Beef Has Hurt Freedom Far More than any Beef-Ban

The pro-beef lobby has been incredibly oblivious to the devastating role that the demand for beef has played in human history.

The discussion about beef in most of the major Indian media outlets (and their colonial cousins in London and elsewhere) has been incredibly oblivious to the real questions surrounding the choice to kill animals in general and cattle in particular for human consumption. Typically, major English language news channels, magazines, and newspapers have presented the issue as nothing more than an infringement on the freedom of citizens to eat what they want.

This notion of infringement seems to have been doubly tweaked so as to please two ends of the beef-eating spectrum. On one end, celebrities and aspirational lifestyle figures have lectured us on how we natives (or they might have said “nativists”) are trampling like medieval despots on the modern, enlightened glitterati who would just rather eat whatever they feel like. On the other end, activists, academics, and politicians are screaming outrage at what they see as upper-caste Hindutva elites imposing their hegemony on the poor subaltern Indian’s cheap protein. Rich and poor, it seems, have been wronged here.

But underlying this terribly (and self-servingly) two-faced but one-sided debate is the real issue no one in the major media outlets has talked about. The real issue around beef is not choice, taste, diet, and nutrition, but simply violence. Protesting a ban on beef, after all, is not like protesting a ban on wearing yellow knickers or jumping up and down on the road. It cannot be caricatured as a ban on some frivolous or harmless sort of liberty.

Insisting on the right to eat beef (or meat, more generally too), is at its core really an insistence on the right to inflict suffering on a living, sentient being for the sake of our pleasure.  I know that saying this makes many of us feel judged. But it is not something that an intelligent society, a society that has worshipped intelligence and wisdom for millennia, can skip out of at this time in history.

As I discuss in my new book Rearming Hinduism, what our elders and gurus keep telling us in simple, seemingly simplistic terms about Gau-Maata represents perhaps the last line of defence before a juggernaut of violence in history that has devoured not only the cows that the Secular-Left doesn’t care about, but also the poor, the marginal, and the silent majority of human beings they profess to care so much about.

I don’t know if the poor will be deprived of their protein because of the beef ban, but the truth is that hundreds of millions of peoples’ lives have already been destroyed in the last few centuries as a consequence of beef.

Take the following examples.

1)   European Colonialism: The colonization of the world by Spain, Portugal, England, France and other European powers in the last five centuries was one of the most devastating forms of conquest in history for the simple reason that most of the world is still struggling to recover from it. How did it come to be? Was it the mere urge of riches in the Indies, or something more specific? We know that the quest for India and the spice trade was one of its major motivations. But why spices, was it only for their value? According to Jeremy Rifkin, the period before European expansion and colonialism was marked by a huge increase in meat and particularly beef-consumption in parts of Europe, and in the era before refrigeration, spices were the only way they could really disguise the smell and taste of rotting meat.

2)   The Irish Potato Famine: We know that Ireland was destroyed by the potato famine. According to Rifkin, the potato-monoculture was precipitated by the overgrazing of lands by cattle destined to be slaughtered for beef.

3)   The Native American Dispossession and Genocide: Most schoolchildren in America today are aware about the injustice done to the Native Americans by the European “settlers.” But was it only a land issue? We seldom stop to think about why, exactly, the settlers wanted so much land. The answer, once again, is beef. The early wave of conquistadors, missionaries, and settlers turned South America into a vast grazing land for their cattle. Rifkin describes how there was so much cattle walking around at one time that people used to kill and take whatever bits of meat they wanted, leaving carcasses to lie around and rot across the land. In what is now the United States, the British and US beef business had a direct interest in clearing the land of Native Americans and the native buffalo so that their own commercial cattle could be brought in. In a few short years, the “cowboys” massacred perhaps millions of these great, majestic beings, sometimes from specially scheduled trains that went out into the plains and paused wherever the great hordes of buffalo could be seen. Without their buffalo, the Native Americans too became dependent on the settlers, and lost their freedom, land, and in many cases, their lives too.

4)   Slavery and Exploitation of Workers: The beef zamindars of South America pretty much brought in a system of slave and near-slave labor to support their business. Then, when the industrial revolution came to America, it was once again the beef industry that remained at the center of some of the most inhumane and exploitative working conditions humanity had witnessed (such as the meat-packing factories we read about in Upton Sinclair’s classic The Jungle). The first big industry to use assembly line techniques with all its debilitating effects on workers was apparently the meat-packing industry centered in Chicago in the early 20th century. We don’t realize it, but in many ways beef was to America then what the oil industry has been more recently: the force which seemingly drives everything.

5)    Globalization, Fast Food and the Present: It is one of the most tragic ironies of our time that while concerned citizens in the West are desperately trying to move away from the environmentally devastating and exploitative fast food-burger culture, our idea of being good citizens in India seems to be blindly advocating for greater dependence on a truly pernicious and socially and environmentally costly form of dietary pleasure. Books like Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation have shown us how the seemingly cheap burger that is consumed by so many around the world actually carries a crippling price-tag. Beef is the most energy-intensive form of meat to produce, and forests, farms, land, water are diverted just for its sake. Its impact on climate change is also said to be very worrying. And yet, here we are in India promoting the argument that somehow what has been historically one of the most politically, socially, and environmentally irresponsible choices of food is a great and noble cause.  

It is my sincere hope that all those who hold the cow dear and sacred, and have resisted the callous propaganda of Macaulayite education and McDonald’s advertising, will find in these facts the conviction to refute the shallow and ignorant arguments of our day. It is important however to not ignore the concerns of the people who might be affected by a quick and sudden step like a ban, and perhaps the concerned activists and NGOs can work with them to ease them into less violent and unsafe livelihoods.

But the heart of the matter is still only this.

For several thousand years, Indian civilization held one line dear to its heart, even though it has had to concede several others. It stood stoic as people came from far and wide, from places so removed from history that they did not recognize that human beings could live without taking a single animal life for food. Today, after centuries of colonization, we have forgotten much of our own wisdom, believing in the propaganda of the less fortunate. We must therefore stop, think, and decolonize further. We must look sharply at the stories we are being told about diet, nutrition, evolution, animals, and life itself, and learn to critique them accurately and effectively.

We may not be able to dictate vast changes in heart or policy immediately, but we must learn to view things as they are, and not what a deluded imperial propaganda system has told us for several centuries now, first as pseudo-religion, and then as pseudo-science.

In the end, if your heart seems to tell you that a cow’s eyes are looking at you as a mother would at a child, or indeed as the Mother of the Universe would at all of us, remember that this is no sentimental superstition, but a deep truth the universe has preserved somehow in you. Believe it, know it, and speak it.

References and further reading:

Eric Schlosser (2002). Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All American Meal. New York: Harper Perennial.

Florian Werner (2011). Cow: A Bovine Biography. Vancouver: Greystone.

Jeremy Rifkin (1993). Beyond Beef: The Rise and Fall of the Cattle Culture. New York: Plume.

Tristram Stuart (2006). The Bloodless Revolution: Radical Vegetarians and the Discovery of India. New York: Harper.

Vaclav Smil (2012). Should We Eat Meat? Evolution and Consequences of Modern Carnivory. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell.

Dr. Vamsee Krishna Juluri is a professor of media studies at the University of San Francisco and the author of Rearming Hinduism (www.rearming
  • Prashant S.

    Dr. Juluri, well expressed.

    A Meat eating culture has been introduced into the Indian consciousness with devastating consequences. Visits to restaurants show an ever decreasing set of options for Vegetarians. The limited vegetarian choices available mimic non-vegetarian food: eg paneer kebabs, hare-bhare kebabs etc! It is as if vegetarian cuisine is being erased from the Indian public memory completely. In Durga Puja festivals, the glaring and increasing amounts of meat sold in the food stalls actually ought to offend the sensibilities of any satvik devotee of the Devi.

    Many of the ‘elite’ Hindus have forgotten the rationale of their way of life. Now they ape the memes of their erstwhile conquerors who still occupy their aspirational and mental mind spaces.

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  • mksharma62

    That way anything can be linked to anything else as cause or effect. Why just killing cows is bad, why not other animals too? And when you talk of not killing animals there are persons protesting don’t trees have life and how can you kill or steal from them? Also in history Aryans – and Brahmins among Aryans – too relished beef very much. However, as time passed, and they became settled agricultural population, they realized the mistake of killing cattle so useful for agriculture and dairy products and also the affectionate bringing up of those cattle created other loving sentiments. So it seems killing of cattle, especially cows, came to be detested and then banned gradually. However, to this day schedule castes do eat beef – but generally of dead cattle only or at least their occupational duty is to take custody of dead cattle, skin them, use the skin for leather products and then eat the flesh. Would this anti-beef eating operate against eating the flesh of dead cattle too? I also agree that gradually humans should shift to less violence-oriented food categories. I understand that in this high science and technology era, even artificial food products looking and tasting like mutton, chicken, etc.can be manufactured and are being done on small scale in some places even. So without lending or talking of so much aura for the cause of anti-cattle slaughter and making absurd arguments of such cattle slaughter being the cause of human genocides even etc., it would be better to think and act down to earth and without such high sentiments which generally lose rational thinking.

    • Jainesh

      Sir you have an utterly leftist perspective on what is passed off as history in India.

      There is no mention of beef eating anywhere among “Aryans” and “Brahmins” among “Aryans”.You have a brahmin surname one would expect better from you.

      First of all the aryan invasion theory is a myth.I leave it unto yourself to investigate it.

      Secondly,if you have an understanding about dharmshastra you’d know the grievous error of your views mentioned in first half of your reply.

      You can see some very informative comments on this board but I shall leave you with a couple of links

      • mksharma62

        Jainesh – see this link for example:

      • mksharma62

        Also don’t think me a protagonist of cowslaughter or non-veg food. This is what I wrote as comment about a video: “Really this is heartrending. As long as it is hidden, public don’t know about this cruelty to animals and think natural to eat meat as other animals eat their prey. But this is radically and horrendously different. So if not immediately, at least gradually, try to become vegetarian – that seems to me the best course. Also let society ban all such mass slaughter houses and artificial poultry farms etc. and only encourage country chicken and naturally grown animals even for meat eating.” See the video for yourself:

  • Rajalakshmi J

    Marine BEINGS like CRABS , FISH , TORTOISES & TURTLES are extolled in Tamil Hymn “மகர ஜலநிதி” (“வைத்த துதிக்கர” refers to Lord Ganesha who sustains them all).

    Large scale prawn fish farming is being done in Odisha ruled by WILY
    christian sympathizer patnaik as is done in banglAAAADesh aaaalso thus
    rendering paddy fields irredeemably STERILE to cater to certain rich
    fastidious palates in UK etc ( shobhaa des & kamalhassans AAALSO).
    Apparently BBC reporter brimming with affection & llllove towards
    banglAAdeshees said this helps them to make lots of dollars. So they
    WILLINGLY chose this. Let them EAT dollars.

    The same Odisha’s Patnaik along with Amar Singh jayapradha’s beau
    ate roasted PHEASANTS & lot more non vegetarian food along with
    phoren alcohol in one of their chintan baitaks ( brain storming think
    tank pow wow).

    Apropos the jinxed “Sethusamudram blah blah” mooted by
    dmk , tr.balus , dk , communists , congress , the flotsam & jetsam
    who are their steadfast supporters among aam janata often pounding away , pounded , pound away
    CRAP as comments scream in high decibels :-(sic) ” all against
    பகுத்தறிவு….கட்டுக்கதை….இராமர் என்று ஒருவர் எந்த நூற்றாண்டில்
    பிறந்தார் …( all superstitions , mythologies …did Lord Ramar really exist…where is His civil engineering degree என்ன proof….( all came from dmk karunanidhi) we are sssso muchhh advAANced today planning
    to colonize Mars …அன்றே பெரியார் (EVR the “rationalist”) சொல்லிவிட்டார் many will get
    employment , thorium is cheaper to make nuclear bombs . ships will sail ,
    export & import ….india becoming soooperpower ” in tandem with
    sending all our Cows & Calves MERCILESSLY to bangladesh &
    slaughter houses all over wannabe soooperpower india.

    dmk was ROUTINELY allowing smuggling of Milch cows , pregnant cows for
    SLAUGHTER by keralite non vegetarians . Who made more money by smuggling
    the same Cows & calves to bangladeshi BEEF eating populace.
    Communists have always wholeheartedly approved of slaughter of COWS
    & CALVES. congressis also.

    Breathtakingly authentic descriptions of verdant LUSH greenery abound in தமிழ் ஆன்மிக
    ஸ்லோகங்கள் , பதிகங்கள் , காவியங்கள் Tamil Spiritual Hymns , Puranas & Epics)
    As if we stood by affectionately watching Cows & Calves grazing like Lord Krishna
    we are sssso compassionate forever killing Elephants that come seeking
    water to slake their thirst.

    Leopards ,
    Elephants , Tigers , Ebola Virus , Dengue Musquitoes do not salivate
    for anushka sharmas , aishwarya rais OBSCENE posterior gyrations. . it
    is the sole prerogative of indian IDIOTS.
    Do we not often read ” அங்கு பசு சிவலிங்கத்தின் மேல் தன்னிச்சையாக நிதம் பால் சுரக்கும்……” ??
    the entire nation , leela samson , supreme court applauding bollywood
    சும்பநிசும்பர்கள் who unwrap a பீடா ( paan) slapping the areca nut reddish
    paste on ….?? I am referring to pk movie made by vidhu vinod chopra starring amir khan.
    This is going to be remade in kollywood also with kamalhassan.

    Suddenly Tamil Nadu’s IAS Officer called Sahayam found to his horror missing wells , missing ponds , rivers , missing Granite ……in Madhurai.

    For this alleged missing granite blah blah why not accept with the same
    broad minded humanistic attitude ….ssso many have benefitted by
    building …by exporting….so many who imported also benefitted …live
    & let live …..humanistic approach….anyway we are all planning
    to colonize Mars why worrrrRRRY over what is happening here??
    In Mars also the same good for nothing kollybolly cretins would be coming
    up with same kitschy worthless drivel. I am sure this would gladden the
    good for nothing indian minds.
    Who would take loans from indian banks to book tickets for one way travel to Mars.
    Very important – என்ன proof… all this granite quarrying happened…all கட்டுக்கதை
    hearsay…..bring your பகுத்தறிவு DEVIL பெரியார் to investigate & decide.

    For our Maker everything is ONE Homogenous Whole. Our Maker does not divide like Andhra Pradesh , Tamil Nadu ,
    Maharashtra , Kashmir & so on.

    Today ” cleaning of Holy Ganges ” is being advertised by bjp & youngistan.

    A Vedic Priest told me:- ” I have never heard more arrogant words spoken….more Hubris filled attitude….how can anyone clean Holy Ganges…She is always HOLY. Beyond pollution….it is the people today who are overwhelmingly UNHOLY…..”.

  • Rajalakshmi J

    As usual the intellectual opium eaters of india including CHO Ramaswamy ( nowadays he falters to my chagrin ) have decried this BAN on cow slaughter & beef export . consumption by shedding faux tears for goats , fish etc etc.

    COWS are far far superior to even humans. This is emphatically said by Kaanchi Paramacharyar.

    I do not endorse eating / killing of fish , sheep , deer etc. Like many vegetarians.

    However today animals like Lions , Tigers , Cheetahs , Leopards that feed on deer , sheep etc are almost extinct.
    India should have paid lot more attention to chaotic mismanagement &
    lack of SYNERGY within India. Which has affected farmers very adversely.
    Tamil Nadu for instance running after easy money has long been zealously planting babool trees .
    have caused alarming depletion of groundwater & desertfication. In
    tandem with that our few lions , tigers , leopards get shot at by
    allegedly ahimsaic us the people.
    And Tamil Nadu in Thirunelveli had
    the temerity to set up one deer park also. These deer have gobbled up
    lots of Banana Trees. And thus the farmers are helpless.

    Did we
    learn anything at all from the Roman Empire that entertained itself with
    gladiators pitted against lions transported from forests which led to
    the proliferation of deer that ate up all greenery causing arid area
    called DESERT??

    Birds are supposed to eat a variety of fish. Whereas indians are busy championing the cause of “fishermen”. Fishermen can “reinvent” themselves by turning to extensive Horticulture , Agriculture , Afforestation. Instead modi & his bjp promoted this fishing calling it “blue revolution”.

    Crows , Vultures , Sparrows almost all of them have dwindled in India. Vultures are extinct. No wonder rats & bandicoots have proliferated.
    Snakes that keep these under check are ruthlessly KILLED. Very recently in states like Orissa (odisha) & Andhra Pradesh certain farmers finding one of their goats “missing” at once went as a mob & KILLED a Python suspecting it to have swallowed their “goat”. Pythons are already “endangered” in India. Even if they eat a goat or any animal we the people have NO right to hold them guilty & attack them.

    Lots of Bears routinely get beaten to death by violent people of india. One Bear hungry from starvation in southern India had eaten a SINGLE jackfruit without creating a mess asking for gingelly oil , knife , gloves etc. At once the farmer attacked the Bear & law enforcers put the Bear in a cage , photographed & the indian newspapers screamed ” this is the bear that STOLE & ATE the jackfruit of a farmer”.

    One IIT student / wannabe engineer jumped into the enclosure of two White Tigers in Madhya Pradesh growling & making obscene gestures. They got so scared went & hid themselves deep inside . Think
    about it. God WILLING had this dangerous hindu been mauled by the
    Tigers , entire india would have screamed & mourned bemoaning the
    death by crying “aiyo aiyo electronic communications engineer the
    architect of wannabe sooperpower indiaaa that india which discovered
    ZERO ….that india which gifted Ramanujan to the world…… boooo
    hooooo is no more….arrest the Tigers & (sic) kill them as they are
    man eaters.”

    Why do we still refer to Lions , Tigers & Leopards as “wild animals” ?


    Honourable Jayalalithaa arranges for drinking water supply for animals
    in drought hit areas why does this demented alcoholic vijaykanth an ally
    of bjp carp finding fault with her RARE compassion & sensitivity ??

    Sometime back someone published a photograph of a crow’s nest built in
    the crook of an arm of some statue of Indira Gandhi in Kolkata. This
    spurred the merciless authorities into simply killing all the fledgeling
    birds & destroying their nest.

    This is the country that tirelessly preens how Valmiki’s Ramayana
    originated ; how King Paari left his very chariot for a jasmine creeper
    to spread & flourish & so forth.

  • Rajalakshmi J

    This is a must read for all.

  • vpnc

    there was an article on rediff a couple of weeks back about how not eating beef had made india weak as a nation. it might be true in the past where people fought each other physically and body size counted (but even then historically hindus apart from the Spanish are the only people to have militarily subdued islam). but no more. in this age of high tech weapons and body armour etc, being big increases the chance of getting killed by 30%. smaller but well trained soliders are likely to be more successful than their bigger counterparts. and the four maamis who were the scientists pictured in the success of the mangalyaan can cause infinitely more mayhem and devastation than any beef eating jihadi.

  • Hegelman

    Just eat pigs instead. Case closed.

  • m p

    Giving up beef will reduce carbon footprint more than cars, & feed 159 additional persons, says expert

    “The heavy impact on the environment of meat production was known but the
    research shows a new scale and scope of damage, particularly for beef.
    The popular red meat requires 28 times more land to produce than pork or
    chicken, 11 times more water and results in five times more
    climate-warming emissions. When compared to staples like potatoes,
    wheat, and rice, the impact of beef per calorie is even more extreme,
    requiring 160 times more land and producing 11 times more greenhouse


  • P. B. Josh

    As per American food agency USDA’s data, if Americans cut down just ten per cent of beef from their daily intake, enough grain could be saved to feed 62 million people.

  • lotuspond

    Sri Vamsi Gaaru ..namo namah

  • Keshav Jain

    Thank you sir…. never analysed history from this perspective

  • pradeep

    What a great article sir.. Indeed i have learnt real piece of history..

    By this i will try my best to shut the mouths of other who indulge in brain less arguments..