A textbook which has been used in Indian schools since 2008 says that meat-eaters lie, cheat, don't keep promises, steal, commit sex crimes and violence.
The book in question, New Healthway: Health, Hygiene, Physiology, Safety, Sex Education, Games and Exercises by David S. Poddar, is aimed at Class 6 pupils (11 and 12 year-olds), and printed by S Chand, a reputed publishing company which prints books used in hundreds of schools in India.
On page 56 the book says about non-vegetarians: "They easily cheat, tell lies, they forget promises, they are dishonest and tell bad words, steal, fight and turn to violence and commit sex crimes."
New Healthway also highlights the health benefits of a meatless and vegetable-based diet.
Although inaccurately describing the fish-eating Japanese as vegetarian, it says about them something that is correct about vegetarian or even mostly vegetarian nutrition: "They are vegetarians and live longer than most other peoples. The generous use of green leafy vegetables, soya beans and grams has helped the people to maintain vigour, strength and endurance throughout the centuries".
Epidemiological studies within the same country and across countries do show that vegetarians live longer and are less vulnerable to major killers like cancer and cardio-vascular diseases than meat-eaters.
New Healthway has received very harsh criticism and raised concerns in India about control over school textbooks.
"This is poisonous for children," Janaki Rajan of the Faculty of Education at Jamia Millia University in Delhi, who was part of the committee that prepared a report raising concerns about textbooks printed by private publishers, told the BBC.
The book has also been attacked by some self-appointed "guardians of science" against the dark forces of superstition, in a post which is full of inaccuracies itself. The article author has relied on the BBC report and has never consulted the original Indian source of the news, otherwise he (or it coud be she) would not write that "It’s not know [sic] whether any schools have bought the book, but those that do will have some ‘splaining to do", because he would know that the book has been in use in several schools since 2008.
For someone who respects the rules of science, sloppy and superficial research is not a good starting point.
The reason why the activist atheist site in question, called Why Evolution Is True (like a book by Jerry Coyne which in fact I have), even covers the topic of this Indian textbook lies in its Christain connection: "The strongest argument that meat is not essential food is the fact that the Creator of this Universe did not include meat in the original diet for Adam and Eve. He gave them fruits, nuts and vegetables," reads a chapter entitled Do We Need Flesh Food?".
This is similar to the basis on which the vegetarianism of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, a Christian denomination, is founded.
The irony is that, as far as health is concerned, science is on the side of this textbook's argument, however badly presented and stimulated by whatever inspiration, Christian in this case.
A book that promotes vegetarianism for ethical and medical reasons is a good thing, even if the style, admittedly, could have been more refined.
In fact, I would say that this book is very welcome and, despite its limitations, even necessary, if you consider this:
Despite a strong culture of vegetarianism and a religious taboo over beef-eating, Indians are consuming more and more meat as the country’s economy grows and consumers become better-travelled.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization last year said Indians’ per capita consumption of meat was running at 5.0 to 5.5 kilograms (11 to 12 pounds) a year, the highest since it began compiling records.
In short, India seems to be going the same way as China. Since we're on the subject, did you know that the much-vituperated McDonald's has announced that it will open two vegetarian restaurants in India next year, the first such outlets globally for the world’s biggest restaurant chain? McDonald's is trying to grow in India where it is still a relatively small presence and so is bowing to local demand.
Once McDonald’s has its first vegetarian restaurants in place in India, why not put pressure on the hamburger chain to open them elsewhere, indeed everywhere else?
Another assertion in the textbook that has given rise to controversy is in its life lessons, where it advocates marriage for girls between 18 to 25, adding: "To get married without a bad name is a dream of every young girl."
People could do much worse than follow advice of that kind. Again this book is attacked for the style and form in which it presents its arguments, rather than being analyzed for the substance of its content.
Unless, of course, someone thinks that it's preferable to have a high rate of teenage pregnancy, illegitimate births, fatherless families, sexually transmitted diseases, in short all the consequences of not stopping to consider whether sexual promiscuity is indeed the way forward.