“How do you know when someone is a vegan? Just talk to them for 30 seconds,” my brother joked on the breakfast table as he poured himself a huge glass of milk. My diet consisting of no meat, and no animal-by products (no eggs and no dairy products) was a huge conundrum not only to him, but to most of my family and friends. Because of my own personal experience growing up in a Hindu family, I have realised that my decision to stop consuming dairy products seemed absurd to everyone; it was comparable to a fish living on land. Vegetarianism was common, but veganism was impossible.
Milk and other dairy products such as dahi, ghee, lassi, and paneer are just some of the essentials in a traditional Hindu diet. In Hinduism, the cow is considered sacred. “Mata” (mother), is what she is referred to as; her milk is considered holy, while her meat is considered sin. Besides cooking, Hindus (often vegetarians) use this milk in various everyday purposes such as rituals, festivals, and some even go so far as to bathe in it. “The milk cleanses your soul,” they say. But these beliefs are delusional. The commercials that display happy cows aren’t just deceitful, but couldn’t be further from the truth.
Has it ever occurred to you that what you consume and support every day by various means is not only unnatural, but inhumane as well? Well, of course not. It didn’t occur to me as well until three years ago. Because just like you, I had been fooled by the dairy industry too. Cows in commercial dairy farms are injected with the re-combinant bovine growth hormone (rBHG) that enhances their milk production by 10-15%. The factory-farmed cow produces about 378.54 litres of milk, which is 10 times the amount a cow would naturally produce. During this process, suffering is involved in every step. Cows are artificially impregnated because in order to give milk, they need to be nursing a calf. This procedure occurs at least once a year, and is repeated for every 3-5 years. If a male calf is born, its life is reduced to nothing as it is either sent to slaughter houses or is abandoned. And when a female calf is born, the vicious cycle of impregnation is repeated. The cow’s naturally occurring lifespan of 20-25 years is reduced to just 5 years by the dairy industry.
What happens when a cow can no longer produce milk? It is slaughtered. Yes, unbelievable, but true. India is the largest exporter of beef, exporting 2.4 million tonnes of beef in 2015 according to an article in the Huffington Post. Not only beef, but dairy cows also largely contribute to the leather industry.
It is also notable that human beings are the only species that drink milk from another species. “Cows should never be killed in any type of sacrifice or slaughtered in any way for food as the killing of cows constitutes the most heinous of all sins in existence.” The above lines have been quoted from the Bhagavad Gita, an ancient Indian text that became an important work of Hindu tradition in terms of both literature and philosophy, and is also strictly followed by many. But here, these lines seem ironic. What kind of lives do cows live in the dairy industry? Isn’t the toll taken on them a sin? Aren’t we all hypocrites when we pray to “Gau Mata” and yet exploit her and cause her endless suffering?
I refrain from participating in an act that causes cruelty to other beings while falsely advertising and leading us to believe an utter lie. I am not asking you to abandon dairy products but I would request you, as consumers, to educate yourself on your consumption. So yes, I am a vegan, not because I think it’s a statement, but because I believe that forceful insemination, captivity, and deprivation are unjust operations. And I will probably tell you that in the first 30 seconds of our conversation together.