Being a non-vegetarian and non-allergic in China is easy, duck and other delicious meats are plentiful and readily available. And China is a country that is – just like France – serious about its food and its meat. When a 2015 WHO study found that processed meats have potential to cause cancer, industry organization, companies and consumers allied to back their meat industry, claiming that the country meat products are safe to eat. The public cried out: “So you’re demanding that we all become like rabbits and eat grass?” In fact, China’s cuisine is so meat-focused that macrobiotic dishes, salads and vegetable-only dishes seem as distant as ever.
However, my hopes of converting our adamant vegetarians to meat consumption were crushed during the second week of our trip, when we visited a Buddhist vegetarian restaurant close to the Jade market of Guangzhou for lunch. So called Mahayana Buddhists, which is the dominant form of Buddhism in China, completely reject the consumption of meat as a basic principle. This form of Buddhism has its origins in northern India and is made of an array of different schools and interpretations of human beliefs and values. The two main values are “compassion” and “insight”. It emerged around the 2nd century and is one of three main classifications of Buddhism which are Vajrayana, Theravada and Mahayana. Mahayana Buddhism has supposedly entered Chinese culture during the Tang dynasty (618 to 907 CE).
Buddhist cuisine inspired by the Mahayana stream of thought has found a brilliant
solution to being “meat haters” in a country of carnivores. They invented dishes that looked, smelled and tasted like meat, but where made from wheat gluten. This means – at least in theory – that meat-eaters and vegetarians can sit happily at the same table. I can testify to the fact that the faux meat served at this Buddhist restaurant in Guangzhou was in a way “the real deal”. The faux shrimp, chicken and fish looked, smelled and tasted like real meat. In this way this lunch put an end to the epic struggle between vegetarians and non-vegetarians in the group on where to eat. Even when it comes to food it seems, a little compassion and insight can enlarge one’s horizon.
– Timothy Trollope is a non-vegetarian second year student at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy and passionate about all things energy policy, including international climate policy.
Ancient History Encyclopedia: Definition of Mahayana Buddhism.
“China’s Meat Lovers Have Serious Beef With WHO Cancer Study”- the Wall Street Journal.
False Duck image taken from: http://food.ndtv.com/opinions/vegetarians-should-try-meat-substitutes-at-their-own-risk-712463.