Your moment of Zen.

April 19th, 2009 11:27 am by Kelly Garbato

Update, 6/2/09:

Stephen announces Tharoor’s victory, this time with a vegetarian option.

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Okay, so Stephen Colbert’s interview with Kanishk Tharoor (featured in Thursday’s episode of The Colbert Report) has little to do with animal rights – nevertheless, there’s a delightful bit of awesomeness squeezed in at the end, starting at the 4:18 mark:
 

 

For those who can’t view the video, Colbert interviews Kanishk Tharoor, son of “Friend of the Show” Shashi Tharoor, who’s currently vying for a seat in India’s General Elections.

Colbert: Now, your dad, Friend of the Show Shashi Tharoor, is running for position as an MP in Kerala, correct? OK, let’s move his numbers right now. I can’t endorse in this country, but I can in India. I hereby endorse Shashi Tharoor. He will put a chicken in every pot. Or – at least – at least – a chicken in every tandoor.

Tharoor: I’m afraid he’s not going to do anything of the sort. He – like me – is a vegetarian. So it’s not very likely that he’s going to do anything like that.

Colbert: Then he’ll put a vegetable korma in…whatever you wish to eat it out of.

What’s so beautiful about this brief exchange is how Tharoor so casually dismantles Colbert’s preconceptions about Indian dietary preferences. Like most Americans, probably, Colbert “naturally” assumes that people the world over do things the American way – or aspire to, anyway – including slaughtering sentient beings by the billions for no reason other than convenience and selfishness. Even though, at +/- 30%, India has “the highest rate of vegetarians for any country worldwide,” Colbert just assumes that Indians want nothing more than plates filled to overflowing with animal corpses. As Tharoor points out, not so much. Colbert normally strikes me as someone who does his research (or has his writers and interns do his research), which makes this particular flub all the more interesting.

Or perhaps I’ve just been conditioned to have really low standards vis-à-vis vegetarian/vegan/AR representation in pop culture media?
 
Videos in this post

Thursday, April 16, 2009 – Indian Elections – Kanishk Tharoor
Kanishk Tharoor describes India’s beautifully choreographed dance of democracy. (05:06)
 
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4 Responses to “Your moment of Zen.”

  1. Toby Says:

    ‘A chicken in every pot’ is a political slogan that dates back to Henry IV of France, who is said to have wished that all peasants should be able to have a chicken in their pot every Sunday; it migrated to the US in the early 20th century with political advertising for the Republicans – it’s often attributed to Hoover. It’s thus a slogan symbolising basic prosperity and a decent standard of living for all, more than it is a literal idea of everyone eating chicken. So the flub was possibly Tharoor’s, for not recognising the phrase…

  2. Kelly G. Says:

    Yes, but Colbert spun the original phrase to make it more relevant to Indian politics/food: a chicken in every tandoor. Given India’s high rates of vegetarianism, he could have spun it further, but didn’t, which is my point.

  3. Waldo Jaquith Says:

    Indeed, “a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage” was popularized by Hoover. It’s a figure of speech, now, used to refer to a candidate making promises to voters. Colbert’s joke was replacing “pot” with “tandoor.” There was no carninormative assumption. It was just a twist on a figure of speech, a type of joke that Cobert employs frequently. In fact, Tharoor himself disagrees with your depiction of vegetarianism in India, writing in February:

    One of the abiding stereotypes of India is of the country’s traditional vegetarianism, of its reverence for cows, of a devout, pinched people living off rice and pulses. Such images may litter the global imagination of India, but they are at best exaggerations of a very different reality and history. A small percentage of Hindus (and an even smaller percentage of Indians) are vegetarian. Pork and beef have long been consumed in the subcontinent – the Buddha’s last meal was pork; Brahmins ate beef at least as far back as the Vedic age three and half thousand years ago. Even today, the apparent vegetarianism of many Indians stems more from poverty and scarcity than adherence to atavistic belief.

    Though mentioned by visitors in their accounts of the land in previous centuries, the image of India’s “vegetarianism” owes its currency to the period of British rule when it fed into racialised notions of Indian peoples. Diet, or perceptions of diet, played a particularly poisonous and unfortunate role in separating Hindus from Muslims. The dark divisions bequeathed by the colonial era even extend into public understandings of food.

    It seems that even Tharoor agrees that “a chicken in every pot” is a promise that would serve his father well.

  4. Kelly G. Says:

    Waldo, I didn’t allude to any stereotypical images of vegetarianism in India – “of its reverence for cows, of a devout, pinched people living off rice and pulses” – I simply noted that a large minority of Indians are vegetarians.

    Frankly, I’m not sure where to find the most reliable statistics, but Wiki’s entry on vegetarianism in India backs up the first article I linked to:

    According to the 2006 Hindu-CNN-IBN State of the Nation Survey, 31% of Indians are vegetarians, while another 9% consumes eggs. Among the various communities, vegetarianism was most common among Jains, Brahmins at 55%, and less frequent among Muslims (3%) and residents of coastal states respectively. Other surveys cited by FAO [2], and USDA [3][4] estimate 20%-42% of the Indian population as being vegetarian. These surveys indicate that even Indians who do eat meat, do so infrequently, with less than 30% consuming it regularly; although the reasons are partially economical.

    India has devised a system of marking edible products made from only vegetarian ingredients, with a green dot in a green square. A mark of a brown dot in a brown square conveys that some animal based ingredients were used [5]. Even medicines are similarly marked: a well-known Omega-3 capsule made from flax seeds is marked with a red dot as the capsule uses non-vegetarian ingredients.[citation needed]

    Recent growth in India’s organized retail has also been hit by some controversy. Strict vegetarians are demanding meatless supermarkets [6]

    Take from the anecdote what you will. Personally, I find it odd that Colbert would endorse a vegetarian candidate by saying that he’ll put animal meat in your pot.

    And I think Tharoor the younger’s response to Colbert’s endorsement directly contradicts your statement that “even Tharoor agrees that “a chicken in every pot” is a promise that would serve his father well.”

    *shrug*

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