Would you-- a vegetarian eat on a Bone?

(Bone China)


In India, though people like to believe that they are true to their beliefs, yet often, they do not have adequate interest in issues connected to their beliefs, sometimes to the point of complete apathy.
World over, in India as well, people love to use bone china, perhaps most people imagine that it is simply a fancy name, yet others do not care. Few people realize that Bone China is exactly what it says it is, that is, in it’s composition is Bone Ash, that is calcined Ox bone. It is rather amazing to see strict vegetarians eating in bone china, most of all drinking tea in bone china mugs and cups that have become unusually prevalent all over India.

A couple of centuries back, perhaps even before or during the days of colonial rule, the British picked up a fancy for Chinese porcelain. May I say, it was these aristocratic beautiful English ladies who fell in love with this fine Chinese porcelain, for it is the ladies who create markets and men perhaps, would remain savages without such finery. The word ‘Cheen’ in Sanskrit was used in the Mahabharat and other later texts possibly being the first recorded use of the name for China. It is believed that the Chinese were the origin of ceramics or china and that is how it seems to have got its name, exactly when or how that happened is not clear; the word porcelain, was coined much later.
Anyway, the point is that the Chinese porcelain craftsmen were very good in making fine thin articles of crockery. This is now called Fine China; it was expensive and came only from China. Craftsmen from other parts of the world were unable to make such thin china items and few have been able to match up to that quality even today. Maybe it is the process and craftsmanship that the Chinese use or perhaps it is the quality of the raw material itself. At that time, since the trade was by ship, so it took time, the items were relatively delicate, the ceramic often would break during the voyage; many ships were used for military purposes, so there were limited ships; there was enormous taxation as well, and so not much fine porcelain was able to make its way to England. In short, demand outstripped supply. Knowing that there was money to be made, obviously, the English porcelain makers decided to find a way to make this china.

Using the usual method, they were unable to produce a comparable quality of fine china as it would become extremely fragile and would break to pieces. So they thought of methods to strengthen the china.  Then in 1748, Thomas Frye was the first to try his hand at manufacturing what became later known as Bone China at his Factory in East London in Bow by the name of Bow China Works. This factory was located close to the abattoirs and cattle markets of Essex, from where he purchased the bones for his raw material. He used about 45% calcined ox bone (bone ash) in his formula. The porcelain was good in quality but his factory was not a commercial success.

About the 1790’s Josiah Spode further developed the formula. Josiah Spode unlike Frye calcined the Bone separately instead of calcining it together with other raw materials. The Formula for Bone China has not changed much with time. Traditionally, the English have made bone china with two parts (50%) of bone-ash (calcined Ox bone), one part (25%) of Kaolin (Rocks that are rich in kaolinite are known as china clay, white clay, or kaolin. Kaolinite is an industrial clay mineral.) and one part (25%) of Cornish stone also known as Cornwall stone or China stone (China stone is a medium grained, feldspar rich partially decomposed granite characterized by the absence of iron bearing minerals. Its mineral content includes quartz, feldspar and mica. It is found in one area of Cornwall in the United Kingdom.)

Both, Spode’s formula as well as his business were a success and Bone china quickly became very popular forcing other local manufacturers to also start manufacturing bone china. Since it was developed in England and much until the later part of the twentieth century it remained mostly an English Product. When the English came to India and India became a British Colony, from among other things they brought Bone China to India. When and where was the first bone china produced in India is not clear, but it became popular. Usually, the finer bone China has a higher content of bone ash.
Ceramics are made mostly of three different materials. These are Fine China, Bone China and Clay. Off course, today we have stoneware, Melamine ware (which is man-made fibre) and so on. It is rather easy to identify bone china, whereas fine china is opaque, bone china is translucent, simply putting it against light makes it easy to identify, while, the heavier ceramics are made of clay that are opaque too. If a ceramic is translucent, then it is bone china, do not buy it.

Today, unwittingly most Hindus of which a large number are vegetarians and many other vegetarians worldwide too, use Bone China for their everyday meals and drinks.
Should vegetarians or for that matter anyone use Bone China? It is certainly not in keeping with the Hindu belief of Ahimsa – Non-Violence nor can such an article be considered as pure and fit to be eaten on. For others, especially animal lovers, who would want to eat on stuff made of bones? Isn’t it almost morbid? As a user will not the cause for the death of another living being by creating a demand for such ceramics and crockery lead to a repercussion on a deeper karmic scale? Would any compassionate person consider this demand different from the demand for mink or sahtoosh or any other furs, or leather and are these beautiful ladies apathetic to the death of another sentient being and another species for the fulfilment of their quest for beauty and elegance, if at all elegance and grace lie only in beautiful clothes and things; and equally important is this demand created by the individual absolutely essential? Is it like the essential medicine that a person needs to save one’s life or is one sponsoring an industry that is actually against your very set of beliefs and the treatment to animals created by your demand inhumane.

Choose your own path. Do not say everyone uses it or that what you are using cost you, so you are attached to it, or that it belonged to your mother or any other similar nonsense. What is a greater value—your beliefs or a little money? Don’t make any excuses. Be firm with yourself—smash all your bone china, stop using it, stop buying it, and get your friends to do that too.

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