Lee took a sip of his drink and decided to start his story before Gerald or John could jump in:
In the early centuries of the Far East, India was the most populous country in the world. India’s population exploded to levels not seen before the modern era. They attributed their success to the amount of beef they ate, and every person from rajah to peasant ate as much beef as he or she could afford. The rajah worked to expand the borders of India in order to get more pasture land for the cattle, but no matter how much land he was able to take, the population grew faster than the growth of the herds could handle.
The rajah’s ministers warned him that if the population continued to grow and didn’t find something other than beef to eat, the country was headed toward a devastating famine. The rajah looked at his herds and laughed. “How many people would it take to eat cattle without number?”
As the years rolled on, the herds diminished, but the population continued to grow. The rajah still refused to heed the warnings of his ministers. He pointed to one bull in particular, “Look how fat the cattle are. Surely, the people are well-fed.”
The population pressed up against the mountains and against the oceans. Soon there was nowhere else for them to go. The rajah engaged in wars that the country was supposed to lose, but the population still grew.
The people were no longer well-fed. They were, instead, starving as the supply of beef diminished week to week and day to day. Soon, beef was nowhere to be found but with the royal herds, which were rationed. The rajah’s own house was not immune to the suffering. The rajah looked at his last two cows: a large bull and a cow sat in a muddy pasture that had once been rich and green.
The bull was known to be ravenous, and it was rumored that it had eaten everything it came across: Grass, oats, wheat, corn, fruits, vegetables, woven baskets… One serving girl, who was thinner than she should’ve been, swore she saw the bull eating centipedes, beetles, and spiders. Another claimed the bull ate rats, cats, and dogs. A third serving girl disappeared mysteriously; rumor had it that the bull had eaten her.
The bull was, indeed, fat and looked well-fed. The rajah knew it was time to kill the beast, even if it meant the cow would be the only source of food left in the kingdom on the morrow. The rajah stood over the bull and pulled out his kukri. He raised the blade above his head.
“Stay your hand, rajah,” said the cow behind him. “We will tell you how to stop this famine.”
The rajah dropped the kukri and turned to face the cow.
“Husband, empty your crop,” the cow said.
The bull belched out plants, vegetables, seeds, and fruits of all kinds. When the bull was finished, it looked much less well-fed.
“If you hold us cattle in higher regard and promise to eat us only in the direst circumstances, you will never face a famine as great as the one you face now,” the cow said. “Instead, our progeny will be the result of planning and love. The grains that you would have otherwise fed to our multitudes will be used to feed your people, and the smaller cattle herds will be placed in reserve for emergencies. If you instead choose to eat us today, we will first ensure that the stores of seeds, grains, and vegetables here are destroyed.” The bull moved toward the vomit. “India will die and you will be called to the afterlife after enduring the horrors of starvation and becoming a living skeleton as many of your people have already experienced.”
The rajah looked at the pile of vegetation. It was well-preserved. The grains and seeds were intact. The fruits were whole. There were no signs of meat having been consumed, so the rajah decided that those rumors were used to cover up the actions of humans. The third serving girl was still missing. The bull moved toward the pile.
“Stop!” The rajah shouted. “From this day forward, no cows shall be eaten in my kingdom. Instead, we will cultivate plants for human consumption.”
The rajah was as good as his word, and India survived. Through time, the cattle became sacred.
Lee sat thoughtfully for a bit and finally said, “Now we know that it takes 12 pounds of human consumable grains and 55 gallons of water to make a pound of beef. Moving toward vegetarianism could feed a lot more of the world than a meat heavy diet.”
John and George scoffed.
“Are you saying you’re going to be vegetarian?” asked Gerald.
Lee shrugged. “I thought about it, but it’s hard with the lack of fresh fruits and vegetables during the winter. No one has to be a full vegetarian to affect a change. Simply choose to eat less meat and be aware of what the food your eating does to people and to the environment. A plant-based diet has a lot of health and environmental benefits to.”
“I agree. There’s a great store for vegetarian groceries in Midtown,” said Gerald.
“Well,” Lee paused. “I don’t know if I’m ready to go that far.”
John and George laughed.
“Salad is not my thing,” said George.
“There’s nothing like fresh Alaskan salmon,” said John, “which reminds me of a story I heard about a fisherman and the mud flats.”