SHOULD HINDUS BECOME VEGAN ?
4 MYTHS AND TRUTHS !


By Panchajanya Paul, MD




I recently read an interesting article forwarded by Mr. Kumudh Venkatesan where he writes about the five reasons why Hindus should become vegan. Kumudh says, "I'm spiritual, and when I meditate, I see Lord Krishna tending to innocent beautiful cows. In modern days, cows endure a lot of pain and suffering to produce milk. This is the reason I advocate the vegan diet...". He is not alone. Many Hindus are giving up milk and meat to become vegan. Also, the media is full of articles touting the health benefits of vegan. Many celebrities are becoming vegan for health reasons. Veganism is promoted as better for health, environment, and spirituality. Diet has become a political and controversial issue. One can find evidence and expert opinion on both sides. Let us examine the vegan diet in the context of religion, environment and health.

1. HINDU RELIGION :

Many non-Hindus around the world relate Hindus with vegetarianism. There are high numbers of vegetarian in India especially among the members of the upper caste. Since the earliest recorded times, India has been the melting pot of diverse people, ideas and customs. The history of vegetarianism in India is complex.

Vedas are the earliest text of Hinduism written around 3500 years ago. There are multiple mentions of rituals and animal sacrifices in Vedas. The animal meant to be sacrificed to the God was considered sacred and consumed to honour the God. For example, in the famous ritual of Ashvamedha Yagna, a horse is sent across territories to establish a King's supremacy. Even Hindu Lord Rama did that as mentioned in the Hindu epic Ramayana. But unbeknownst to most, the ritual ends with the sacrifice of the horse, and the king and his family consumed the horse meat along with the priests, and the guests.

But like everything in life, religious practices and principles evolve with time. Around 2500 BC, there came a thought revolution in India. Old Vedic tenets were questioned, and a new form of philosophy called the Upanishads emerged. It was also referred to as the Vedanta, meaning the end of Vedas. The Upanishads brought a more humanistic form of Hinduism, and it influenced thinkers like Buddha and Mahavira, who in turn influenced Hinduism. Many Hindus embraced Vegetarianism under the influence of Buddhism and Jainism. Vegetarianism became official after Buddhist emperor Ashoka banned animal slaughter in India around 250 BC. Hindu texts like Bhagavad Gita and later Upanishads written around that time started relating purity or a satvik diet with vegetarianism.

Vegetarian diet in India evolved over the time with multiple cuisines. The lack of meat was compensated with a copious amount of Ghee, butter, buttermilk, milk, paneer, and dairy sweets. The diet was balanced with seasonal fruits, vegetables, and grain. But vegan diet was never a part of Hindu history.

Modern Hinduism prescribes ahimsa or non-violence to all living creatures. Many Hindus are vegetarians so that they don't harm any animals. Now many vegetarians are becoming vegans to avoid harming the cow. They quote Krishna from Bhagavad Gita, where he says that the God resides in every creature and we should not make any life suffer. But then people quoting Krishna as support for Vegan ignore the dietary habits of Krishna as mentioned in the scriptures. As per Hindu texts, Krishna drank copious amount of butter and dairy products while growing up. So much was Krishna's love for dairy, he as a child used to steal butter from other herders, and thus got the name Makhan Chor.

People in support of a vegan diet also quote Gandhi, a devout Hindu who said, "Cow protection, to me, is not mere protection of the cow. It means protection of all that lives and is helpless and weak in the world." Gandhi was horrified to see the cruelty on cows and decided to give up milk. Gandhi stopped drinking cow's milk not because he was against milk, but he was against the cruel treatment of cows. Gandhi apparently was okay with the ways goats were treated in India. Gandhi resumed drinking milk for health reasons and replaced cow's milk with goat's milk which he drank for the rest of his life. Gandhi research foundation quotes, "Although he had vowed not to take milk, he was compelled to add goat milk to his diet to recover from a serious ailment. This practice, he continued later in life."

2. ENVIRONMENT :

India with its overpopulation and environmental pollution is facing an ecological crisis.
Numerous Hindu organizations such as Art Of Living, Isha, and BAPS Swaminarayan have pledged to protect the environment and conserve natural resources by planting millions of trees and clean rivers in India. This is a positive step and goes with the Hindu philosophy of
Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam which means One World and One Family, and urges Hindus to love and respect all human beings, animals, trees, rivers, and mountains.

Many groups are also promoting a vegan diet as good for the environment. How to protect the environment, and stop climate change is a billion dollar question with disagreement among countries. However, most scientists agree that human activities pose the biggest threat to the environment. Deforestation for making room for agriculture and human habitat is shrinking the world's forest. Dams and canals for providing water for irrigation are killing the rivers. The great rivers like Ganga and Yamuna are in dire straits. Burning fossil fuels for transportation and energy are raising earth's temperature causing climate change. A vegan diet means consuming more grains and beans. For the growing world population, this will entail clearing of more forests to make room for agriculture.

The few places in India where people can go for the pristine environment are the islands of Andamans, forests of Sunderbans, Himalayas, forests around Northeast mountains, backwaters of Kerala and more. But all these places share an essential similarity. These geographies have remained close to what they were a thousand years ago because there had been no agricultural deforestation.

Agriculture first originated around 7000 to 9000 years ago around the fertile crescent surrounding the areas of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Cyprus, Jordan, Israel, Egypt. Many of these places are now a desert. If we look at the timeline, for most geography, destruction of environment correlates directly with the intensity of agriculture done to the area.

However, humans have to eat to survive. The least changes we make to our environment, the better it is. Thus the best food for sustainability is which is local and seasonal and organic- free from chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides. Vegans promote coconut milk soy milk, almond milk, etc. as substitutes for regular milk. But, these are not available everywhere. For example, people living in upper North India around the Himalayas do not have coconut trees. Growing beans or grains will mean clearing the forests. They are better off drinking the local milk of cows, yaks, and mountain goats for their protein requirement.


3. Human Health :

According to Hinduism, milk, ghee, and other dairy products constitute a sattvic diet, which--according to Ayurveda--promotes health and longevity. In Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna says, "Sattvic food increase the duration of life, purify one's existence, and give strength, health, happiness, and satisfaction." However, the milk of earlier times obtained from cows roaming freely under green pastures, basking under the sun, and eating grass is not the same of cows today locked in a barn and fed grains all day.

Milk is the primary source of protein in the Indian vegetarian diet. The milk and its derivatives like curd, raita, yogurt, ghee, paneer, cheese, cream, butter, and butter-milk are present in some form in most Indian meals. The quality of milk depends on the quality of food given to the cow. Thousand years back, Indian thinkers, realizing the importance of cow and its milk for the Indian diet and economy, declared the cow sacred. Over time, this became enshrined in Hinduism, and protection of cow became a religious duty for the devout Hindus. But the way cows were kept has changed. In the past, cows would graze on green pastures, and eat on the healthy grass and green leaves full of nutrients.

In the US most cows are grown in the feedlot and are milked all the year. They are fed cheap corn laced with pesticides. Cows also get hormonal injections to increase milk supply. These cows bred for milk become sick often and are given regular antibiotics prophylactically. These cows die much earlier. Milk from corn and other grain-feed cow has a high content of omega 6 fatty acids. Omega 6 fatty acid tends to be inflammatory and also cause weight gain. On the other hand, organic milk from the grass -fed cows has a higher content of omega three acids, vitamin D, Vitamin A, and other nutrients. The omega 3 acids are anti-inflammatory and good for the brain and heart. Even though expensive, every attempt should be made to get organic grass fed milk, preferably non-homogenized.

ISKON has started selling milk and milk products from their protected cow farms. The ISKON milk is claimed to be organic and grass fed. I have purchased them in Atlanta and found their milk to be superior to the ones sold at the stores, and the high price is worth the health benefits.

Hindu Vegetarian diet is balanced and provides all nutrients. Milk includes vitamin D, Vitamin A, Omega 3 fatty acids EPA & DHA, calcium, and vitamin B 12. So far, they are no vegan food which can provide this is an adequate amount. Vegans must supplement their diet with vitamin pills, or they should take industrially grown sea algae.

Lastly, for children who need a high protein and fat in their diet, milk is the best alternative to breastfeeding. Coconut milk, soybean milk do not have vitamin D and omega 3 which are essential for the intelligence of the baby. Lord Krishna, as a child used to drink copious amount of milk and butter, which was one of the secrets of his strength and vigour.

Digesting milk becomes difficult we get old. Most adults in the world are lactose intolerant. They can take fermented milk products like yogurt, dahi, curd, kefir, and still reap the same health benefits. Many people are replacing cow's milk with soy milk. Soybean is can cause problems for the young. Soybean increases the hormone Estrogen and decreases testosterone. Men and women planning to have children should stay away from soybean as it is linked to infertility. Soy was never a big part of Indian cuisine. Japanese and Asians use it sparingly as a condiment, and not as main food. Asian cultures consume fermented soy products which are easier to digest.

4. Animal Health :

Vegan groups like PETA have raised awareness about the inhuman treatment of animals. The modern food industry treats an animal in closed confined spaces feeding antibiotics, hormones, and grains till they are slaughtered. Many Hindu vegans point out that by consuming meat and milk, one is supporting animal cruelty which goes against the modern Hindu value of Ahimsa.

But the maltreatment of animals is a human choice. In traditional Indian homes, before overpopulation and industrialization, many families used to have their cow or buffalo. They used to take care of it as a family and drank its nutritious milk. I personally buy milk directly from farmers whom I trust. I have personally visited their farms to ensure that the cows are treated with the utmost care and compassion. Biologically, a cow can produce more milk than needed for the calf and support few families. However, excess milk production is terrible for the health of any mammal including the cow. Milch cows have a shorter lifespan and die earlier than cows not commercially milked.

But on the other hand, a vegan diet requires more agricultural products which come at the expense of clearing the jungles, damming the rivers, and burning fossil fuels. When a forest is converted for agriculture, all the trees and native plants are killed to make room for the single species of corn, bean, wheat or rice. All birds, insects, and animals die because of the loss of habitat. Thus vegans eating grains are also indirectly eliminating deer, peacocks, monkeys, swans, owls, etc. because the agricultural land growing grains can no longer support these lives.

When we talk about cows, we forget that cows are a domesticated female species of the bovine family. The original ancestors of domestic cows were called Aurochs which roamed the Eurasia for 2 million years. They were first domesticated around 12 thousand years ago in Turkey and then spread across the world. Only the domesticated form-'Cow' survives today, and all the wild cows or Aurochs are now extinct from excessive hunting and loss of habitat like many other wild animals. Every year many wild species are becoming extinct or getting endangered because of the loss of habitat.

In summary, a diet is a personal choice. Our dietary requirement changes depending on our daily work requirement and our stage of life. Newborn, children, pregnant and lactating mothers, professional athletes, soldiers have a higher requirement on protein. A vegan diet is unsuitable for them. However, others choosing vegan for spiritual reasons can get by using B12, Calcium, Iron, D3, and Omega 3 supplements. For a more natural diet, vegans will do better by adding ghee to their menu which will eliminate the need for pharmaceutical supplements. Lastly, eating and sharing food is a communal process which keeps families together, and fosters friendship. In the bigger picture, it is more important to be a kind, compassionate and p righteous than fuss over the minutia of dietary restrictions.


References :

Article by Kumudh- 5 Reasons Why Hindus should become Vegan
https://vegnews.com/2017/9/5-reasons-hindu-vegetarians-should-go-vegan

Animal Sacrifice in Hinduism
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Animal_sacrifice_in_Hinduism

Asvamedha Yagna Practice :
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ashvamedha

Gandhi Research Foundation :
http://www.gandhifoundation.net/about%20gandhi5.htm




 



Dr. Panchajanya 'Panch' Paul, MD, ABIHM, ABPN, FAPA - is an American Board certified - Child, Adolescent, and Adult Psychiatrist. He is a diplomat of the American Board of Integrative and Holistic Medicine, and a Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association. He holds an adjunct faculty position at Emory University School of Medicine; University of Georgia, and University of Central Florida School of Medicine. Call 7704541252 or email georgiapsychiatry@gmail.com to schedule an appointment with Dr.Paul at Georgia Behavioral Health Professionals. He is also the author of 2 books- Stress Rescue and Sleep Coaching available at Amazon.
 




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