• Sarah Hyland

Ten Minutes in Thimphu

From Acton To Barton, Uber driver Zepa told of his beef conundrum.

Buddhist goddesses in Thimphu.

My August trip to Canberra had all the usual features : someone I knew on the plane, a morning frost, blokes in suits, women in ADF unforms, roundabouts and free public wifi.

However, this trip included a fascinating 10 minute conversation with my Uber driver that felt more like a snappy depth interview on a job.

Zepa, 25, is Bhutanese and originally from Thimphu, the capital and largest city. He is living, studying and working in Canberra on a student visa.

I asked him whether he was Buddhist and/or a vegetarian*. Yes, he is both.

I wondered aloud : is it harder to be vegetarian in Canberra than Thimphu?

Yes, Zepa thinks it is much harder.

He began to describe how unwell he had been - very fatigued and physically weak, unable to concentrate or think through problems . He was diagnosed with severe deficiencies in iron and B12.

* Most Bhutanese are Buddhist. Not all Buddhists are vegetarian.Dried pork and yak for sale in Thimphu.

"I have to eat red meat every week, now. " explained Zepa.

"Do you like it, Zepa? " I asked.

Zepa laughed and shook his head. No, not at all. The flavour, the texture, the smell. All foreign and sickly to him. He makes it palatable with a generous addition of chilis. He likes it fiery! But he did feel better.

"Tell me about B12 and iron tablets", I probed.

B12 and Fe tabs = no go for Zepa

"They are not natural. Even though I don't like the idea of eating meat because of my beliefs, at least choosing beef in this country fits with the five contemplations for eating. And the Buddha himself ate meat."

The five what?! This was becoming the best Uber conversation in Australia.

He gave me the run down :

What food is this? The origin of the food and how it reached me.

Where does it come from? The amount of work necessary to grow the food, prepare it, cook it and bring it to the table.

Why am I eating it? Do I deserve this food or not? Am I worthy of it?

When should I eat and benefit from this food? Food is a necessity and a healing agent because I am subjected to illness without food.

How should I eat it? Food is only received and eaten for the purpose of realizing the proper way to reach enlightenment.

For meat, then, he explained that there shouldn't be any greed or desire when eating meat. It should be solely eaten for survival. And Zepa needs it for survival.

Oh no! Arrival at The Burbury. A happy farewell and 5 stars for Zepa. He gave me 5 stars because I pronounced his name properly (?).

The Buddha was into sustainability around 500 BC for reasons of enlightenment.

In that time, we talked about a number of things we certainly know to be true :

The sensory phenomenon of we like what we know i.e. how difficult it is for humans to accept new flavours and textures to which they are not accustomed.

The importance of food for good health and vitality. Without food we have no clear mind or strong body with which to perceive and understand reality.

The potency of the nutritional benefits of red meat - iron, zinc and B12.

The value of mindful eating.

The principles of provenance and sutainability.

The importance of eating conventions - table manners, gratitude and sharing a meal which is how to behave as a basically decent person.

Being in the food business is a bit like eating this pizza.

The food business.

What's not to love ?

Quite frankly, like a well written Netflix series or a Lygon St pizza menu , it's got the lot.

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