Friday, June 10, 2005

The One With Eating Fish

Jared Diamond's Latest book "Collapse" has sent me into thinking about Bengali Brahmins and they eating fish. Back then, when we were still at Pilani and were in a hot season of debating on every god damn thing, I had an argument with one of my good old friends, on Vegetarianism Vs. consuming meat out of necessity. He was telling me that he would rather die than consume meat and I, on the other hand, was trying to argue that necessity sometimes forces you to adopt meat as a staple food. One of the examples, I was trying to give was Greenland, as it seems to have little arable land. He did seem convinced for a moment, but then he was constantly drawing his side of the arguement from scriptures and quotes...and so we had to cut the debate out.

Now, when I read about Jared Diamond's book, I am surprised at his citing of Norse culture of Greenland as a prime example. The Norse lived in those arcitic lands for about 400 years, but then they vanished as they did not seem to adopt to the methods of the land. They raised cows and built big wooden houses. Cows needed lots of grass lands and each house needed about 10 acres of forest. Unlike Inuit (a local tribe of Greenland), eating fish was a cultural taboo for the Norse. The Norse didnot leave out their European culture of beef being a prized food.
In summer months, they did not go out hunting fish, but instead went hunting walrus for their tusks. Ironically, Greenland is a fisherman's paradise. The Norse sold walrus tusks and got premium robes, big bells for the churches, wine glasses...etc...etc...

Meanwhile, the ecology of Greenland was fragile that it could no longer support the needs of the Norse, they starved to death and ultimately a civilization collapsed. If only the Norse adopted eating fish, their ecological demands would have been far lesser and the mighty focres would have let the Norse endure for a few more years!!

I guess the Bengali and Saraswat Brahmins had this wisdom. Both these clans lived in areas (The Ganga-Brahmaputra delta and the Indus delta, respectively) where fish was abundant. Hunting fish was less demanding ecologically than raising crop. I dont know if any major ecological disaster has led these guys to accept fish OR if they were wise enough to observe the trade-off. Whatever be the reason, they survived, which the Norse failed to do. Survival matters!

PS: A google query on "Why do Bengali Brahmins eat fish?" had answers like "Eating fish tells about the openness". Whoa!, give me a break!

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