Globalization

A Hindu story of garlic and onions, and what it means for our "tribal" religious divisions in 2019

A Hindu story of garlic and onions, and what it means for our "tribal" religious divisions in 2019

Onions and garlic, slowly simmered with tomatoes and olive oil.

Does that make you hungry? It leaves me salivating. Pour it -- generously, if you don't mind -- over a heaping plate of pasta and I'm your best friend.

Perhaps that’s why I found this story out of India (first sent my way by a friend, N.K.) so interesting. It's about Hindus who reject eating onions and garlic for religiously ascribed health and spiritual reasons.

Moreover, given that it’s the end of the year, I’m also inclined to offer up this story as a metaphor for the world of religion, and its concurrent global political and social machinations, as 2019 prepares to dawn.

But first, here’s a bit of the gastronomical Hindu brouhaha story, courtesy of the liberal-leaning, India-focused news site Scroll.in.

(So you understand: In the Indian numerical system, a lakh equals 100,000; Karnataka is a state in southwest India, and ISKCON is the official name for what Westerners tend to call Hare Krishnas, a modern iteration of an ancient Hindu school of religious thought. Additionally, Ayurveda is an Indian dietary and health care system rooted in early Hindu scripture.)

The Akshaya Patra Foundation, which has been providing mid-day meals to 4.43 lakh school children in Karnataka, has refused to sign a memorandum for 2018-’19 following a directive by the state government to include onions and garlic in the food prepared for the meal, based on recommendations from the State Food Commission.

This is not the first time that the foundation has refused to follow recommended nutritional guidelines in the government scheme. The NGO had earlier refused to provide eggs in the meal saying it can only provide a satvik diet – a diet based on Ayurveda and yoga literature.

The foundation, an initiative of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness or ISKCON, has a religious prerogative of “advocating a lacto-vegetarian diet, strictly avoiding meat, fish and eggs” and considers onions and garlic in food as “lower modes of nature which inhibit spiritual advancement”.

Akshaya Patra, which claims to supply mid-day meals to 1.76 million children from 14,702 schools across 12 states in India, has flouted these norms from the beginning of its contract, failing to cater to children from disadvantaged communities, almost all of whom eat eggs and are culturally accustomed to garlic and onion in food.

But why onions and garlic? What do members of this Hindus sub-group know that the cooks of so many other global cuisines don’t or don’t care about? Even Western and natural medicine practitioners say that onions and garlic are particularly good for our health.

So what’s up?

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Key American Buddhist innovator dies; media ignore his role in shaping religious landscape

Key American Buddhist innovator dies; media ignore his role in shaping religious landscape

Globalization has scrambled just about everything, for better AND worse.

Technology has compressed physical space and time, forcing the myriad human tribes to deal more directly with each other. Nor is there any going back — no matter how isolationist, anti-immigrant or simply anti-change some current political rhetoric may be.

This means that ethnic and religious groups many of our parents, and certainly our grandparents, had little chance of meeting in their neighborhoods can now be encountered in any large American city, and also in our nation’s rural heartland.

Buddhism is one such example.

But it's not just that Asian Buddhists — be they Thai, Tibetan, Vietnamese, Japanese, Chinese or others — have come to North America, where their beliefs and practices have attracted considerable interest.

What’s also happened is that some Western Buddhists — formal converts and the larger number of individuals with no interest in converting but who have been influenced by Buddhist philosophy and meditative techniques (myself included) — have melded broad concerns for Western social justice issues with traditional, inner-oriented Buddhist beliefs.

These Western Buddhists certainly did not single-handily start this trend. Vietnamese Buddhist monks who immolated themselves to protest severe discrimination against their co-religionists by the Roman Catholic South Vietnam government in the early 1960s preceded them.

But these Westerners — many of them marinated in 1960s American liberal anti-war and anti-discrimination activism — pushed the envelope far enough to create a uniquely Western Buddhist path now generally referred to as Engaged Buddhism.

A key figure in this movement died earlier this month. His name was Bernie Glassman and he was 79.

The elite mainstream media, as near as I can ascertain via an online search, totally ignored his death. An error in editorial judgement, I think — certainly for the coverage of how American religion has and continues to change. His contribution to this change was monumental.

Western Buddhist publications reacted otherwise, as you would expect.

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Failure of foresight? New York Times looks at globalization and the immigration backlash

Failure of foresight? New York Times looks at globalization and the immigration backlash

Funny thing about us humans. We persist in believing that we can have our cake and eat it, too -- notwithstanding the proof positive of an empty plate.

In its own complicated way, this also holds true for immigration, of course. (Have I mentioned previously that everything is connected to everything else and that this reality often involves religion? Repeatedly, actually.)

We delight in globalization’s immediate benefits -- cheaper foreign-made garments, instant international communications, exotic vacations that a generation ago middle-class travelers could only dream about, the transfer of capital across international borders to a degree previously impossible and more.

Yet we persist in ignoring that globalization is also a lure for those in the world’s poorest and most violent nations to seek a better life in the world’s wealthier and safer nations. They also want the good life that our globalized news and entertainment media have dangled before them.

We forget, or simply ignore, all this because as a specie we tend to prefer short-term material gains; quite frankly, the glitter blinds us. That is, until the day comes when we belatedly wake up and notice -- and then default into push-back mode -- that these globalized immigrants have different religious, social and political outlooks; that they speak foreign languages and have different skin colors, all of which are the stuff of massive demographic change.

This brings me to a recent New York Times business section piece that combined extensive graphics with solid reporting, a fast-growing online journalism trend.

The piece sought to explain the spreading trans-Atlantic backlash against the massive global movement of people over the last decades.

Here’s how The Times’  lede put the problem. This is long, but essential:

Immigration is reshaping societies around the globe. Barriers erected by wealthier nations have been unable to keep out those from the global South -- typically poor, and often desperate -- who come searching for work and a better life.

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Hindu Nationalism, Indian Christian persecution and the global rise in right-wing populism

Hindu Nationalism, Indian Christian persecution and the global rise in right-wing populism

Right-wing populism is the global political backlash du jour. Cultural, religious and ethnic competition are the prime causes. They, in turn, are directly traceable to the swift and societal-altering changes flowing from economic and demographic globalization.

India -- home to the world's second-largest population, more than 1.25 billion people, just short of 80 percent of them Hindu -- certainly has not escaped this trend.

At play in India is a slow decline in the Hindu population growth at a time when the Muslim population of about 14 percent is growing. That's a scary proposition for Indian Hindus, who have been in conflict with their Pakistani Muslim neighbors since the 1947 partition.

That, plus a Hindu nationalist backlash against India's increasing secularization and an overall Western cultural tilt, also thanks to globalization, have produced the right-wing backlash that's comparable to what we are also seeing in a host of nations -- from the Philippines, across Europe, to our own United States.

Read this Times of India analysis that explains the connection between Indian right-wing populism and what's happening elsewhere.

Indian Christians -- who for Hindu nationalists become conflated with Western inroads into traditional Indian Hindu culture -- are caught up in the larger Indian Hindu-Muslim competition, even though they account for only about 2.3 percent of the population.

I've written about all this before, including one of my earliest GetReligion posts that focused on Hindu criticism of Saint Teresa of Calcutta, perhaps still better-known as Mother Teresa.

So why rehash the above info?

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There's more to globalization news than cheap clothes and fresh fruit in winter

There's more to globalization news than cheap clothes and fresh fruit in winter

The age of globalization In which we live has both blessed and cursed humanity with the most far-reaching societal changes since the industrial revolution. International trade deals abound, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership proposal now before Congress, though not without some critics.

Still, with American consumers clamoring for cheaper clothes from Bangladesh and fresh summer fruit and vegetables from Chile in the middle of the Northern Hemisphere winter, it would seem that globalization is a smashing success. So why then would The Washington Post run a 2,500-word analysis of globalization's current state beneath a headline reading, "The Great Unraveling of Globalization"?

This late-April takeout ran in the newspaper's business section, where it consumed, with accompanying art, nearly two full broadsheet pages. Written by Jeffrey Rothfeder, former chief editor at International Business Times, the piece argued that globalization has not brought the economic gains promised -- the cheaper garments and year-round summer fruits beloved by consumers not withstanding.

For most -- in particular the multinational corporations and government coin-counters who fuel the consumer passion -- material gain is what globalization is all about. Given that Rothfeder's piece was a business section project, it's no surprise that he focused solely on globalization's economic side.

But globalization's far-reaching changes affect far more than the bottom line.

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