Food wastage in Hindu rituals
#1
One of the reasons I gave up Hinduism is because of the practice of wasting edible food in rituals.

Basically untill I became independant, every few years my parents would drag me to India for a ritual for appeasing our ancestor's souls. When I was younger I didn't pay any attention.

But the last time I went I was older and already an agnostic leaning towards atheism. This time I paid attention to see what was so important about the ritual. It basically involved praying to food (according to the priest my ancestor's soul would come into the piece of fruit/bowl of rice, along with the gods).

At first I thought it was harmless, but I got disgusted when the food used in the ritual (enough to feed a family for a week) was thrown into the river.

There were beggars outside the temple, when I pointed this out and asked why the food wasn't given to them, I was told that the food was contaminated with the souls/nine planets, etc and that even the beggars wouldn't eat it.

I was shocked and sickened, I asked my parents are they not ashamed of making me take part in food wastage in a country with poor people. After that I have never taken part in any rituals. The only ritual I took part in after that was when I got married to my wife who is also a Hindu, I only agreed after being assured that food would not be wasted.


Sadly food wastage seems common in Hinduism:
http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/artic...264915.cms
Quote:Women pour milk into the Bay of Bengal as they offer prayers to mark the anniversary of the 2004 Tsunami at the Marina beach in Chennai
Quote:"I'm normally not a praying man, but if you're up there, please save me Superman."
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#2
Yes,the whole business is quite disturbing. In some devi temples of North India( especially Delhi,Jammu and Himachal Pradesh),the main idol- called a pindi- is coated with layers of ghee and butter to create a shringaar. Add to that the kilos of ghee that must be used in order to keep the jyot(the sacred lamp)burning. Similarly, many liters of milk is wasted upon shivalingams across India. Like you observed, the ritual of pitr-pooja( ancestor-worship) is indeed one of the more wasteful rituals the Hindus have invented. The most unsettling bit is when they throw foodstuffs into rivers and ponds.

Could it be that in a nation of malnourished people, wasting food was(and still is) considered a privilege, even an 'honor'? At any rate, the participants seem to believe that it 'reaches the heavens' as the scriptural precepts tell them it should.
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#3
As far as I'm concerned, wasting food due to any ritual/religion/custom/etc is inexcusable. Especially in a country where 40% of children are malnourished.

http://www.unicef.org/india/children_2356.htm

Btw has the facebook group 'Indian Atheists - Debate Corner' been taken over by Hindu apologists? When I posted the link in my first post and expressed my outrage, some of the users who claimed to be atheists were almost defending the practice dumping litres of milk into the sea.
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Homer Simpson
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#4
The purpose of this post is to help refine the argument of using widely prevalent malnutrition as a viewpoint against the use of foodstuffs in theistic rituals.


Quote:One of the reasons I gave up Hinduism is because of the practice of wasting edible food in rituals.


Many Hindu theists clean up the last rice grain in their plates believing food to be a gift of God and thus not to be wasted. Impressed by this should one turn theistic?? Similarly, if an atheist buys a burger to satisfy his/her hunger and halfway through, his/her hunger is satisfied and then he/she disposes of the unfinished portion, should he/she now be chastened that: “Even if you are the owner of it, being an atheist you should eat the rest of it even if you are not hungry, because there are millions starving in another part of the world”??? If the atheist does dispose of it in the dustbin, should I give up my atheism because of it??


Quote:At first I thought it was harmless, but I got disgusted when the food used in the ritual (enough to feed a family for a week) was thrown into the river.
There were beggars outside the temple, when I pointed this out and asked why the food wasn't given to them, I was told that the food was contaminated with the souls/nine planets, etc and that even the beggars wouldn't eat it.


Is charity a viable means of eliminating malnutrition?? If a theist in Chennai stops pouring milk into the ocean, how is it going to help the malnourished tribal in Bihar?? Food is a commodity which whose ownership has to be purchased with money, be it from a supermarket or from the ration shop or even under the PDS or the Right to Food Act. Many specialists have ruminated long and hard, by various means, at the aetiology of malnutrition and also at the possible means of amelioration of the same. Charity figures nowhere in the list of cures which otherwise include better education, better poverty elimination schemes, removing gender inequality and a host of other measures, which one may easily glean from a quick Google search. Furthermore altruism in the context of atheism far from being an open and shut case spans the gamut of Dawkins espousing generosity to Ayn Rand, and her hero John Galt, espousing self-centeredness, as seemingly laid out in this thread.


Quote:I was shocked and sickened, I asked my parents are they not ashamed of making me take part in food wastage in a country with poor people. After that I have never taken part in any rituals. The only ritual I took part in after that was when I got married to my wife who is also a Hindu, I only agreed after being assured that food would not be wasted.


Should shame be used as an argument to question one’s right, theist or atheist, to ownership and use of materials, legally procured by payment of money, from a willing seller, and thus being free to use the same as one wishes. If I were an atheist sweetmeat seller, acting upon this piece of advice, should I stop selling my sweetmeats to a theist because he/she would use the sweetmeats as offering to his God?? Should I sell it only those who would use it either for giving away to the less fortunate or for their personal consumption?? In which case, what should my answer be to those who advise me to give my sweetmeats away for free to those less fortunate?? The very purpose of business is profit; religion is merely a tool towards that end, this way or that


Quote:As far as I'm concerned, wasting food due to any ritual/religion/custom/etc is inexcusable. Especially in a country where 40% of children are malnourished.


Malnourishment may occur even in the presence of adequate caloric intake. The cereal based diet typical of lower income class Indians coupled with their inadequacy to purchase quality protein foods such as can be obtained from dairy or other animal sources leads to protein and micro nutrient deficiency, manifest predominantly in children and women. Starvation deaths are now relatively uncommon in present day india.
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#5
(09-Jul-2012, 08:48 PM)stupidseeker Wrote: Is charity a viable means of eliminating malnutrition?? If a theist in Chennai stops pouring milk into the ocean, how is it going to help the malnourished tribal in Bihar?? Food is a commodity which whose ownership has to be purchased with money, be it from a supermarket or from the ration shop or even under the PDS or the Right to Food Act. Many specialists have ruminated long and hard, by various means, at the aetiology of malnutrition and also at the possible means of amelioration of the same. Charity figures nowhere in the list of cures which otherwise include better education, better poverty elimination schemes, removing gender inequality and a host of other measures, which one may easily glean from a quick Google search. Furthermore altruism in the context of atheism far from being an open and shut case spans the gamut of Dawkins espousing generosity to Ayn Rand, and her hero John Galt, espousing self-centeredness, as seemingly laid out in this thread.

Yes, charity has a very limited effect on the situation of the recipients. It could perhaps address immediate needs but offers no long-term,sustainable solutions to malnutrition etc.
A great charitable zeal("misguided good intentions") could even do harm instead of good.One may observe how parts of Africa have subsisted on charity for decades, so much so that the local forms of agriculture and food production have had to bear the brunt.Cheap,subsidized goods pumped in from the US and the rest of the developed world make it very hard for the local farmers to compete. However, encouraging farmers to grow crops like the Enset,the false banana can yield remarkable results.
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#6
[quote='stupidseeker' pid='7051' dateline='1341847101']
The purpose of this post is to help refine the argument of using widely prevalent malnutrition as a viewpoint against the use of foodstuffs in theistic rituals. [quote]


Sorry but am I reading your post correctly? Are you saying that Hindus are free to waste food in there rituals, and I don't have a right to criticise them including my parents for making me take part, just because:

  1. I might occassionally throw away a half eaten burger or fail to clean up my plate.
  2. Charity cannot help everyone in need.
  3. Religion is just another money making business.
  4. Malnutrition doesn't equal starvation.
Quote:"I'm normally not a praying man, but if you're up there, please save me Superman."
Homer Simpson
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#7
(10-Jul-2012, 10:20 AM)Naushirvan Wrote: Yes, charity has a very limited effect on the situation of the recipients. It could perhaps address immediate needs but offers no long-term,sustainable solutions to malnutrition etc.
A great charitable zeal("misguided good intentions") could even do harm instead of good.One may observe how parts of Africa have subsisted on charity for decades, so much so that the local forms of agriculture and food production have had to bear the brunt.Cheap,subsidized goods pumped in from the US and the rest of the developed world make it very hard for the local farmers to compete. However, encouraging farmers to grow crops like the Enset,the false banana can yield remarkable results.

The point that charity if implemented as a hand-out is at best a second-best in relation to efforts at genuine capacity-building, is well made by the proverb on giving a person a fish and teaching them to fish. However, we may hasten to add that like in any other human endeavor, there is a sort of aid that works and a sort of aid that doesn't. For instance, Nicholas Kristof in his recent article 'The Coffin-Maker Benchmark' writes about how America-led aid programs to combat AIDS in Africa, which had drawn much criticism from naysayers, have made a serious dent in mortality rates. Peter Singer, in his book 'The Life You Can Save' devotes two entire chapters to 'The Facts about Aid' which help identify the features of the sort of aid that works. Here is a FORA TV lecture by Singer on his book. As an aside, the decline of local agricultural practices in Africa may not entirely be a consequence of foreign aid, as it is a consequence of irresponsible consumption patterns and exploitative economic policies in a globalized world, as this video illustrates.

If aid is conceptualized as 'social investment' then the criteria for identifying a good social investment are similar to those used for identifying any good investment: When does it break even and how does it start paying for itself? In this regard, the Rang De model as discussed here seems to be a worthwhile experiment with promising results so far, as it avoids both the dependency trap and the damage to the dignity of an aid-beneficiary. What is the attitude a skeptic must adopt while presented with requests from such organizations has been discussed often in these forums, for instance in this thread on engineers drawn to social work and this thread on the dilemma of helping organizations doing humanitarian work but with a religious workforce. An approach well-suited to the exigencies of a non-ideal, unjust world is to adopt enough skepticism to evaluate claims of effectiveness of remedies but not enough to end up reflexively dismissive of reports of suffering themselves. If this seems like somewhat of a compromise to the agenda of 'militant skepticism' then it maybe worth looking at Peter Singer's premises which may convince a compassionate skeptic that some thoughtful placement of trust and suspension of disbelief in aid organizations maybe a small price to pay after all for reduction in human suffering. On balancing skepticism and compassion which so often seem to be at odds with each other, an attitude of 'educated feeling' as Ophelia Benson mentions in the article excerpted below, is what we need to cultivate:

Quote:Skepticism can often be the very opposite of relevant or helpful. Skepticism about someone else’s misery is often not helpful...If you find a small child alone and crying in a shopping mall, you don’t summon up your skepticism, you do whatever you can to help.
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#8
Quote:Sorry but am I reading your post correctly? Are you saying that Hindus are free to waste food in there rituals, and I don't have a right to criticise them including my parents for making me take part, just because:

I’m a little disappointed that you dismissed my arguments with a “just because” statement, but will thank you for the opportunity to rephrase my arguments, which I will attempt to do, with the objective of clarifying my position on the subject of the atheist critique on the use of foodstuffs as non-consumed offerings in theistic rituals.

Quote:One of the reasons I gave up Hinduism is because of the practice of wasting edible food in rituals.


You are attempting to draw a positive correlation between theistic rituals and the wastage of food, disregarding the possibility that there may be a great many theistic traditions and philosophies in which food and its sharing is given exceptional importance and its wastage is considered a grave sin. Please note that I am not drawing a line between the various theistic traditions.
If as an atheist, a claim is made that theism = food wastage, then the burden to prove the same, as unequivocally as possible, lies with the atheist. Also since atheism is the philosophical antithesis of theism, you will additionally have to prove that there is a positive correlation between being an atheist and respect of food, as well as expanding the ethos of atheism to include the imperative of being a clean, non-wasteful consumer of food. Let’s assume that this happens. In this case should an atheist, who has not been able to finish his meal, because of physiological necessity, attempt to rationalise his failure by saying that “see the theist wastes more food than I do”??


Quote:At first I thought it was harmless, but I got disgusted when the food used in the ritual (enough to feed a family for a week) was thrown into the river.

There were beggars outside the temple, when I pointed this out and asked why the food wasn't given to them, I was told that the food was contaminated with the souls/nine planets, etc and that even the beggars wouldn't eat it.

Here you are attempting to draw a positive correlation between theism and uncharitability, disregarding the possibility that any number of theistic traditions stress upon charity for obtaining religious merit of all sorts. Again the ethos of atheism will have to be expanded to include the imperative of charity and attempts will have to be made to draw a positive correlation between atheism and charity even as atheists such as Dawkins and Ayn Rand, both influential in their own right, seem to have differing opinions regarding the concept of charity, in the context of atheism.

Quote:I was shocked and sickened, I asked my parents are they not ashamed of making me take part in food wastage in a country with poor people. After that I have never taken part in any rituals. The only ritual I took part in after that was when I got married to my wife who is also a Hindu, I only agreed after being assured that food would not be wasted.


Here you are positively correlating theism with a lack of moral accountability towards the malnourished poor. You seem to have disregarded that many of the malnourished poor may themselves be theists who may be spending significant amounts of their money on theistic rituals. In which case they cannot be spared your chastisement. Now if a case is made of theism being morally unaccountable to the malnourished then this again would call for the ethos of atheism to be expanded to include moral accountability to the malnourished poor. Would this include atheists feeling a sense of shame if they splurged money on kebabs and beer in a swanky restaurant located right next to a slum??
More worryingly, you seem to want to exclude Hindus from the right to ownership and free use of materials acquired by them from willing sellers by following accepted business practices, by using shame as your weapon of offence. What if the Hindus do not feel ashamed, it’s their food after all?? Then what?? Will you support a law that outlaws the use of legally procured food over which the buyers have full ownership rights for theistic rituals, even as it shall allow the use of the food for exclusive non ritual purposes??

Quote:Religion is just another money making business

The dilemma below appears to remain unsolved. Should atheism now expand its ethos to include what should or should not constitute good business practices??

Quote:If I were an atheist sweetmeat seller, acting upon this piece of advice, should I stop selling my sweetmeats to a theist because he/she would use the sweetmeats as offering to his God?? Should I sell it only those who would use it either for giving away to the less fortunate or for their personal consumption?? In which case, what should my answer be to those who advise me to give my sweetmeats away for free to those less fortunate?? The very purpose of business is profit; religion is merely a tool towards that end, this way or that

Quote:As far as I'm concerned, wasting food due to any ritual/religion/custom/etc is inexcusable. Especially in a country where 40% of children are malnourished.

While malnourishment has much to do with factors such as purchasing power, education, gender equality etc. we have yet to see any causal relationship between theistic rituals involving food and prevalence of malnourishment. If the burden of removing malnourishment is transferred to the theistic community, then they will hard pressed to provide the gargantuan amounts of food that will be needed to alleviate the endemic hunger plaguing India, a task that successive governments have fallen short of completing in a most admiringly consistent manner.

Taking a pause and take the argument in a slightly different direction: what are the chief accusations that theists smear atheists with?? A small example that shows how admirably such accusations can be dealt with.





Your arguments seen in totality may bloat the ethos of atheism to include disparate elements such as charity, malnourishment, moral accountability towards the malnourished, business practices, as well as attempt to convert private ownership of legally procured materials to common property. Such a stand may well be difficult to defend.

Finally, let’s not discount that the theists themselves can raise the very issues that you have, with an intention to include food availability and security in the ethos of their brand of theism (pls. view from 5.50 – 6.50)





tl;dr The use of privately owned foodstuffs comes under the category of personal values and thus should be kept out of atheism vs. theism debates. The same could perhaps be said of sexual preferences also.

This concludes my last post on this thread.

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#9
(10-Jul-2012, 11:23 PM)stupidseeker Wrote: tl;dr The use of privately owned foodstuffs comes under the category of personal values and thus should be kept out of atheism vs. theism debates. The same could perhaps be said of sexual preferences also.

The point that any moral hazard accompanying conspicuous consumption and extravagance cannot be laid entirely on one side of the faith divide, is well taken. Issues where civil liberties and social responsibility are at odds, such as those involving expensive tastes and dietary preferences with heavy ecological footprints, do not lend themselves to simple instantly recognizable party-lines of theist-versus-atheist or right-versus-left camps.

However there is one important clarification here lest the idea of sacrosanct private property ends up being viewed as exempt from ethical scrutiny. Lawful purchase can guarantee immunity from confiscation but not immunity from criticism. While establishing a causal link between theism and profligacy can be shown to be untenable, criticizing criticism of theist profligacy simply because there are instances of profligacy in secular spheres, would be an instance of whataboutery. Criticism of profligacy where we see it, be it Hindu rituals or Vatican pomp, continues to be fair game on a case-wise basis but with this important caveat: We must refrain from committing the fallacy of the single cause implicating faith totally for such profligacy.

Having said all that, here is one argument for why it seems only fair to take religions to task for not practising the simplicity they preach while the non-religious are often guilty of the same:
Quote:The faithful claim that religion is a redeeming and sanctifying force in the world, and if this is so then shouldn’t the standards for judging it as a force for good be more stringent and exacting and not less?
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#10
Quote:Sorry but am I reading your post correctly? Are you saying that Hindus are free to waste food in there rituals, and I don't have a right to criticise them including my parents for making me take part, just because:

Quote:I’m a little disappointed that you dismissed my arguments with a “just because” statement, but will thank you for the opportunity to rephrase my arguments, which I will attempt to do, with the objective of clarifying my position on the subject of the atheist critique on the use of foodstuffs as non-consumed offerings in theistic rituals.


So are you suggesting we also stop criticising caste/tribal discrimination as humans stick to their own anyway? For example in western countries immigrants usually segregate themselves among other immigrants of the same nationality. And plus you also have incidents of racism in atheist societies?

Should we also stop criticising the treatment of women in religious societies as atheists can also be wife beaters?
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