Be a True Vegetarian, Be Vegan

April, 2023 by Dr. Kiran Ahuja
The National Family Health Survey-5 carried out from 2019 to 2021 shows that almost a quarter of Indians between the ages of 15 and 49 (23%) are vegetarian. As the world’s second most populous country, extrapolating that to the larger population means that up to 32 crore people in India don’t consume meat or eggs in any form, which is almost equivalent to the entire population of the United States of America. Having the largest population of vegetarians in the world is something to be proud of, but we still have more to do to truly live up to the principle of Ahimsa.

In India, most people follow a vegetarian lifestyle because of Ahimsa – that is, we have compassion for animals, support non-violence, or belong to a religion, like Jainism, of which this value forms a core tenet. Yet many vegetarians unknowingly continue to support slaughter and other violence through food, fashion, and entertainment. Being conscientious consumers could change that.

In India, most cows and buffaloes are confined to dingy sheds or tabelas, tied up in their own waste 24/7. A female cow or buffalo produces milk when she is pregnant or gives birth like humans do. Farm employees regularly injure these animals by holding them down and forcefully inseminating them with their bare hands and sharp objects for pregnancy.

Because they cannot produce milk, male calves are often starved to death, butchered or abandoned on roads. On today’s commercial farms, even female calves are separated from their mothers. They are fed milk replacers in order for humans to steal the milk that nature intended for them.

Eventually, all female buffaloes and most cows end up in slaughterhouses, where they are killed in full view of each other for meat and leather. Cows are routinely trafficked to other states if there is a lawful ban on slaughter in their state. It’s no coincidence that India is simultaneously the largest dairy producer and a top beef exporter – the two industries are two sides of the same coin. A few cows make it to crowded, under-funded gaushalas, which are often just dairies.

Don’t be fooled by the misleading term “Ahimsa milk”. There’s no central body to check the marketing claims of dairies that produce it, and they still continue to churn out calves, adding to the ever-growing population of cows for which there aren’t enough good homes. India has deliberately bred so many cows and buffaloes to produce milk, meat, and leather that researchers from the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi and the Deenbandhu Chhotu Ram University of Science and Technology (Murthal) have warned that the methane emitted by the bovines can significantly raise global temperatures, potentially harming us all through climate change.

Can the product of such violence be truly considered vegetarian? The very definition of “vegetarian”, according to the Cambridge Dictionary, is “a person who does not eat meat for health or religious reasons or because they want to avoid being cruel to animals”. If we drink milk or consume dairy, we’re actively supporting animal abuse and harm to the Earth.

People generally think of eggs as non-vegetarian, and even people who avoid eating them directly still sometimes consume them as ingredients in foods like biscuits and cakes without a thought. Like male calves, male chicks are considered “useless” by the industry as they cannot lay eggs. Soon after they are born, male and other unwanted chicks are being disposed of in horrific ways such as burning, crushing, drowning, or being fed alive to farmed fish.

Hens too suffer in the egg industry. They are forced to live in cages so small they can’t even spread a wing. The farmers slice off a portion of their beaks with a hot blade since they peck each other from the misery of intense confinement. Through breeding and manipulation of their bodies, these creatures are made to lay far more eggs than natural which deplete their calcium, resulting in brittle and fragile bones that break easily.

They endure this kind of suffering in captivity, covered in each other’s faeces, until their bodies give out and they are taken away to be butchered. Just like Ahimsa dairy, don’t be fooled by free-range eggs. They are also typically kept in severely crowded conditions and their journey brutally ends under a knife.

With increased awareness of such cruelty and the impact of the production of animal-derived foods on the environment, many vegetarians are going vegan. Dietary vegans are vegetarians who are also dairy and egg free.

But being vegan is ultimately about actually leading a vegan lifestyle. If we’re wearing the product of slaughter on our feet, we can hardly be said to be living a genuinely ahimsak life. Cows and buffaloes’ skin turned into bags and shoes often just comes from babies. With hardly any flesh on their bones, their lives are snuffed out for their soft skins. In slaughterhouses in India, butchers slit the throats of these babies and other cows or buffaloes while they’re still conscious in front of other animals. And for what? A belt?

As with “Ahimsa milk”, be sure to question claims about “Ahimsa leather”, which sellers assert comes from cows who had natural deaths. Cows who die from natural causes quickly decompose, so maintaining a supply of their skins for items to sell would be an enormous challenge. Also, to keep leather from rotting on your feet, most animal skin is treated with extremely harsh chemicals, usually chromium, a carcinogen. That’s why so many tannery workers die prematurely.

True Ahimsa leather is vegan leather, which these days is increasingly made from plants – often agricultural waste. The good news is that vegan footwear, bags, and other products are widely available just about anywhere one shops. All you have to do is read labels and put anything containing animal leather back on the rack.

Living by the principle of Ahimsa also means avoiding products tested on animals. Animal testing is a horror. Dubious, unethical experiments involve injecting dogs with poisons and forcing monkeys to inhale harsh chemicals. Experimenters rub toxic substances into the eyes or raw skin of rabbits, just so that the latest shampoo or lipstick can be launched.

But there is a kinder way. Following efforts by PETA India, our nation has banned the testing of various household products, cosmetics, and their ingredients on animals. But to be sure you aren’t buying products from companies which test on animals anywhere in the world, use the Beauty Without Bunnies database found on PETAIndia.com.

And if you are non-violent in your food and other consumer choices, be non-violent in your entertainment choices, too. Entertainment involving the suffering of animals is also not in line with a humane lifestyle. We don’t need animal circuses, horse carriages, aquariums, elephant rides, and so on. We can let animals live free in their natural homes in forests or the sea and amuse ourselves instead through books, films, human-only sports, or other activities that exemplify Ahimsa.

About Author

Dr.Kiran Ahuja

Dr.Kiran Ahuja works as a manager of vegan projects for PETA India. Previously, she practised as a clinical physiotherapist for seven years and a nutritionist for five.

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