Why beef eating should not be made into a virtue

Non-violence and animal protection must go together. We cannot truly practice one without the other.

 |  4-minute read |   05-10-2015
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World Vegetarian Day and Gandhi Jayanti occurred this year relative to an unprecedented assertion in India of beef-eating as a statement of modernity, freedom, progress and even tolerance.

India, well known for the world's oldest and most important tradition of vegetarianism, seems to be rejecting its own cultural ethos and moving towards a meat diet, as the rest of the world moves towards vegetarianism.

While this assertion of beef-eating may be good news for the meat industry, it is contrary to the great traditions of India that have included the protection of the cow as part of their teachings of yoga, meditation and non-violence.

The killing of a Muslim man by a Hindu group opposed to his eating of beef, which exacerbated a recent beef-eating debate, is certainly objectionable and should be condemned. To kill a person for eating beef is the denial of ahimsa that is the basis for asking people to protect cows in the first place. But this sad event should not be turned into an occasion to encourage beef-eating as a form of social protest or to make it into a human right.

Also read: Hindu or Muslim: India needs to do away with extremists

Beef-eating involves greater issues of health, ecology, and the lives other creatures. More beef-eating is not likely to reduce the violence in the world or make us into better human beings. Killing other creatures is not our right. If we are compelled to kill animals for our survival, there is may be some justification, but if we do so merely for our own pleasure, it is highly questionable.

Vegetarianism as a spiritual recommendation is shared by the dharmic traditions of India, Hindu, Buddhist and Jain, along with mystics from throughout the world. Vegetarianism is regarded as an important aid to the practice of meditation. Reducing meat consumption in the diet helps promote overall well being according to the teachings of yoga and ayurveda.

The dangers of beef-eating

It is true that meat has been part of many diets, particularly for people living in cold climates where there was no alternative. But most traditional people only ate the meat they needed and sanctified it with special prayers. Today we have better agriculture methods that make the need for animal foods less important, particularly beef.

Beef-eating is most prominent in the United States and Brazil, so let us see what it has entailed. Millions of buffaloes were killed and the species reduced nearly to extinction in the 19th century as the American West was cleared of these animals to make way for the world's largest beef industry in history. The Native American peoples who lived on these lands were killed or moved to reservations in the process. Clearing of the trees for short term beef production is part of the devastation of the rain forest in Brazil, which is a major factor in climate change.

Also read: #TheDailyToast: Our beef with Made in India cows

The beef business is one of the main causes of water wastage in beef-producing countries, with slaughterhouses using more water than major metropolitan areas. Water scarcity is one of the main issues of the coming century. Beef production requires more land, water and human resources than other types of food production and is not a sustainable way to handle food resources for a planet with a growing population and a reduction in arable land.

Beef consumption is not necessary for a healthy diet, and is not always good for your health either. It has been linked to a number of diseases, including cancer and heart disease, particularly beef consumption when you are already overweight, as many people are today.

Ahimsa must include animals

The meat industry is one of the cruelest in the world for how it treats animals. Every year over 50 billion farm animals are slaughtered for human consumption, including over 50 million cattle, few of which are allowed to live to anywhere near a normal life span. Every year is an animal holocaust for creatures that have caused no harm to human beings.

Encouraging beef-eating is certainly not a good message to send to our children, who naturally love animals, and will not likely motivate them towards a more sensitive, karmically responsible way of life, or a sustainable future for the planet.

India need not emulate the meat-eating tendencies of the West in order to progress in the world. Rather the West should better respect India's dharmic traditions of non-violence and animal protection - and most importantly today, India should not forget these either.

Non-violence and animal protection must go together. We cannot truly practice one without the other. Mahatma Gandhi taught this, as have the great sages of India for centuries.

Also read: Delhi's largest gaushala has a welcome shock for every cow-loving Hindu


David Frawley David Frawley @davidfrawleyved

The writer is the director of the American Institute of Vedic Studies and the author of more than 30 books on yoga and vedic traditions.

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