At a recent yoga class a student arrived wearing a black t-shirt that said in bold: Vegan. I later saw the same person passing in the street carrying a canvas bag printed with the word Vegan. It was an immediate turn off for me, even though I am now a vegan, an ahimsa vegan.
Back in the 2007, when the RSPCA killed our cow Gangotri, I campaigned against their policy of killing sick and abandoned animals, in both the UK and India. We received international coverage and ultimately substantial gains were made. While I worked hard on the campaign, my wife, Madhavi, just became a vegan. Her rational was, ‘milk is blood’ full stop. I argued, that as followers of our guru Srila Prabhupada and Lord Krishna our relationship with dairy and cows is not something we can turn away from. After all if we offer their products, especially when bought in supermarkets, cows destined to suffering and slaughter will be benefited. She wasn’t convinced; she was now a vegan with little trust, even in our own Hare Krishna farms.
As the years passed, challenges to the notion of benefitting cows in slaughter by offering their products grew in number, but I stood by it. After all subji without paneer and pizza without cheese, I mean, what kind of world would that be? However, deep inside I felt unease, an unease at the thought that I was purchasing milk from the butcher—in effect. Still, I held out.
In November last year I received a call from the BBC. They wanted my opinion on the use of tallow or animal fat in the new polymer bank notes. A controversy had sprung up and vegans and vegetarians had launched a petition against the new notes. Within days I was speaking to multiple media groups stating strongly that the use of tallow was against our faith and ethics, thus it undermined the very principle that currency should be acceptable to all.
Following the initial interviews, the question of our temple’s acceptance of the polymer £5 note hit me hard. How could we be against the notes ethically while accepting them in donations, especially at our Goshala, cow protection farm. The very fat of a cow, being donated in notes for cow protection, that was complicated. I pushed for banning the polymer notes at Bhaktivedanta Manor. The proposal received a very mixed reception, but within two days we had banned the note, and that was noted in the media.
The sense of ethical accomplishment did not last long, as devotees responded on social media with endless question, disagreements and challenges. Vegan friends came to visit, hounding me about my consumption of dairy derived from organic and inorganic sources. Banning tallow while supporting the industry of cow slaughter by my purchases and devotional rationalisations was a conflicted position. Was I drinking milk meant for a calf? Would Krishna accept my offering of milk when the cows were raped, killed and slaughtered? Did he, being God need such dairy? If a calf had to be killed so that I may have milk, would I kill it myself? I felt like I was in the ring with Mohammad Ali, knocked out in the first round. I retreated to my room, a small sanctuary at home to agonised over my dilemma. Tallow had come in currency and now my moral currency was dropping in value like the great Wall Street crash. Days passed, it was over and I emerged a vegan, without the t-shirt and bag.
It is now September of 2017, almost a year since I made the choice. I have no hankering for cheese and paneer et al. If dairy is not from an ISKCON Goshala, I will not be implicated. When offered prasad (food) containing dairy from Goshala cows, I naturally feel like offering prostrations to it before accepting it. What it takes to produce such dairy is no small endeavour. It is a priceless gift to us. I don’t accept prasad containing any other form of dairy. I will never offer dairy for which calves lost their lives and their mothers and fathers were kept in indescribable suffering only to be immanently slaughtered. Any other such rational is an investment in the butcher as opposed to Lord Krishna’s protected cows. It is an investment that will forever kill the establishment and sustenance of what ISKCON’s founder Srila Prabhupada envisioned for global cow protection. In the past we were on a moral high ground being vegetarians, I am now afraid that is no longer the case.
Jan 22, 2023
Bhaktivedanta Institute for Higher Studies