final decision rested with the Eastbourne Combined Ex-Services Association Wreath Laying Committee. Much to our surprise we started gathering support from many ex-service men and women as well as individual residents and local organisations. These included the local branches of Quaker Concern for Animals; Vegetarian and Vegan Societies; Viva! and Animal Aid plus East Sussex Wildlife Animal Rescue.

Again imagine our delight when in October the Wreath Laying Committee met for the final time before Remembrance Sunday and unanimously voted in favour of us permanently taking part in the official memorial parade with the laying of our purple poppy wreath at its conclusion. Some purists may say that we should not get involved with a military parade but as Quakers say “cooperation is better than conflict”. Once again our campaign produced a lot of good publicity both locally and wider afield. The town centre Sainsbury’s has now granted us the week prior to Remembrance Sunday for selling purple poppies and giving out relevant information.

No doubt many Gandhi friends are involved in similar enterprises to the three examples above. However do please contact myself or the organisations direct (just Google them!) if you care to join any of these particular peaceful campaigns. Good news as well as bad can travel fast nowadays.

You can reach Bill Palethorpe at hobdell@fastmail.fm

Book Review – Gandhiji’s Visits to Orissa

Meeting the Mahatma: Gandhiji’s Visits to Orissa
Edited by Jatindra K Nayak
Rupantar 2006 pp123
ISBN 81-901759-7-1

Gandhi visited the Indian state of Orissa seven times and this book brings together 25 short accounts of some of these visits written by mostly Oriyas but also by two European women. Most of the authors were young at the time and some were even children, and the memories were obviously of lasting significance to them.

Gandhi seems to have visited Orissa mainly as part of his campaign against untouchability and he often travelled on foot from village to village accompanied by his ‘mobile office’ on a cart along with his ‘staff’. The expectation of his appearance in their state drew people from far and wide.

For many it was simply the sight, or darshan, of the tenth incarnation of Vishnu (as many thought) that mattered, but for Gandhi it was the reform of Indian society that counted – perhaps even more than independence for his country.

He expected those who came to also donate to the campaign. One story is of a poor woman barber who came to shave him. Gandhi expressed his disapproval of her jewellery, which she had put on for the special occasion; yet after she had shaved two of his colleagues and been paid, she presented the money to Gandhiji.

We also read of Gandhi’s tolerance. Although an ardent vegetarian, when asked by one of the audience whether it was right for poor Oriyas to eat fish, which are abundant, he responded that it was. Another instance concerns a fundamentalist Hindu who defended the exclusion of low-caste Hindus from his temple yet Gandhi invited him to speak from his platform.

The longest piece is by a German Swiss woman, Frieda Hauswirth, who was an artist and writer married to an Indian. She hoped to sketch Gandhi, whom she describes as ugly but with a beautiful smile, and she manages to do so although he would not pose for her. (This portrait is now in the USA.) She also observed how a group of women who had to keep purdah slipped out of their houses and went onto a roof to get a glimpse of Gandhi.

Manmohan Choudhury relates how the priests of the Puri temple planned to beat up Gandhi because he wanted lower castes to be admitted and so local politicians arranged for his protection. Gandhi was not pleased with this decision and so decided to walk rather than travel by the motorcar provided “in order to give greater opportunity to anyone who wanted to beat him up”.

One small error in Choudhury’s piece is “Piere Sherrysol” which should be Pierre Ceresole, the Swiss founder of Service Civil International, who joined one of Gandhi’s marches for a few days after helping earthquake-affected people in Bihar.

These recollections vividly convey the extraordinary personal qualities of the man as well as his social concerns and the editor is to be warmly thanked for bringing these writings together.

George Paxton

Book Review – Mahatma Gandhi and the Environment

Mahatma Gandhi and the Environment: Analysing Gandhian Environmental Thought
T N Khoshoo and John S Moolakkattu
The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI Press) 2009
ISBN 978 81 7993 223 0, pp152

Few books on Gandhi and the environmental implications of his thought have so far appeared. It is only in recent decades that we have become aware of the huge impact that human activities are having on our environment and although Gandhi did not say a great deal specifically about the environment his general outlook is very relevant to caring for our planet.

This book is based on one by the late Dr T N Khoshoo and is written by John S Moolakkatu who holds the Chair of Peace Studies at the University of Kwazulu Natal and is also Editor of Gandhi Marg.

Gandhi absorbed from his Indian background the idea of the unity of all things in the universe and this can lead naturally to a respect for all human beings, for animals and plants, and even for the inanimate. This is significantly different from the idea of exploiting nature for human benefit, which has been for some centuries the approach in the West. Gandhi’s orientation is therefore cosmocentric rather than anthropocentric.

With Gandhi’s life being his message his “personal lifestyle was the most sustainable one – simple, austere, clean, need-based, adequate worldly possessions, and reasonably comfortable” (p10) This however runs counter to the economic system we have all been exposed to and which is still the dominant one in the West and is rapidly embracing all countries. In these circumstances Gandhi’s approach is truly a revolutionary one. It is also, however, common sense. Unrestrained economic growth is simply impossible in a world which will probably have 10 billion people before long.

Amazingly Gandhi saw this in his own time: asked if he would like to see the same standard of living for Indians as for the English, he replied:

“It took Britain half the resources of the planet to achieve this prosperity. How many planets will a country like India require!”

Some of Gandhi’s specific practices would make a big difference if adopted. Significantly reducing the quantity of imported goods and using as much local produce as possible (swadeshi) is something we could move towards. Adopting a vegetarian diet is another – but why does the author call veganism ‘puritanical vegetarianism’ when there are strong evidence-based reasons for it? Trusteeship of one’s wealth and possessions, meaning that they should be used for the wider good, not oneself alone; this would mean greatly reducing luxury items and thus reducing wasteful production.

While new technology will be of some help in reducing environmental impact in the hazardous decades ahead, changes in lifestyle will be more important and this puts Gandhian ideas centre-stage. The book contains a very useful appendix of some of Gandhi’s sayings relevant to the issue, although it is surprising that the references for the many quotations in the book are not given – nor is there an index.

Nevertheless it is an excellent presentation of a subject that is of the highest importance and demonstrates how Gandhi can challenge us all six decades after his death.

George Paxton

Book Review – Biography of Aldo Capitini

Aldo Capitani

The Nonviolent Revolution: An Intellectual Biography of Aldo Capitini
by Rocco Altieri
trans. by Gerry Blaylock
IGINP 2008, pp182

Aldo Capitini (1895-1968) was probably the most important advocate of nonviolence in 20th century Italy. He was born in modest circumstances in Perugia and went to a technical school although his passion was literature. His health was poor but he drove himself to study and won a scholarship to study philosophy and literature in Pisa.

Capitini took up active politics when he observed the Concordat between the Roman Catholic Church and the state in 1929. He believed that the Church could have brought down the fascist regime by noncooperation but disgracefully compromised. From then on he made a sharp distinction between religious institutions and a free religious faith exemplified by Jesus, St Francis and the Buddha.

He was dismissed from his teaching post in Pisa because he would not join the Fascist Party and returned to Perugia where he began writing and got his first book published in 1937. In it he wrote: “Pain, remorse, the thought of death are always real; and it is here that religion springs up”.

Gandhi’s autobiography had been published in Italy in 1929 and he had visited Europe including Italy in 1931 and this had an impact. Altieri writes:

“Nonviolence seems the highest spiritual teaching, a religious idea of absolute purity, to love for its own sake, the only power able to defeat fascism. If Mussolini in order to assert himself resorted to sinister means – deceit, lies, murder – Capitini counterposes the highest values of truth, non-mendacity, nonkilling”.

Capitini believed that nonviolence should embrace all creation and he consequently became a vegetarian.

Capitini developed a political ideology called liberal-socialism which did not develop into a political party but was a very decentralised movement which attracted many young people. He was imprisoned three times in 1943-4 as were other activists. A Party of Action now developed in the movement but Capitini kept apart from it as he saw the movement as an ‘orientation of conscience’ not a political party. In danger of arrest and deportation by the Germans when they occupied northern Italy he hid in the countryside.

In the post-war period Capitini refused to support any party, declaring himself a free religious and left-wing independent. He started to set up Social Orientation Centres around the country to counterbalance central power and encourage democracy. He also turned his attention to education for a renewal of culture and he taught in universities. The recent tragic history of Italy, he believed, was due to cultural and religious backwardness and the absence of collective moral conscience. He was nominated Rector in Perugia but was moved due to pressure from the Catholic Church.

In 1952 he set up a Centre for Nonviolence in Perugia and also promoted conscientious objection to conscription. He regarded Gandhi’s approach as a third way between communism and capitalism. Crucial is the primacy of means in social change. Gandhi’s way was revolutionary but it did not just change the structures as Marxism intended, but also a person’s being.

Capitini became aware of Danilo Dolci, who settled in Sicily to help the poor in their struggle against the Mafia, and gave him his full support. Dolci’s outlook and actions were essentially Gandhian.

Capitini held up Gandhi and Jesus as examples of those who detach themselves from the world, though remaining in the midst of humanity in order to transform society. Conflict cannot be avoided but responding with nonviolent action can create new positive relationships.

A march for Peace and the Brotherhood of People was organised by Capitini in 1961; walking from Perugia to Assisi it attracted large numbers. Capitini’s programme is a radical one indeed: abolition of armies, of borders, of property. A few days before his death in 1968 he wrote: “… Today’s utopia can be tomorrow’s reality”. He recommended a green and nonviolent society with a rejection of consumerism and admired the Community of the Ark which was set up by Lanza del Vasto in France after he met Gandhi in India.

Altieri’s study is called “An Intellectual Biography” and there is much more philosophy here than this review might indicate. Capitini was a deeply religious or mystical person although he rejected religious institutions. We should be grateful to the International Gandhian Institute for Nonviolence and Peace (IGINP) which has published this English version and brought to non-Italian readers the life and thought of a person who ought to be much better known than he is.

George Paxton, Editor of The Gandhi Way

The Address of IGINP is CESCI, Majagram, Kadavur, Madurai – 625 014, TN, India
They also publish a journal in English called Ahimsa Nonviolence.


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