I turned vegan about four years ago. Even though I can’t say I am absolutely 100% vegan since occasionally it happens that an order gets screwed up at a restaurant or we were a little negligent in buying something we thought was vegan and turned out to have like 0.1% milk solids and many such occasions. Many times it’s a judgement call — whether we want to throw away the food or we make an exception and ensure we are more vigilant the next time. I, personally, have learned to not beat myself up for occasional lapses and look at the larger picture where I am at least responsible for bringing down the demand for dairy (I was a vegetarian since birth, so never had meat), at an individual level, by more than 99% I would say.
Mostly, when people talk about adopting a vegan lifestyle, there are generally two reasons – 1) Animal cruelty; 2) Climate Change.
Animal cruelty is largely associated with the meat industry with the direct slaughter of animals as well as their treatment before that. This holds true for any country in the world where ultimately an animal dies — method doesn’t make much difference to the animal. But then there also are other industries such as the dairy industry, the cosmetics industry, the leather industry, and even the pharma industry that engage in some or the other form of cruelty to animals.
The climate change part relates to reducing the carbon footprint and greenhouse gas emissions as it’s a very well established fact that meat products contribute significantly to climate change. It consumes far more water per kilogram of food, contributes significantly to the methaneemissions, and consumes more than 3/4th of the global agricultural land which could otherwise be used for crop production.
Reaction to Veganism
While Veganism definitely invites strong reactions from the meat-eaters with the most common reaction being going into the defensive, when it comes to India, such strong reactions, especially in my personal experience, also comes from the vegetarians. A part of the reason is that veganism ditches dairy, something very integral to the vegetarian diet, especially in India. Being the largest producer of milk and a large part of the rural economy centered around cows, it is seen as almost an attack on the Indian economy. Cattle rearing is also a cushion to the Indian farmers against the highly unpredictable monsoons that makes agricultural income very unstable. In addition, other products – dairy products apart from milk, cow dung, cow urine – has its own use in many ways that creates a source of additional income or helps in the activities that generate income for a farmer.
PETA India and Veganism
Unfortunately, when it comes to veganism in India, Peta makes more noise than anyone else. At the same time, Peta India is probably also the worst ambassador of veganism in India. It has been hurting vegans more than helping (if at all). A large part of it comes from Peta’s own record of dealing with animals and the hypocrisy of their messaging which is targeted only towards the communities in India, where they would not receive a violent response.
Peta appears to have absolutely no understanding of the ground realities in India and is simply copy-pasting the tactics they use in the western countries. Otherwise you wouldn’t see them throwing in “This Rakshabandhan, Go Leather-Free” when nobody wears leather rakhis and asking people to treat cows as “sisters” in a country that treats cows as mothers. You also wouldn’t see them giving awards to celebrities who end up celebrating turkey dishes after just a few days of receiving those awards. Not to forget, the mindblowing “fact-checking” that happened on it.
It’s also a hypocrisy that Peta targets pretty much all Hindu festivals – Rakshabandhan, Diwali, Holi, Jallikattu, Janmashtami – but then goes “Abba Jabba Dabba” on Bakri Eid. In fact, a Peta website, AnimalsInIslam shows “humane” way of slaughtering animals. Can it be more hypocritical?
Is Veganism Anti-Cow?
India has been struggling for decades against cow smuggling within India as well as outside India (mainly Bangladesh and Pakistan). This doesn’t happen without cattle theft. Even a single cow stolen can wipe out a major source of income for an Indian farmer. Between 2015 and 2017, 56,359 cattle smuggling cases (cases, not cattles) were registered in India. According to data shared by the South Bengal Frontier of the BSF, in the year 2019, 29,720 cattle heads (that’s 81 daily) were seized in 2019 (the numbers that made it through will definitely be higher). And this is just the Bangladesh border. While the number did come down in 2020 but that has to do with COVID lockdowns. And cattle smuggling increases before Eid-ul-Adha as Indian security forces confirm.
It also needs to be noted that these statistics are just for cross-country smuggling. The statistics for smuggling within India is extremely hard to find, if at all they exist. Just the illegal slaughterhouses alone are estimated to be 30,000 across India. There are organizations such as CowConnect Foundation that has saved thousands of cows in Gujarat alone and Agniveer in Delhi-NCR that rescues about 15-20 cows daily.
And remember, as mentioned earlier, even a single cow stolen can wipe out a major source of income for an Indian farmer.
So, to answer the question if Veganism is anti-cow — NO. Animal slaughtering is. And vegans don’t slaughter animals. But do you know who does? Guess!
Adopting Veganism in a Dharmic Manner?
Many Hindus, especially vegetarians, have become resentful of veganism itself because of the dairy angle and Peta has just made that worse. Compound it with the constantly undermined issue of cattle smuggling that is ignored by mainstream media due to “secularism”. Even though wrong, one can understand where the resentment comes from. But then many idiots even allege that veganism will lead to more animals ending up in slaughterhouses which is absolutely ridiculous. Slaughterhouses function because there are people who consume meat. Not because of vegans.
A big part of the misconception around veganism is that it is a western construct and is not aligned to Dharmic values. While it may be true that the concept of veganism does come from the west, we need not adopt it as it is without applying our own brains. We also don’t need to reject it just because it comes from the West. There is no harm in deconstructing the whole concept and seeing which parts can be adopted and to what extent, which parts can take time to create a suitable ecosystem/atmosphere and which parts don’t make sense at all in the Indian context. All these need to take place keeping in mind the ground realities of India — not just at a country level but as micro as individual level.
Plus, if you believe FitTuber, as he says “Nowhere in the Ayurvedic Scriptures, it has been mentioned that milk should be a mandatory part of diet“. So, veganism is definitely not against Sanatana Dharma.
Veganism is a Rich Class Thing?
Unfortunately, veganism has been portrayed in popular culture as a very South-Bombayish, urban elite culture and an expensive lifestyle – like being vegan means you need to eat only salads and exotic fruits/vegetables like Avocado, Kiwi, Quinoa, Kale etc. and drink Almond Milk. This is highly inaccurate.
When it comes to veganism, what Indians forget is that most of the Indian vegetarian cuisine is inherently vegan, at least the non-Punjabi (non-Paneer) cuisine. I can still enjoy Poha or Upma in the morning with coconut chutney, have an Aloo-Matar sabzi with Parantha in lunch and enjoy Baigan Bharta with Chapati for dinner. Vegan food includes all grains, pulses, beans, oils, fruits and vegetables. Now just imagine the combinations. In fact, some of the sweets like Chikki and Son Papadi are vegan as well. And when one starts looking, they’ll find many more.
In fact, turning vegan can drive down your grocery bill since you’d not be buying that expensive meat, eggs and processed dairy products.
Even when it comes to non-dairy milk, one can be smart about it to find solutions, some of which are already available. It was very convenient for Amul to compare their milk with Almond Milk since that is probably THE MOST EXPENSIVE non-dairy milk. Nut milks are of various types – Soy, Cashew, Coconut, Rice, Oats, Macadamia, Peanut and so on. And a quick look on the Nature’s Basket website reveals that the So Good Unsweetened Soy Milk is Rs.130 a litre. Compare this to Rs.44 to Rs.56 litres that Amul has claimed or Amul Taaza tetra pack that comes at Rs.64 per litre. So, non-dairy milks in India are already close to 2X-3X the price of dairy milk (contrary to the 6X difference Amul is projecting). And the gap decreases further when we talk about A2 Deshi Cow Milk which is typically close to Rs.100 per litre.
And let’s not forget that plant-based milks, right now, don’t have the economies of scale that the dairy industry has. As the demand increases and the competition increases, price drops. So, comparing the price of large scale dairy milk with that of small-scale plant-based milk is incorrect. In North America, non-dairy milk used to be expensive but as the demand increased, the wholesale shops such as Costco have started stocking non-dairy milks as well. A carton of 6X946ml (5.67 litres) of organic soy milk costs C$10.69 (~Rs.640), which turns out to be Rs.113 per litre. Compare that to the regular organic 2% milk which is C$8.48 (~Rs.510) for a 4 litres pack, which turns out to be Rs.127.5 per litre.
And if you still want to close your eyes and say “Okay okay but but but…in India, it is still expensive” —- then let’s excuse the people who can’t buy that “expensive” non-dairy milk. What’s the excuse for the ones who can buy?
Maybe they can skip spending 1000 bucks on that shitty Bollywood movie and a popcorn or a third-class overpriced restaurant and instead buy stuff that’s actually helpful to you.
Indian Dairy Industry
It is to be understood that the case against dairy products is due to heavy industrialization (factory farming) in the dairy industry. While it may be less brutal than the beef farming, there is still brutality — be it the practice of injecting antibiotics, injecting hormones, using machines that vacuum the udders (to extract the milk), artificial insemination, the risk of mastitis or the practice of separating calves at birth. Even keeping the emotions out, this is a very unhygienic and potentially harmful (to humans as well eventually) way of running the dairy industry and yet it happens. Now, when it comes to India, a common argument is that factory farming doesn’t happen here. We, as a society (especially the Hindus), have always treated cows as a mother and when you visit our villages, cows are taken care of like a family member (well, almost).
This facilitator guide by ASCI (Agricultural Skill Council of India) for a Dairy Farmer does not discourage insemination. There are also sections on Modern Milking Machines, which are the vacuum pumps. Although, to its credit, it does discourage hormonal injections. This one study clearly mentions the usage of milking machines and one of main responsibilities of a Milk Union as artificial insemination administration. Farmers in Gujarat also use milking machines to extract milk from cows as the article mentions – Take Shirishbhai Vithalbhai Patel from Chikhodra, 4 km from Amul’s Anand dairy. This 47-year-old farmer has 200 cows and 60 heifers, and sells 1,800 litres daily. His animals are entirely machine-milked at a parlour, operating from 5:30 to 8:30 in the morning and likewise in the evening.
If one is under the impression that the dairy industry in India is still very pristine, then the above information should burst that bubble. Yes, definitely, it is still way less “factory farmed” than the west.
Amul – The Torchbearer
Now, let us take a look at Amul – that has tried to portray itself as a torch-bearer of the Hindu cow-worshipping culture by invoking Lord Krishna (not Shri Krishna or Prabhu Shri Krishna?) and Holy Cow. While they are 100% right about the cultural part, using that to defend yourselves when, across-India, “Amul Model” is used for machine milking and artificial insemination, and to actually go on to say that “Dairy farming is good for the cattle” is quite a bubble (or self-fulfilling prophecy) they’re living in.
Now, let us go deeper into Amul’s offering of raw milk. Amul has a very confusing product range in milk alone. They have:
- Amul Deshi A2 Cow Milk
- Amul Cow Milk (so, it’s not Deshi A2 since there is a separate brand of Deshi A2?)
- Amul Gold (doesn’t specify whether it is cow or buffalo)
- Amul Taaza (doesn’t specify whether it is cow or buffalo)
- Amul Chai Mazza (homogenized milk that doesn’t form a cream layer in tea)
- Amul Slim Trim
- Amul Shakthi
- Amul Diamond (highest fat content)
- Amul T-Special (same as Chai Mazza but available only in 1Ltr pack)
- Amul Buffalo Milk (the packaging says A2 milk)
So, Amul has “Amul Deshi A2 Cow Milk” and “Amul Buffalo Milk” (packaging says A2 milk) —– so the question is, what are the rest? A1 milk? Amul needs to print that information very clearly on the pack.
Amul MD, Rupinder Singh Sodhi, in an interview to The Print’s Shekhar Gupta, provided extremely vague statements. One of them said, “Be assured that in India what you are drinking is A2 milk as all buffalo and indigenous cow milk is 100 percent A2 milk”. Does he mean to say that all of the Amul’s milk is from either buffalos or indigenous cows? If that is true, what is Shirishbhai from Chikhodra village doing with the 15 cross-bred Holsteins from whom Amul picks the milk directly? However, amazingly, the number comes down from 100% (in the form of “be assured”) to 90% in the very next statement as he says, “All HF (Holstein-Friesian) crossbred cows produce 50 per cent A2 milk and 50 per cent A1 milk. So 90 per cent of milk in India is A2 milk,” What he doesn’t mention is how much Amul’s share is from that 10% A1 milk? (assuming that the 90% figure is true). And if the majority of Amul’s milk is A2, why do they have two separate brands – Amul Deshi A2 Cow Milk and Amul Buffalo Milk (with the packaging mentioning A2 milk) – of A2 milk? You can’t have a spin-off from a mainstream product unless that spin-off is a minority. There is Maggi Masala Noodles and then there is Maggi Atta Noodles and Maggi Oats Noodles because the latter two are not 100% Maida. But Maggi can’t come up with Maggi Maida Noodles (apart from the reason that it’d be a marketing disaster) because that’s what Maggi Masala Noodles is.
If we believe this report, where most of the numbers are for the year 2012-13, >50% of the milk produced in the country is from buffalos while cross-breed account for 22% of the total cattle population. Given that cross-breeds have a higher yield, if we assume that the % share in the total milk production will be >22%. So, at most 78% of the total milk production in the country can have A2 milk. And this is at a country level, not Amul. Again, one must read the section “Livestock cross breeding” to understand how the cross-breeding basically destroyed the indegenous species. All for what?
Also, one must watch this video to see the reality of the Amul (and other brands) milk products.
So, the dairy consumers in India will only make some sense if that dairy comes from a local dairy farmer you know who is raising Desi Cow breeds, isn’t injecting hormones, isn’t using artificial insemination (you don’t artificially inseminate your family members, do you?) and isn’t using machines to milk the cow. You may still want to take some liberty with the last point (but then we can’t be riding on this high horse that dairy is for cattle’s benefit) but I don’t see any reason why Indians should encourage foreign breed cows whose milk is low on nutrition, causes diseases and is difficult to digest.
Also, one also needs to think about how much of the dairy in India is consumed in the purest form? i.e. milk. If your dairy consumption involves processed cheese, mayonnaise, flavored drinks, etc, tall claims of “dairy for nutrition” falls flat.
What will happen to farmers?
This is a very “sarkaari” argument. Often used whenever there is a discussion on privatisation or FDI in any sector. What will happen to people who are in “this thing” for decades? Or “Oh, so many people will lose their jobs”.
To begin with, let’s not think of our farmers as stupid that they can’t learn anything new. Also, what people forget is that veganism causes a demand shift and not a demand decline. People won’t stop eating the overall amount of food. They will only stop eating a certain type of food and instead eat something else. And in case of veganism, the drop in dairy demand shifts to agricultural products (like lentils and nuts) which are already the occupation of the dairy farmers. India is one of those rare countries that can grow three crops a year. Let’s not blame vegans for the inefficiencies of Indian agriculture (largely because of the government and politics).
0.1% Non-Vegan = 100% Non-Vegan?
Vegetarians might also be able to relate to this since this is a favorite pastime of non-vegetarians to prove that so-and-so product has like 0.00000000000000000000001% of animal product —– “Oh, so you and me, we’re the same, yeah?”. Yes, your half kg chicken is the same as that one brand of beer that used gelatin to clarify the end product. However, the same vegetarians won’t shy away from applying this tactic on vegans.
It needs to be understood that many of the folks who are like 99% vegans are still contributing by bringing down their dairy/meat demand to 1%. That still means something. So, maybe you can ditch cheese, mayonnaise, paneer, ghee, ice cream etc. but can’t ditch your morning tea – that is still not bad. Or maybe you reduce your “mithai” intake and limit it only to festivals and that too when you’re meeting family and extended family – let that be your cheat day. The idea is to minimize the harm to the environment and live in as much harmony with nature as possible.