Should Hindus Be Vegan?
Case Study: The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON)
There Must Be a Moral or an Ethical Basis for One’s Vegetarianism, Otherwise One is Likely to Backslide, and Return to Flesh-Eating
There Must Be a Moral or an Ethical Basis for
One’s Vegetarianism, Otherwise One is Likely to Backslide, and Return to
The health arguments aren't enough to keep one committed to vegetarianism. The nutritional data keeps changing, which causes opponents of animal liberation to react with amusement.
Opponents of animal liberation liken it to a scene in Woody Allen’s 1973 movie, Sleeper, in which a natural food faddist, unwittingly placed in suspended animation, wakes up two hundred years into the future, to find that what he’d thought would be the wave of the future, didn’t happen…
…the foods that were thought to be unhealthy in the 20th century were found to be health-supporting in the 22nd century.
In the ’70s, Dr. Tarnower’s Scarsdale Diet had a vegetarian option which was practically vegan, as dairy products were excluded. But Dr. Tarnower permitted diet sodas without restriction, which nutritionalists now are saying should be consumed less frequently.
In The MacDougall Plan (1983), Dr. John MacDougall advocated a plant-based diet, high in fiber and complex carbohydrates, with no animal products, oil or salt. And no intoxication, either, which meant no caffeine.
Keith Akers in A Vegetarian Sourcebook (1983), similarly said:
"It becomes a question of your money or your life. We may eventually acquire, through sheer technological prowess, the ability to cure or at least cope with these (degenerative) diseases, but we'll have to pay for it, and pay dearly (health care costs).
"And it is all so unnecessary. For the most part, we know what causes heart disease; we know what causes cancer. Through dietary reform we could probably cut the incidents of heart disease and cancer by 60% to 80%...
"Meat in particular, and animal products in general, have three nutritional disadvantages: they contain too much fat, they contain too much protein, and they contain no fiber at all... Carbohydrates, which are the primary constituent of most whole plant foods, are almost entirely absent in most animal products... only milk has significant amounts of carbohydrate.
"And the carbohydrate of milk is in a form -- lactose -- which is unusable by much of the world's population, which cannot digest it after infancy. Lactose provides no fiber and is nutritionally equivalent to table sugar...
"Some vegetarians may be somewhat offended to find that dairy products and eggs are... part of the nutritional problem. Eggs, milk, cheese, meat, fish, and fowl, all have about the same high quantities of fat and protein and about the same dearth of fiber.
“Almost any vegetarian diet is an improvement over the typical Western diet, but the best diet of all would also eliminate refined and processed foods, as well as most (if not all) animal products — in short, a total vegetarian (vegan), whole foods diet. This is a fairly radical claim, and one which should not be accepted uncritically…
"Actually, none of these is a'minor' disease. All are widespread and cause a lot of physical suffering. Broken bones, arthritis, kidney stones, gallstones -- many accept these things as inevitable parts of getting old. They need not do so. These afflictions are all largely brought about by a diet too high in fat and protein, and too low in fiber.
"A vegetarian diet -- especially a total vegetarian (vegan) whole foods diet -- is low in fat and protein, and high in fiber, and would greatly reduce the incidence of all these diseases."
John Robbins’ Pulitzer Prize nominated Diet for a New America (1987) makes veganism seem as reasonable and mainstream as recycling.
John Robbins shows in easy-to-read language, with charts and graphs, that most of the degenerative diseases plaguing the affluent West are self-inflicted wounds, and are virtually unknown in other parts of the world…
…and migration studies show that when persons immigrate to the United States and begin eating animal products in excess, they’re plagued by the same diseases as everyone else. Genetics and heredity are not a discernible factor.
John Robbins spoke in Solana Beach, CA in July 1989, where he said he’d recently appeared on the television talk show Geraldo… indirectly indicating just how mainstream his vegan views in Diet for a New America really are!
John Robbins said the evidence continues to mount: autopsies on heart patients show saturated fat and cholesterol as the problem — not spinach and tofu!
And that a diet high in fiber and complex carbohydrates, moderate in protein, and low in cholesterol is health supporting.
The Atkins diet (popular in the early '00s) went against the mounting evidence, although the real intent of the Atkins diet was not good health but quick weight loss.
When Dr. Atkins passed away, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) said his death was indicative of the dangers posed by the Atkins diet.
Peter Singer (author, Animal Liberation) himself admits his Introduction to Keith Akers’ A Vegetarian Sourcebook:
“Despite all the books on vegetarianism, there is a need for a thoroughly reliable sourcebook covering all the main arguments for being a vegetarian of one sort or another. There cannot be a definitive book that will do this for all time, for new medical evidence keeps coming in, and the ecological situation and the treatment of farm animals are gradually changing.”
At the World Vegetarian Day festival at Fort Mason in San Francisco, CA, in September 2000, Elliot Gang, a writer for the now-defunct Animals’ Agenda said advocating vegetarianism for health reasons is comparable to saying, “Rape is wrong, because you might catch venereal disease.”
No. In each case the moral reason is the real reason to abstain. Because we live in such a narcissistic society, it’s not surprising people are won over by the health arguments first.
It’s comparable to the bumper sticker which reads:
“Don’t Drink and Drive. You Might Hit a Bump and Spill Your Drink.”
Again: there must be a moral basis for one’s abstaining from meat, fish, fowl, etc., just like abstaining from cannibalism, because otherwise it’s very easy to backslide and return to flesh-eating.
As an example, in the late ’80s, a woman volunteering with San Diego Animal Advocates, said when she first became a vegetarian, she was doing so for health reasons, and didn’t think a piece of turkey at Thanksgiving or Christmas would hurt her. But she said when she learned about factory farming, animal abuse, etc. she won’t touch meat, period!
Again, a moral or ethical basis must be at the heart of one’s vegetarianism. The nutritional data keeps changing…
…But as an ethic, vegetarianism (not harming animals), like pacifists or pro-lifers, has stood the test of time and has served as the basis for entire religious traditions. (Buddhism, Jainism, Pythagoreanism, and possibly early Christianity all immediately come to mind.)
Finally, some secular arguments to consider. Srila Prabhupada's comments in the Bhagavad-gita suggest he was advocating consuming dairy products as an alternative to the cruelty involved with eating meat.
This might make sense if the dairy products were obtained humanely, and dairy products differed considerably from meat, with its saturated fat and cholesterol, lack of fiber and complex carbohydrates. In reality, the same arguments that convince meat-eaters to go vegetarian can be taken a step farther and convince meat-eaters and vegetarians to go vegan.
In the Central Valley of California cows generate the same amount of fecal waste as a city of 21 million people, much of which goes untreated and pollutes waterways.
Dairy products, like other animal products, are obtained through modern agribusiness and factory farming, and the issues of animal cruelty, the health hazards caused by eating higher rather than lower on the food chain, as well as the energy and environmental concerns are not avoided by switching from one commercially produced animal product to another.
Can children be raised without cow's milk?
YES! Half the world's population (blacks and Asians in particular) are lactose intolerant, and can't digest milk after infancy. Dr. Michael Klaper has written books on vegan nutrition, pregnancy, and childbirth, beginning with Vegan Nutrition: Pure and Simple from 1989.
One of the earliest books subject of vegetarianism and the currrent environmental crisis is A Vegetarian Sourcebook by Keith Akers (1983). Describing the environmental damage caused by raising animals for food: topsoil erosion, deforestization, loss of groundwater, etc. as well as the economic inefficiency and waste of energy and resources in raising animals for food in an age of exploding human population growth, Keith Akers foreshadowed John Robbins' Diet for a New America (1987), which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.
In A Vegetarian Sourcebook, Keith Akers writes:
"Using grasslands for livestock agriculture creates great environmental problems, which greatly limit its usefulness. Grazing systems require ten times more land than feedlot agriculture, in which animals are simply given feed grown on cropland. Grazing systems have to be extensive in order to avoid the catastrophic consequences of overgrazing--which renders a piece of land unsuitable for any purpose.
"Overgrazing and the consequent soil erosion are extremely serious problems worldwide. By the most conservative estimates, 60% of all U.S. rangelands are overgrazed, with billions of tons of soil lost each year. Overgrazing has also been the greatest cause of man-made deserts.
"Even if we grant grazing a role in a resource-efficient, ecologically stable agriculture, milk should be the end result, not beef. Milk provides over 50% of the protein and nearly four times the calories of beef, per unit of forage resources from grazing.
"'When only forage is available, then egg, broiler and pork production are eliminated and only milk, beef, and lamb production are viable systems,' state David and Marcia Pimentel, scientists and authors of Food, Energy and Society. 'Of these three, milk production is the most efficient.'
"An ecologically stable, resource-efficient system of grazing animals for human food could not be anything faintly resembling today's livestock agriculture. It would be a smaller, decentralized, less intensive system of animal husbandry devoted to milk production."
This is what the Vedas (Hindu scriptures) say as well: an acre of land, a cow and a bull, and you're all set! The Vedas also warn that when a population is sinful, their land becomes a desert...and overgrazing does lead to topsoil erosion, which in turn leads to desertification.
So it might be possible to have animal agriculture (devoted solely to milk production) on a small scale -- like in Krishna Consciousness. Rural farm communities like Gita-nagari, New Talavan, and New Vrindavan. But the rest of the world's population, in the billions, will have to be vegan.
Animal activists quickly point out that man is the only species that drinks the milk of another species. The animals have been enslaved or domesticated to make this possible. The cows have been bred over the centuries to produce more milk than their calves can consume.
And animal activists quickly ask: if cow's milk, intended for baby calves, is the perfect food for human beings, why is it half the world’s population (blacks and Asians in particular) are lactose-intolerant, and cannot digest dairy products after infancy?
Environmental devastation, rather than abortion or war, is the most visible manifestation of the collective karma for killing animals by the billions.
Vegan author John Robbins provides these points and facts in his Pulitzer Prize nominated Diet for a New America (1987):
Half the water consumed in the U.S. irrigates land growing feed and fodder for livestock. The water that goes into a 1,000 lb. steer could float a destroyer. It takes 25 gallons of water to produce a pound of wheat, but 2,500 gallons to produce a pound of meat. If these costs weren't subsidized by the American taxpayers, the cheapest hamburger meat would be $35 per pound! Subsidizing the California meat industry costs taxpayers $24 billion annually. Livestock producers are California's biggest consumers of water.
Huge amounts of water wash away livestock excrement. U.S. livestock produce twenty times as much excrement as the entire human population, creating sewage which is ten to several hundred times as concentrated as raw domestic sewage.
Animal wastes cause thrice as much water pollution than does the U.S. human population; the meat industry causes thrice as much harmful organic water pollution than the rest of the nation's industries combined.
Meat producers, the number one industrial polluters in our nation, contribute to half the water pollution in the United States. Every tax dollar the state doles out to livestock producers costs taxpayers over seven dollars in lost wages, higher living costs and reduced business income. Seventeen western states have enough water supplies to support economies and populations twice as large as the present.
Overgrazing of cattle leads to topsoil erosion, turning once-arable land into desert. We lose four million acres of topsoil each year and 85 percent of this loss is directly caused by raising livestock. To replace the soil we've lost, we're destroying our forests. Since 1967, the rate of deforestation in the U.S. has been one acre every five seconds. For each acre cleared in urbanization, seven are cleared for grazing or growing livestock feed.
One-third of all raw materials in the U.S. are consumed by the livestock industry and it takes thrice as much fossil fuel energy to produce meat than it does to produce plant foods. A report on the energy crisis in Scientific American warned: "The trends in meat consumption and energy consumption are on a collision course."
"All Things Are Connected" is the concluding chapter to vegan author John Robbins' Pulitzer Prize nominated Diet for a New America (1987) It begins with a quote from (reincarnationist) Christian mystic Edgar Cayce:
"Destiny, or karma, depends upon what the soul has done about what it has become aware of."
HInduism Today described John Robbins a modern-day Siddharta. He was heir to the Baskin-Robbins fortune. He renounced it at an early age, traveled to India and opened a yoga ashram in Canada with his wife Deo. His son Ocean Robbins founded Youth for Environmental Sanity (YES!) in the early '90s, while he was still in high school, and is also dedicated to promoting veganism.
John Robbins is a secular author, writing with spiritual eloquence:
"At the present time, when most of us sit down to eat, we aren't very aware of how our food choices affect the world. We don't realize that in every Big Mac there is a piece of the tropical rainforests, and with every billion burgers sold another hundred species become extinct. We don't realize that in the sizzle of our steaks there is the suffering of animals, the mining of our topsoil, the slashing of our forests, the harming of our economy, and the eroding of our health.
"We don't hear in the sizzle the cry of the hungry millions who might otherwise be fed. We don't see the toxic poisons (pesticides) accumulating in the food chains, poisoning our children and our earth for generations to come.
"But once we become aware of the impact of our food choices, we can never really forget. Of course, we can push it all to the back of our minds, and we may need to do this, at times, to endure the enormity of what is involved.
"But the earth itself will remind us, as will our children, and the animals and the forests and the sky and the rivers, that we are part of this earth, and it is part of us. All things are deeply connected, and so the choices we make in our daily lives have enormous influence, not only on our own health and vitality, but also on the lives of other beings, and indeed on the destiny of life on earth.
"Thankfully, we have cause to be grateful--what's best for us personally is also best for other forms of life, and for the life support systems on which we all depend."
John Robbins, vegan author of the Pulitzer Prize nominated Diet for a New America (1987), praises "simple living and high thinking" which Srila Prabhupada said is the ideal human society.
"Just as you can only truly see the stars when you turn out the electric lights, sometimes there are treasures that are only ours when we forego certain things.
"You mention the Amish. These are people who came to America with little more than the clothes on their backs, and who make some of the finest hand-crafted solid wood furniture in the world — including my family’s own kitchen table.
"It is true that they forego many things (including computers, electricity, and automobiles) that most Americans take for granted and couldn’t imagine doing without. But their way of life offers rewards that most Americans can only dream about. For example:
"Virtually every adult in the Amish community has an independent livelihood as the owner of a farm or a business.
"There is almost no crime, no violence, no alcoholism, no divorce, and no drug-taking.
"They accept no government help with health care, old age assistance, or schooling after the 8th grade. (They were forced by the government to accept first through eighth grade schooling.)
"The success rate of Amish in small businesses is 95%, compared to the U.S. rate of 15%.
"All Amish children are offered an expense-paid sabbatical year away from Amish life when they arrive on the verge of adulthood, so they can see the world and decide for themselves if they want to remain in the community and follow its ways. Eighty-five percent of all grown children choose to remain in the community.
"The Amish are extraordinary neighbors. They are the first to volunteer in times of crisis and need. They open their farms to ghetto children and frequently rear handicapped children from the non-Amish world whom nobody else wants.
"They farm so well and so profitably without chemical fertilizers or pesticides that Mexico, Canada, Russia, France, and Uruguay have hired them as advisors on raising agricultural productivity.
"If you don’t want to make any such sacrifices, that is certainly your privilege. But please don’t put others down for making choices they find fulfilling. My experience is that there are pleasures in life that are healthy and life-affirming, that enhance our ability to experience joy and gratitude. And there are also pleasures that, the more we indulge in them, the less able we become to enjoy life.
"The first kind of pleasures give us life; the second kind drain us. I think that wisdom has something to do with being able to tell the difference."
It was reported in past decades that Satsvarupa dasa Goswami made it a point to abstain from sugar on ekadasi, because refined white sugar is processed through animal bones, and thus isn't even vegetarian. Similarly, as long as veganism is seen merely as a stricter degree of vegetarianism, animal activists and their vegan views should be welcomed in the association of devotees of Krishna.
Visiting ISKCON Berkeley at the end of 2007, Mother Malati Devi said about the animal activists, the vegans: "These are our friends."
If Krishna devotees are on friendly terms with pro-life Christians, why aren't the Christians becoming vegetarian, ceasing to kill animals, etc. as the solution to the abortion crisis?
Regarding vegetarianism vs. veganism, vegetarians DO cause far less cruelty than meat-eaters, but a nonviolent philosophy carries greater weight from vegans.
Gangeya dasa (Glen Smith), a disciple of Hridayananda dasa Goswami, was asked years ago if devotees offering dairy products to the Lord were doing so out of devotion or out of sense gratification. He diplomatically responded that would depend on the consciousness of the individual devotee.
The real reasons to go vegan are and should be similar to those which initially caused vegetarians to stop eating meat and go vegetarian.