International Vegetarian Union (IVU)
IVU logo

23rd IVU World Vegetarian Congress 1975
Orono, Maine, USA

Paper specially prepared for the World Vegetarian Congress in Maine, USA, August 1975.
by Dr. M. M. Bhamgara, 16, Bharat Drive, Bombay-400 002. INDIA


"Where can I go?” Ramana Naharishi had questioned his disciples gathered round his death bed. His words had a spiritual connotation; but even on a terrestrial level, and even for us, the masses who are no Naharishis, the question remains, ”Where can we go?” The body which is made of the earthly elements, returns to the same elements after our demise. “Dust thou art to dust returneth, was not spoken of the soul”, but was definitely spoken of the gross, physical body. Nature's activities, which include creation as well as destruction, are cyclic. And Life consists not only of birth but also of death.

The space-ship that the earth is, has finite resources. Nature, in her wisdom, goes on recycling these resources. The words 'waste' and 'garbage’ are not to be found in Nature's vocabulary; so-called ‘waste’ is potential life-sustaining material to Nature. All 'Kachra' can be 'Kanchan' in the hands of nature. We know of cyclic activities such as: animals eat plants; after the plant food is digested, the droppings of animals fertilise new vegetation, which again becomes food for animals.


Modern man, unfortunately, has come to think of himself as outside the chain of such cyclic events. However, he cannot escape being part of Nature. And since a part cannot control the whole, Man cannot control Nature. To quote Rachel Carson, the famed author of 'The Silent Spring', “The control of Nature is a phrase conceived in arrogance, born of Neanderthal age of biology and philosophy, when it was supposed that Nature exists for the convenience of man." As per Eco-scientist Dr. Ian L. McHarg, to think of man as having some sort of divine charter of dominion over living and non-living things, or to believe that man is enjoined to subdue the earth, is an absolutely horrifying text . . . without any survival value.”

He rightly points out that the world is not a storehouse for our delectation.

Man, therefore, has only two ways open to him to draft a blueprint for survival ; 1. Make an absolutely minimum use of earth’s resources, and 2. Re-employ the resources as best he can, without adding to the biospheric pollution. In other words, 1 . Conserve, and 2, Recycle.


Thinking about the first principle of minimal use of resources, we come to the conclusion that all nations, whether developed or developing, should curb both the production and the consumption of consumer goods. Plain living, making do with the barest minimum of food, clothing, shelter, comfort, transport, recreation and everything else - in one word, ‘austerity' - has to be practised by one and all, including those who can afford to show off. After all, man's needs are few, though his wants may be many . “There is enough on this earth for everyone's needs, but not enough for most people’s greed.”

Few persons have any idea how much a modern man consumes even of air and water, which, too, are no longer free and abundant, to say nothing of minerals or fossil fuels such as coal or petroleum dug out from bowel of the earth.

Take for example, oxygen. Firstly, we consume too much oxygen simply because we humans are far too many in numbers. Each of us breathes 22,000 times per day, and takes in five million litres of air annually. On one hand, there is population explosion, on the other hand, vegetation on earth, especially the forests, are being mowed down to make room for habitation and farm-lands to cater to the self-same human proliferation. Now, we all know that plants release oxygen which is so useful to us; and we breathe out carbon dioxide which is of importance to plants for their photo-synthesis. It is obvious, therefore, that with more humans and less vegetation on earth, there will be more carbon dioxide and less oxygen in air. Moreover our consumption of oxygen, like our consumption of all other natural resources, far outstrips our valid needs. Today, three persons consume as much oxygen as was needed five decades ago by forty-three persons. This is not because now we breathe more, but because we use so many more things now, in the manufacture or utilisation of which, a lot of oxygen is gobbled up. For example, if a car travels a thousand kilometres, it uses as much oxygen as a human being needs in a whole year.


We owe our existence totally to the flora on the earth for they provide us directly or indirectly with all the food we eat, all the water we drink, and all the oxygen we breathe.  All energy on the earth primarily comes from the Sun; but we are not constituted to make use of solar energy directly to any great extent. Only through the plants, shrubs and trees, we can utilise this energy. Despite these well-known facts, we think more of establishing the wrong type of plants such as thermonuclear plants, petro-chemical plants, and metallurgical plants, than the right type of plants which need more planting.

Homo sapiens should now maintain a status quo in production of consumer articles such as cloth, paper, steel, automobiles and aeroplanes, no expansion being allowed in a global context. This would, no doubt, call for international cooperation. It may even be advised that manufacture of certain articles be curtailed, for, their making and their use, both upset the delicate ecological balance. Such anti-growth is suggested for articles such as insecticides and automobiles, two great disturbers of outer ecology, and for drugs and pharmaceuticals, which have played a havoc with our human system's internal ecology.


Next step for survival is to recycle all waste. In the USA, used beer cans and similar debris are salvaged by school children, and sent to factories for making new containers. Used newsprint is processed up to three or four times. Broken glass is pulverised, and, used in the process of macadamising roads. Incentives are offered to consumers to return packaging material of all types: card-board, tin, glass or plastic. Though, as one report says, "Recycling glass is not as easy as collecting old bottles and throwing them into the furnace,” crushed glass or cullet, as it is technically called, does constitute about twenty per cent of the weight of glass containers made in U.K. and some European countries. In our country, fortunately, containers and packaging materials are usually put to use over and over again, which is both good economy and good ecology. An excellent scheme which is drawing the attention of our government, is the use of gobar gas plant; excreta from cattle is used in these plants to produce gas for cooking and lighting. As a by product, the excreta is transformed into a top-grade natural fertiliser. However, in some respects we lag behind. For example, we have yet to learn to treat waste or sewage water, and make it available to farms, as they do in USA on a large scale.


The affluent countries have to be doubly careful; they have to produce and consume less, as well as recycle the used material as often as possible. We, in India, have to worry more about conserving rather than recycling : conserve our forests, our lakes and rivers, our fossil fuels and other natural resources.

We have to realise that natural resources are for all; they are nobody's private property; they are for common weal. Though the well-off amongst us may not feel a personal need to do so, they too have to tighten their belts. Conspicuous consumption has to be taboo. Display of wealth is no longer merely vulgar; it is homicidal. And since no man is an island unto himself, what is homicidal is suicidal. Whether it is using light or refrigerator unnecessarily, or plying automobiles or making phone calls unnecessarily, the culprit has not to think merely about what he can get away with, or what he can afford to spend. He has to be less selfish; less egoistic, more eco-tistic.

Thinking along these lines, we come to a number of conclusions, which ought to radically change our life-styles. We have to agree with environmentslists and conservationists. Some of their suggestions are that we should :

  1. Buy only the things that are absolutely necessary, and only in needed quantities.
  2. Use electricity, paper, petroleum products – everything sparingly.
  3. Use public vehicles more, private transport the least.
  4. Next to the legs-power, use bicycles which are non-polluting and power saving. Travel the least by power-driven vehicles even where these are public transport.
  5. Use cold water instead of warm water for bathing.
  6. Eat a least half of our food raw, uncooked. What is seemingly uncooked is in reality Sun-cooked.

By the way, both cold water bathing and an uncooked meal a day, are healthful habits.


Another healthful and ecologically sound idea is to espouse vegetarianism. Naturepath James C. Thomson rightly said, “True significance of vegetarianism is conservation." American science writer, Isaac Asimov, by no means a votary of vegetarianism, recently prophesised about USA becoming largely vegetarian by the year 2001. His explanation was : "In converting the tissues of food into the tissues of the feeder, up to 90 per cent is used for reasons other than tissue maintenance and growth. This means that 100 pounds of plant food will support 10 pounds of human tissue – while 100 pounds of plant food will support ten pounds of animal tissue, which in turn will support one pound of human tissue. In other words, land devoted to plant food will support ten as many human beings as land devoted to animal food . . . Our herds will decrease as the food. demand causes more and more pastureland to be turned to farm-land, and as land producing corn and other animal fodder is diverted to providing food directly for man. And in the suburbs, lawns and gardens will be converter into vegetable plots, as was done during world war II. They will be ‘survival gardens'. "

USA's Department of Agriculture now concedes that eating meat, dairy products and eggs is a very inefficient way of consuming grain. It is estimated that cattle have to take in up to ten kilograms of grain in order to put on one kilogram themselves. The ratio for hogs is about four to one; for poultry about three to one. The average American consumes about 730 kilograms of grain a year, but he eats only 68 of these in the form of bread, cereals, cake and the like. He takes in most of the balance indirectly by eating a lot of meat. In comparison, an Indian may eat 180 kgs. of grain per annum, mostly eaten directly."


Production of alcoholic beverages also goes against the tenets of conservation of resources. It is estimated that compared to the 68 kilograms of grains directly eaten by an American annually, more than 100 kgs. of grain are ‘drunk’ by him! Alcohol production is a criminal waste of cereals, for, alcohol not only fails to provide any nourishment worth the name, it actually comes in the way of nourishment provided by other foods, because it adversely affects stomach and liver functions.


Another important point in this blue-print for survival, is to produce that which is bio-degradable. Things like detergents, glass and plastics are mostly non-bio-degradable, unlike soap wood or paper. They are sort of indestructible Frankensteins. Nature abhors such 'immortals’. In Nature, everything has to perish; for, that which perishes, nourishes and enriches. Imperishable articles cause a stagnation in life-cycles. And as the wise have said, “Movement is life; stagnation is death." Man must concentrate on producing  perishable -  which does not mean undurable – articles.

Lastly, the urge to hoard, to put aside for the rainy day - which may or may not come - that is deep-rooted in man, will have to diminish. Since things have to be moving and cyclic, as per Nature's law, hoarding is abominable and pernicious.

In closing, it will not be out of place if we glimpse at Nature's nature vis-a-vis human nature. Every woman who invests in gold and ornaments worth tens of thousands of rupees, is depriving a number of destitute persons of life-sustaining food, or health-care or shelter. All wealth on the earth is common-wealth. Money, gold and gems too have to be cyclic. We may use -them for our needs only to the extent necessary, The extra must be used to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and house the shelterless.