Why I chose to touch this issue now? October is very happening month for the veggie world. First, this month is being celebrated as the Vegetarian Awareness Month. It started with the World Vegetarian Day on Oct 1st and would end on Nov 1st, the World Vegan Day. Also Oct 16 is celebrated by UN as the World Food Day which deals with the food security for the global population. But I have struggled with this issue since my college days almost 25 years back. Off course that time I have no inkling of my future as a food entrepreneur and positioning Indian food as the flag bearer of the vegetarianism. Also the recent debate about #BeefBan in India did play a role in my take here.
If I would mention my first brush with the Veganism happened way back in my college days that too in India, you would laugh me off. Like even today there are 500 million vegetarians in India, 65% of the world but the vegans may be 1-2 million, my guesstimate though. The reason is simple- we Indians get most of protein from the milk, India being the largest producer of milk in the world. I would blame this on the sweet tooth of Indians too. Like if you think of US, out of approx 16 million vegetarian population, 4-5 million are Vegans or may be more.
In 1989 Mrs Maneka Gandhi, an ultimate vegan crusader I would call her, was a minister in the Federal govt of Mr V.P. Singh, then Prime Minister. Incidentally she is now also a minister in the present Federal Govt. Leave aside politics part of it. I came across a news item one day that she had persuaded Mr Singh to give up the milk altogether. It was a big news for us Indians. Like in those days if I eat three meals a day, all meals would have milk or yogurt or the sweets made of milk. It helps that India is the largest producer of the milk and it is the primary source of protein for millions of family along with the lentils. Now I may eat the milk product once during or after the dinner. Mind you it was an era when the internet had started to bloom and there was no TMI (too much information) factor.
I was struck by her 2 arguments for the Veganism - why no other mammal drink milk of others like Lion cubs drinking milk of elephant given that Lion is the king of the forest. And why we humans don't have teeth of the meat eating animals like Lions or even the dogs. Like if we consider Chimps or monkeys as our ancestors, they are still vegans, right. But yah we humans are the smartest creature on this planet and we figured out the ways to do something which other creatures don't do naturally. And we made our pets dogs or cats alike to do what we do. That is one part of the story.
Another part is where are we now in this journey of being the smartest? We humans consume 250 million tons or 550 billion pounds of meat. and almost 800 million tons of milk every year. 1 ton = 2200 pounds. Every year almost 20 billion animals and birds are killed for the meat, approx 60 million a day. So say one day we all wake up and by some magic the whole world turns Vegan, then what happens to these birds and animals. Assuming on average 30 days stock of meat is ready, we are talking about 2 billion animals and birds, which are alive or grown up at any point.
let me share one more story here. Have you heard about Heritage Food USA ' campaign for 'Eat Goat to Save Goat' or 'NoGoatLeftBehind'. Why? Goat cheese is wildly popular in the US but there is no demand for the goat meat. So the male baby goats are killed within a week of birth or so as there is no usage of them. Heritage Food connects the goat farm to the restaurants so that at least male goats have some usage and they get to live a bit longer. Sounds weird, right? But I would tell you why it sounds more weird.
Goat meat is healthier than even chicken, please see 'Nirmal at a glance' at our website. Also it is the most sustainable meat. One pound of goat meat needs 127 gallons of water, beef 1800 gallons, pork 700, chicken 500, tofu 300, soya 200. On top of it, the goat milk is better than other milks we consume. Please see the link -
Besides that goat consumes 1/3 of grass consumed for the same amount of beef and 1/5 of grain for the pork. And goat could be reared anywhere from the Himalayas to the sub-Saharan Africa. Mind you 60-70% of the world agriculture land is used for the animal feed. Then why the world meat consumption consists of 37% pork, 31% chicken, 24% beef, 6% goat and rest other animals and birds. Also the meat consumption alone accounts for 21% of the world greenhouse gases, more than that emitted by all modes of transportation from the airplanes to the auto-rickshaws. You don't have to believe in the climate change for that matter but the pattern of meat consumption now is not sustainable, period. See other posts for why.
Now let me share a brief background of the beef debate in India. India has a population of 1.3 billion out of which 85% are Hindus. In the Hinduism, the cow is considered sacred and we Hindus don't eat beef. Though the cow is not national animal of India, the cow slaughter ban is in place in 24 out of 29 states in India. Article 48 of the Indian constitution mandates the states to prohibit the slaughter of the cows and other cattle. In 2005, Indian Supreme court upheld the constitutional validity of this article. India has 12% Muslim population and Muslims don't eat pork. Also India is the 2nd largest producer of goat, hence majority of restaurants in India don't serve beef or pork rather they serve chicken and goat. But then why India is 5th largest producer of the beef and 1st in the beef export. Because India is so corrupt that it boasts of 3600 legal and 30000 illegal slaughter houses as per one estimate. So I always wonder why there is such a hue and cry over the beef whenever the BJP, the Hindu Nationalist Party in the US media, comes to power at the federal level. Recently this debate came to the world stage when a Muslim was killed by some Hindu fanatics on the suspicion of keeping or eating beef at home. I am not much in the politics but I know the Indian history well. As per my knowledge BJP (its previous avatar Jansangh) or its so called mentor RSS had no role in the drafting of the Indian constitution. Article 48 represents the aspirations and beliefs of 85% of population.
Let me share my story finally. I grew up in a village in India in the early 80s. Actually India lives in its villages as still now 60% of population live in the villages mostly engaged in the agriculture, way down from 80% in my time. Our family was well-off in the sense that we have had some agriculture land as well as 5-6 cows and buffalo. Then our neighbors who did not have land, used to rear the goats, rightly called the poor's cow. We had the cow-shed outside to house our cattle whereas the goats lived like the pets in their homes, no shed required. I remember as a kid I was trained to respect or I would say revere the cow, not so much for the female buffalo though she used to give more milk. The adult male cows (Ox) were used in various capacity - to plow the field, still relevant as the average land holding in India is still 1/2 acre, to drive carts to transport materials on the mud roads connecting the villages, still useful, to be used in 'Kolhu' to produce the oil, not relevant now. Then the dung from the cattle were dried and used as fuel, still relevant for the poor in India. The dung could be stored underground to convert them to the fertilizer and subsequent gas production, still relevant. I never came across or heard about the killing of any cattle. On the contrary, the baby male goats were castrated at the age of 2 -3 months to let them grow big and fetch better price as a meat item at the age of around 2 years. So they don't have to die young like here in the US. Our family used to have meat only on Sundays and that too only goat. Like the male goats have no other use except as the meat. And despite treating them like the pets, it was OK for us to eat them. Like we humans do have perfect quid pro quo. In India, the cattle is additional source of the economic independence for the farmers or the people living in the villages.
I would frame this debate in 2 categories - the developed countries like US, European Union and the developing and other poor countries like India, Latin America and Africa.
In the developed countries, the meat and milk consumption is so high that everything is commercialized, the factory farming. Has it killed our compassion as PETA calls it? Yes very much. Like the US would be easily the most pet friendly country in the world with 65% of the family having some kind of pets. Then why people don't have compassion for other animals? Very valid question, right. But this meat consumption is not sustainable. We don't need to wait for the California drought to understand it. No surprise that the Vegan or vegetarian movement is the strongest in the US and Europe. The biggest myth which has been perpetuated so long in the US is you need 'Meat for Protein.' It has caused havoc with the public health with 70% of the population being overweight or obese. We want to dispel this myth and Indian food has plenty of vegetarian and vegan options with lot of protein. Like people can't go on eating salads and soups whole life and it is asking too much from them.
For the developing and poor countries, the cattle would be a source of the economic upliftment as well as the nutrition for the majority of population. India is a fit test case. India has almost 42% of population being vegetarian but per capita per day meat consumption is mere 12 gms as compared to US's 330 gms, Europe 220 gms and China 160 gms (1 lb=454 gms). The reason is majority of meat eating population in India eat meat once or twice a week like we used to do. Our 'Curry' or usage of spices makes veggie eating easier, tastier and affordable. It has potential to kill or reduce the factory farming.
So back to the Veganism Vs the Vegetarianism debate. More and more people would switch to the vegetarian eating in the long term whatever be the reasons, from the obesity to our Curry to the drought in California to the climate change debate. We humans have lived with the cattle for the millennia and can co-exist happily. There has to be some sort of quid pro quo with the cattle population like they are not wild animals like the lions, tigers or elephants and just part of our food ecosystem. So the Veganism sounds elitist as it leaves the billions of poor and the animals in the lurch. The poor may find another source of cheap protein but what happens to the billions of cattle and the birds either to be culled or sterilized like we do for our pets here. Or we may have to find a way to stop or limit producing the male cattle. Remember we humans are the smartest and we can control the lives of our fellow animals.
Yah, it is the anti-dote to the Vegetarianism.