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First of all, the ban on selling and consumption of beef in Maharashtra is nothing new. For the last few years, your order of Beef Bolognese, or Kerala Beef Curry, or Beef Chilli Fry at most restaurants and cafes here, barring a few bigger restaurants that use imported beef, would have almost definitely been made of Buffalo meat, also called ‘Carabeef’. That’s because there has been a ban on the killing and selling of cow meat in this state for several years, as it is in a handful of other states in the country.

Carabeef tastes a lot like beef, only tougher, a bit grainier and somewhat ‘gamier’ in flavour. The right cut, in the hands of a good Chef, can actually wipe out the difference, even in a slab of medium-done Pepper Steak. So how would you really know? The price is usually an indicator, and the famous imported name varieties like Wagyu, Kobe and Angus add more premium. But if you ask your maître-d or server, they will tell you. As much as they love their customers, they love their business more, and will not run the risk of being shut down.

So why this sudden outcry against the beef ban? Partly due to the fact that many were unaware of the Carabeef distinction. Partly because a blanket ban and raised penalty means the government is taking this beef business seriously and wants people in the business of beef to take it seriously too, thereby putting tremendous pressure on the consumption of Carabeef which will now be the official/default choice. But for a very large part, for people both non-vegetarian AND vegetarian, it is about personal choice.

If it is wrong to eat beef because it is an animal, I agree. But if it is wrong to eat beef because of sentiments, or someone in power telling me so, I don’t agree. The battle here is not between vegetarians and non-vegetarians, or between religions, or between old and new generations, or even between the open-minded and the conservative. It is very simply and at a very basic level, the right to choose. If I choose NOT to have beef in front of my parents who are devout Hindus, it is out of respect for them and their wishes, not out of fear. If I choose NOT to have any non-veg food in front of my in-laws who are strict vegetarians, it is my wish to be sensitive to their feelings. But if I do CHOOSE to have a thick, juicy Medium-Rare Beef Steak at Nido or Salt Water Cafe in Mumbai, or dear ol’ Olypub in Kolkata, or work up a storm in my own kitchen with a Chateaubriand Steak dinner, it is because I LIKE the taste and the flavour, the same way that I LIKE ‘Aloo Gobi’, or ‘Shukto’, or Mashed Potatoes, or the simple yet ultimately fulfilling ‘Baygoon Bhaja’.

Do I tell my close Jain friends to eat onion? Do I encourage my BFFs to eat during Ramadan or Shradh or Lent? Do I force my buddies who are on a weight-loss diet to drink and binge on snacks? It is THEIR CHOICE to follow a diet code, their free will to eat or not eat certain things based on their beliefs, their principles, their doctor’s advice or even their dietician’s chart.

Which brings me to MY free will. If I am able, willing and inclined to, why can’t I have my Beef Steak, when I want to, when I need to? And in so doing, why am I a criminal, punishable by law? That’s my beef!

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