A Little Less Beef Is Not Such a Mad Idea

by Benazir Bhutto, Former Prime Minister of Pakistan

When British Prime Minister John Major used the words “mad, bad, and dangerous,” he was talking about the European ban on British cattle. Frankly, he just as easily could have been referring to our world’s insatiable desire for red meat.

Ironically, not long after the beef ban and Major’s declaration, I saw two European leaders arrive in London and help themselves to some steaks soon thereafter. I assume this was to instill public confidence in British beef, but I’d think twice about being confident of any piece of red meat.

An outbreak of mad cow disease–bovine spongiform encephalopathy–is a serious health risk, but it’s been proved that eating beef in general isn’t such a good idea anyway. The saying we have here in Pakistan goes: “When one is young, a man eats meat. But as one passes 40, meat eats man.”

I remember when I was a child, the lifestyle of Pakistanis was quite different. And, although some things have changed for the better, our increasing dependence on the flesh of cattle certainly isn’t one of them.

When I was growing up, meat was eaten on special occasions–it was a sign of festivity, gaiety, and celebration. The Muslim festival of celebration known as Id, for instance, was a day when meat was plentiful. I remember looking forward to the events and the food for weeks.

Mouth-watering dishes were prepared and presented with great care on the finest linen. Weddings were another occasion to splurge on meat dishes. Meat dishes added that extra sense of excitement.

In my own home, we ate meat twice a week, at most. And we certainly didn’t note its absence on days when we served up lentils, rice, or a variety of vegetables.

Now, however, beef has become a status symbol for most urban middle-class people. The more meat on the table, the better! Serving beef at every meal has become a way of flamboyantly showing financial success.

I’m still a prisoner of my youth, however, and as Prime Minister, I make a point of requesting a vegetable or lentil dish at the official luncheons I attend. To be honest, although I’m not a vegetarian, I find it far more appetizing than meat. On an intellectual level as well, I find a daily helping of steak both unhealthy and unwise.

The clinical evidence is clear: High blood pressure, heart problems, and soaring cholesterol levels are all related to meat consumption. After all, when animals fall ill due to eating too much meat-feed–as was the case with mad cow disease–isn’t it logical that we might be facing the same fate?

But the simple truth is that the people of my country love to eat meat. Over 175,000 animals are slaughtered in my hometown of Karachi alone daily. Every single day!

Not only that, but the price of beef keeps rocketing. Believe it or not, the meat shipped here all the way from Australia is cheaper than meat produced here in Pakistan.

Unfortunately, Pakistanis are not the only people with a love of meat. For instance, when I was recently in Central Asia, one of my hosts told me, “We are like wolves–we love meat.”

Perhaps our wolfing days are at an end, however. England’s mad cow disease has been an eye-opener for many of us. Health is wealth, and if we don’t cut down on our meat intake, we’re squandering one of our most precious resources.

I, for one, have made a pledge to provide my children with a diet similar to the one I was raised on. And I’m happy to report that they like their baked potatoes, spinach, spaghetti, rice and lentils.

Two weeks ago, I had a medical checkup and was pleased with what I learned. Despite the stressful life I lead, I was given a clean bill of health. Part of that, I’m convinced, was due to my diet. When my children are my age, I want them to still have many years ahead of them as well.

So, the next time you want to improve your life, take a look at what’s on your plate. A little less beef may not be such a mad idea.

Reprinted from Deccan Chronicle, July 3, 1996.

"There is not an animal that lives on the earth, nor a being that flies on its wings, but they form communities like you. Nothing have we omitted from the Book, and they all shall be gathered to their Lord in the end" - Al-Qur'an, 6:38
"Whoever is kind to the creatures of God, is kind to himself." - The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), narrated by Abdallah bin Amru in Bukhari and Muslim collections