Why I would not advocate vegetarianism

Meat eating is not the key issue, it is the amount that is consumed and the manner in which it is produced. This is where India differs.

By Sunita Narain
Last Updated: Monday 26 November 2018

Recently at the release of our book First Food: Culture of Taste, which discusses the link between biodiversity, nutrition and livelihoods, I was asked a question. “Why do you not, as an environmentalist espousing the cause of traditional and local diets that are sustainable, condemn meat eating? After all, meat production is bad for climate—agriculture contributes roughly 15 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions and half of this comes from meat production. It also has a huge footprint in terms of land and water consumption since an estimated 30 per cent of the world’s land not covered with ice is used to grow food, not for humans but for livestock. A 2014 University of Oxford study on British diets found that meat-rich diets—defined as eating more than 100 g of meat per day per person—emitted about 7.2 kg of CO2 per day as compared to 2.9 kg of CO2 emitted by vegan diets. So, figuring out the sustainable diet should be a no-brainer, I was told.

I differed. As an Indian (I underline Indian) environmentalist I would not advocate vegetarianism for the following reasons. One, India is a secular nation and the culture of eating food differs between communities, regions and religions. This idea of India is non-negotiable for me as it reflects our richness and our reality. Two, meat is an important source of protein for a large number of people, hence critical for their nutritional security.

Thirdly, and this is what distinguishes my Indian position from the global, meat eating is not the key issue, it is the amount that is consumed and the manner in which it is produced. A recent global assessment, for instance, finds that Americans on an average eat 122 kg per year per person and Indians 3-5 kg per year per person. This high meat consumption is bad for health and the environment. In fact, the average American consumption of meat is 1.5 times the average protein requirement.

It should not surprise us that the bulk of the 95 million tonnes of beef produced in the world comes from cattle in Latin America, Europe and North America—all produced with extremely high environmental impacts. Meat production in the developing world is very different, says this assessment by the International Livestock Research Institute, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation and the International Institute for Applied System Analysis. Here livestock subsists largely on grasses and crop residue.

But the most important reason I, as an Indian environmentalist, would not support action against meat is that livestock is the most important economic security of farmers in our world. Indian farmers practise agro-silvo-pastoralism, that is, they use the land for crops and trees as well as for livestock. This is their real insurance system, not the banks. Livestock is also not kept by large meat businesses but by big, small, marginal and landless farmers. It works because the animals have a productive purpose: first, they give milk and manure and then, meat and leather. Take that away and you will take away the base of economic security of millions in the country, greatly impoverishing them.

In India, livestock is the most important economic security of farmers. Indian farmers use the land for crops and trees as well as for livestock. This is their real insurance system, not the banks. Livestock is also not kept by large meat businesses but by farmers.

Let’s get the facts straight. In the past, cattle were kept for draught purposes. In the 1980s, the late N S Ramaswamy, the country’s only expert on animal energy, had calculated that the installed capacity of 90 million work animals was equal to the installed capacity of the electric power in the country. All this changed with mechanisation. By 2000, livestock was primarily kept for milk. This is why the males of cows and buffaloes have drastically reduced in each livestock census. Males are now roughly 28 per cent of the total cattle population. Their main purpose is breeding. But cows and buffaloes give milk for seven-eight years of their 15-20 years of life. Farmers use this productive phase for the birth of calves and for milk sale. Maintaining animals is not cheap. My colleagues have calculated that if the animals are fed properly and looked after well it costs about Rs 70,000 per animal per year. This is why farmers need options to take care of the animals not producing milk. Or they will have no options but to leave the animal stray, to eat the plastic cities throw away and die.

This is why I would not support a ban on meat or leather. By doing this we are literally taking away half the potential income the livestock owner possesses. It is stealing from the poor, nothing less. Just imagine if government entered our homes and took away half our assets or made them valueless. What would we say? Banning meat is cruel demonetisation.

But I also understand that religious sentiments are strong. These demand that cattle (not buffalo) should not be killed. In this case, the answer is to buy back each cow from the farmer, build large gaushalas that can take care of them and find ways of dealing with the remains so that even after death, no product is sold or used. The answer is not militant vegetarianism. The answer is definitely not vandalism and violence.

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  • Well argued article. Only when those who are against beef solve the problem of stray cows they have a moral and religious right. Or now there is technology to differentiate between cow meat and Buffalo meat. Why then not allow Buffalo beef. And allow beef from neighbor countries. That way we can respect religious sentiment as well as support food rights of a majority of Indians.

    Posted by: Benedict | 3 years ago | Reply
  • I beg to differ from Sunita Narain not from a religious, cultural or traditional point of view. I speak solely as a humane being who believes that there is no rationalisation for the needless slaughter of innocent, harmless animals. They have the right to walk this Earth like we do, and killing them to cater to our taste buds is wrong. No reason given can support the abuse and slaughter they undergo at human hands. It is wrong. So very wrong.
    Eminent physicians from the developed countries have been advocating a vegan diet for health, environmental and humane reasons. No human being has died to date of a protein deficiency as we get enough proteins from eating fruit and vegetables. The elephant, hippopotamus and the gorilla are the strongest animals and they are herbivores. Does one wonder where these animals get their protein from?
    A vegan diet has even been found to reverse symptoms of cancer and heart disease. For those who scoff at this please watch the following documentaries, 'Cowspiracy', 'Earthlings' and 'What the Health' among many others. You will understand where I come from. After going vegan my cholesterol level has plummeted. If you want to lead a healthy, compassionate life - one that causes the least amount of harm - then please go vegan. It is the best thing you can do.
    The animals on this planet were not made for us. They were created for their own reasons. We have no right to murder them. And there is no excuse for murder. None whatsoever.

    Posted by: SHOBA NAIR | 3 years ago | Reply
    • I completely agree with you SHOBA NAIR. Very sad how the author has compared living beings to assets and economic value. I really doubt the number of Rs.70000 per animal per year. Just put it to justify to kill the animal. I am not arguing about food habits but killing animals just because they are not economical is not justified. In our country which is cherished for its principles of non violence , killing is unacceptable. Let us bring compassion before economics.

      Posted by: Sudeep | 3 years ago | Reply
    • Well said!!! Now, that was worth reading. Also Vegan, 30 years.

      Posted by: Sandy Waldrop | 3 years ago | Reply
      • I guess your idea about vegetarianism is far from reality. Vegetarianism is not about eating only vegetables, it is about causing no or least cruelty to animals; it is about non-violence towards animals. Vegetarianism is about giving animals their right to live, at the same time keeping humans safe from many deadly diseases due to harmful pathogens contained in meat. The way animals are tortured before being slaughtered is an inhuman act. Vegetarianism is about using services of animals such as milk, wool, draught power etc. and live together, concept of give and take, kind of symbiotic relationship.

        Posted by: Satish | 3 years ago | Reply
      • Bingo, perfect reply.

        Posted by: Rajesh | 3 years ago | Reply
    • Hope you know the definition of the "Vegan" diet that you are professing. Vegans do not have milk, any dairy products, honey, eggs and anything else sourced from animals. In addition, vegans refrain from any leather, wool, fur and silk products. Please don't confuse "vegetarianism" with "veganism". There are hardly any vegans in India. I doubt you are one either. In my opinion, "vegetarianism" is nothing but hypocrisy!

      Posted by: LasVegan | 3 years ago | Reply
    • Beautiful Reply Madam.....i second ur opinion to the T.....bravo

      Posted by: Ramnath Iyer | 3 years ago | Reply
    • Well said, Shoba!

      Posted by: Pratyush | 3 years ago | Reply
    • I agree wholeheartedly.

      Posted by: Lisa | 3 years ago | Reply
    • I guess people like you who profess to be 'humane' must surely be walking around on bare foot with plastic/cotton hand bags and terracotta wallets and so on for in case you or your household use any genuine leather products that's taken out of slaughtered animals (especially the livestock) then your 'humane' stand is in vain. Moreover, I suppose people like you don't take milk, eggs and other such animal products as well, as they are produced for their offspring and not for human consumption. In that case, I really salute you. Otherwise, your claims and justifications are pure hogwash. If animals in the planet were not made for us, you shouldn't be using any of their products in any way shape or form either as they didn't produce it for you but for their offspring.

      The meat habits of the West and India, as clearly stated in the article, are totally different. Meat forms the major share of any serving in a Western meal and surely the western style of meat consumption and meat production are bad and unsustainable. The case with India is different. Meat is only a side dish in our menu and do not form the major portion of our meal. Further, the meat production in western countries are inhumane and unscientific. Animals are literally tortured mentally and physically as all meat business are an industry in the West. In contrast, the beef industry in India is not really an Industry as in the western sense. Most of the livestock are rared in open field and they feed on greens. After their productive life, a farmer may sell it to a slaughter house. That's a natural cycle. Further, even in the natural cycle of life, even if you don't care to kill a cow/buff, it will be killed and eaten by other wild animals. That's the rule of nature. Of course, there are animals other than elephants, hippos that derive their proteins from other animals and not from grass and leaves. Man is an omnivore. So can get to taste both.
      Further, Beef is the most nutritious and tastiest of all read meats (Try and see). It's totally a misconception that everything about read meat is bad. If that was so, the world would have become extinct long ago.

      Finally, if the cattle lovers in India were really the lot who cared about cattle, at least they should have taken one of those thousands strayed on the streets to their home and fed them and cared for them. You will be doing a great favour to the poor animal that feed on plastics and paper as well as to the society by taking them out of the streets that create traffic congestion. In the absence of any of these measures, the viable option remain that these cattle after their productive lives go to the slaughter house.
      You have a case if I kill and eat your cow.. but you don't have a case if I eat a cow/buff sold by someone else especially when the likes of you care nothing about those thousands of stranded animals. Oh BTW, according to statistics there are at least a 1000 of them killed on streets run over by trucks. This has been in the news before. What's wrong if people kill and eat some of those which would other wise be run over and killed by trucks?

      Posted by: Man!l | 3 years ago | Reply
    • Completely disagree with you...

      Posted by: MnU | 3 years ago | Reply
  • Don't Agree fully. Most Animal Protein comes from 'factory' Chicken and Eggs so the argument that it provides security to farmers is questionable. It is perhaps true with reference to Beef and buff as presently it's just a by-product of milk industry and I would argue that beef consumption in India produces zero emissions on that ground alone.

    Posted by: Aditya Shekhar Malgaonkar | 3 years ago | Reply
  • Thoroughly analysed from economic, social, cultural and environmental perspectives. After seeing the statistics about environmental impact of meat consumption, I as a citizen who care about environment, was thinking the consequences if we advocate only for vegetarianism. This article actually gave a clear picture of how much to consume and what to care. Thank you

    Posted by: Gangotri | 3 years ago | Reply
  • Americans on an average eat 122 kg per year per person and Indians 3-5 kg per year per person. I appreciate your point, whereas India's population is too high than America if we compare 5/10 Indians= 1American, as well as America's majority of religion are Christian and India Hindu and a secular state.
    However, there are some Bpl who can't able to afford green vegetable or pulses rather cheap non - veg

    Posted by: Amol | 3 years ago | Reply
  • Thank you for your geniune and wonderful viewon this topic. I personally appreciate it and wil try my best to explain others when they ask about vegetarism and non vegetarism.

    Posted by: Minal Mulla | 3 years ago | Reply
  • I agree with several points from the human point of view, but where I disagree is the author's ignorant repetition of "I as an Indian environmentalist" - no, you're not talking as an environmentalist in all those paragraphs, and you have some confused notions of what an environmentalist thinks about and what a humanist thinks about. There's very little thought expressed on global problems and how India can be a part of the climate change solution, instead of just harping on and on about the west alone. It's not like only the western world will suffer the consequences. Am I right? I'm sorry to see that the editor of a publication makes poor arguments based on a self-supporting and inaccurate view of oneself as "an environmentalist".

    Posted by: A Reader | 3 years ago | Reply
  • Sorry but this woman is no environmentalist because if she was she would know that India, Pakistan and Bangladesh are some of the most high risk areas in the world when it comes to Climate Change. She would know that any region between 2500 miles from the equator will be hit the first and the worst. Yes! The countries that are closest to the equator will be hit first even though they didn't play a major role in creating this climate problem. Most of India lies well within the 2500 mile range, will be hit first and the ones to suffer the most will be the poor, the same poor who's economic interests Ms. Narian claims she wants to protect. I don't know how these poor are going to feed these animals when there is no water or food available to feed them due to Climate Change. What she's suggesting here is similar to Donald Trumps bring the Coal jobs back solution. What she should be presenting as a solution is that farmers be trained and encouraged to grow organic soy among other nutritious plant life. Soy provides 34grams of Protein per cup and in the longer run will be cheaper and more environmetaly friendly to produce. The quicker we make a tradition to no GMO high nutrition plant foods the better off we and the poor of our country will be. Now since she as a so called environmentalist considers herself an expert on health, I'll add my two cents as well but I won't make things up as I go along like she has, I will just quote the Cleveland Clinic and America's Cancer.Gov site when I say all method of high heat cooking or curing meat lead to the formation of carcinogens in meat. Since raw or uncooked meat is not hygienic and can not be digested by humans, it's safe to say we as humans that includes our poor, should not be eating any meat at all because ALL COOKED, CURED OR RAW MEAT is unhealthy. If she thinks it's better to have our poor have cancer than go hungry I would say I doubt they would see it that way if they knew the truth about meat. No environmentalist or basically anyone who cares about the poor of our country and the environment would propose we keep meat and dairy around especially when they know the environmental impact of the meat, diary and leather industry. The only solution is to transition to plant based sources of protein as soon as possible and to help our poor farmers with more robust methods of farming like hydroponics and indoor farming that don't require GMO seeds or pesticides. As for using culture and religion as an excuse to keep meat around, is religious sentiment going to protect us from whats coming as a result of Climate Change? Forgive me if I choose to have a less painful future on this planet for myself, my family and the rest of this country over protecting religious sentiments. If anyone has any questions about what climate change will look like, think Calcutta Floods or the current drought situation in Karnataka where people are fighting with animals for the same resources. Ms Narian's is a very short sighted stance and a step backwards when what we really need is a drastic move towards being more environmentally friendly.
    If we hit and maintain a 1.6C mean surface temperature on the Northern Hemisphere or above, whatever is remaining of the polar Ice Caps will begin to melt as will Greenland, this is the point of no return which will set of a chain reaction we will not be able to reverse or stop. We are currently at 1.14C mean surface temperature in the Northern Hemisphere. At whatever point we stop emitting green house gasses all together our climate will still heat up a little before it begins to cool. For example, we are at 1.14C in the northern Hemisphere if we stop now the temperatures will still rise for a few years, If we stop at 1.3C we may end up hitting the 1.6C mark but because we would not have added any more emissions to the environment for a few years prior the temperature will begin to cool sooner rather than later. If we stop at 1.5C or 1.6C the temperatures will continue to rise indefinitely to a point of total destruction of life as well know it. I'd also like to point out that Ms. Narian's numbers on how much the animals farming industry are off as it is now well established that Meat, dairy and Leather industry are the single largest contributors to climate change.

    Posted by: Nayomie Kapur | 3 years ago | Reply
    • Spot on, Nayomie. Thank you for advocating the change kind and empathetic people want to see in this world.

      Posted by: Shoba Nair | 3 years ago | Reply
    • Very well written, Nayomie!

      Posted by: Pratyush | 3 years ago | Reply
  • Did I misread?? Indian ENVIRONMENTALIST?? Is any one point discussed related to environment, "livestock" feelings? Their right to live? Meat is meat! It is FLESH of those who are just unfortunate to have been born less smart/intelligent than us. I do not support meat consumption AT ALL! And yeah, I am an Indian. And I respect all religions. But I respect animals too!

    Posted by: Akriti | 3 years ago | Reply
  • Sorry, disagree. The main issue is the murder and abuse that occurs to millions of animals daily. Innocent animals. We do not need animal protein. I am a vegan 30 years and completely healthy. Shame on you for not seeing what eating animals really is, Murder!!!!

    Posted by: Sandy Waldrop | 3 years ago | Reply
  • It is wrong to think that what we eat (as humans, not just as Indians or Europeans or Americans) does not affect us or our chances of survival.

    An environmentalist that is not vegan is an oxymoron, because it is the single most powerful and best thing you can do as an environmentalist to help the environment and promoting it (even if you don't do it).

    Here is the revered documentary Cowspiracy ( ) for anyone that wants to view it that has not seen it yet.

    Posted by: Eugeniu Sofroni | 3 years ago | Reply
  • Thanks for this analysis. I am concerned about the last paragraph though: "These demand that cattle (not buffalo) should not be killed. In this case, the answer is to buy back each cow from the farmer, build large gaushalas that can take care of them and find ways of dealing with the remains so that even after death, no product is sold or used."
    Who is supposed to pay for these gaushalas? If the answer is Government, why should my tax payer money be used to subsidize this when nature and the market economy has it well worked out? It will provide a bad incentive to buy cattle, use them while productive and then easily off load them once they are no longer productive.

    Posted by: Skeptical Empiricist | 3 years ago | Reply
  • Have you seen how inhumanely animals and birds areckept and transferred before killing? Do you know that boiling water is poured before slaugher to make the cow's skin come loose? If I killed your pet dog/cat how would you feel?
    The human teeth, gastric pH, ĺength of small intestine are like those of herbivores. Our kidneys have to work extra to get rid of toxins from meat - as seen in kidney disease and in the old when they can't take it anymore. What about v v high water wasted and ground water pollution?
    Try living next to an abbatoir, madam; see how nice your quality of life will be. Do you know that slaughtering is on of the riskiest occupations with highest injury rate?
    Veg diets are widely recommended in the West

    Posted by: Manas Chakravarty | 3 years ago | Reply
  • Most ridiculous argument ti keep torturing animals, keep spoiling the environment and ruining your health because it is done at a smaller scale. It is these people like Ms Narain who will serve to grow the cruel damaging animal agriculture industry in India into what it already is in the West. As meat eating grows so does cholestrol, cancer and heart attacks, greenhouse gases, environmental degradation and cruelty to poor screaming animals.

    Posted by: Vivek | 3 years ago | Reply
  • Mam, It is a very good article and an eye opener for all. Only, I do not agree with your religious sentiment part. A Government must be run by rational judgement and not by sentiment. Economic costs of running these proposed Gaushalas have not been taken into account. This proposal also defeats your central argument--the economic value of this livestock to the farmer--its meat and leather and of those who are employed in these businesses.

    Posted by: Jai Shankar Agarwala | 3 years ago | Reply
  • Completely agree with article. Going Vegan is a a western concept which is not suitable for Indian context.

    Posted by: Shakeeb | 3 years ago | Reply
  • Excellent blog! it is always an enriching experience to read your writings.. Ma'am you have nailed it! People (experts) who might disagree with you are far from reality...

    Posted by: Abhinav Goyal | 3 years ago | Reply
  • Not surprisingly, the factual optics of the article are skewed in favour of the author's point. Here are a few points that would make the debate balanced -
    1. Indian population is 4 times US population - That brings the total meat consumption (even by the author's number) of India at 20% of US.
    2. The year on year growth in meat consumption in India is increasing exponentially as the buying power also is increasing. So at the current estimated growth, it would not take India too long to reach US consumption numbers
    3. Culture has been used a fabric to shroud biases historically. Why not apply the diversity and culture filter to everything and accept the India we currently live in as is? I'm sure the Khap panchayat would say the exact same thing - "Our idea of India is non-negotiable for us as it reflects our richness and our reality"
    4. I agree that livestock is economic security in India - fair point. But then if we are going deviate from environmental issues into points on cruelty, why not then talk about the cruelty in the meat industry, diary industry? Is the concept of cruelty only applicable to humans?

    While I completely agree about not being militant about one's life choices. It's as important to make a balanced argument. The intellectual ability we have gives us enough power to make a convenient argument to put our conscience at ease and tell ourselves the lies we want to hear. But then I believe it is the inconvenient truth that'll set our future moral compass right.

    Posted by: Amogh | 3 years ago | Reply
  • You can't be an environmentalist and eat animals. That's called hypocrisy.

    Posted by: Jack | 3 years ago | Reply
  • This article is an extremely biased, one-way interpretation of distorted facts. Such qualified 'environmentalists' should be more responsible in voicing their personal and populist opinions in such reputed journals. The environmental, social and economic costs of the livestock industry are far more than the meager profits they generate for a limited population, more importantly for a developing and highly populous country like India. Silvo-pastoralism, the solution she has preferred is neither is a sustainable practice on a large scale nor even is considered as an option by Indian herders-large and small, the former because large scale production can only take place in factories, the latter just for the want of resources. Such justifications simply further endanger farmers and herders alike, who in many African countries have engaged and are increasingly going engage in conflicts for the competition over resources. The amount of arable land, water, etc are limited and shrinking unless you clear some patch of forest or grassland! The number of humans dependent on such resources is increasing, and humans 'needs' too, that is increasingly including the consumption of different types of meat (because of increase in the purchasing power of Indians) (which in Indian, Islamic, etc traditions was meant to be a luxurious food item). Other animals are produced in more numbers only to be fed in much larger quantities, only to be mercilessly killed. The shift to a plant-based diet is most revolutionary step that can be taken to save the environment.

    Posted by: Pratyush | 3 years ago | Reply
  • Comparison of the average meat consumption in US and India is illogical. In US more about 70% of the population are meat eaters, its exactly opposite in India. Any parameter for comparison if you divide it by 1.2 billion people it would reflect a small number. Such comparisons are misleading. Never expected it from Sunita and Down to Earth.

    Posted by: Tim | 3 years ago | Reply
  • A good rational view, I must say. Purely from a logical and scientifically based argument, what we need to realize is that the food chain or the pyramid keeps on changing over a period of time, depending on the need of the hour. Man has been meat eater since the beginning and the "poor innocent animals" being slaughtered is not a new thing. Yes there are some of us who feel strongly about it but then there are those who don't. It's about choices and using our resources in a responsible way. If a long term outcome of being a carnivore is negative, then corrective measures are needed. If not then the "humane" argument should not be forced down our throat. We are not humane enough for our fellow human beings, lets correct that first.
    And yes Religion is just a man made

    Posted by: Dr. Sushrut Pownikar | 3 years ago | Reply
  • I disagree. Animal protein is the known cause for many dreadful diseases. We humans were not designed to consume meat or milk. As an environmentalist we need to know that when we act against the rules of nature we face the consequences.
    The livestock industry is ruthless and inhuman. We can’t slaughter these helpless beings ourselves and therefore we appoint some poor farmer to do that for us, behind the closed doors. I strongly feel this will have impact on the minds of the workers working at the slaughter houses. They witness death and agony everyday.
    Meat consumption cannot be attached to religion and if any one is doing that it should be stopped. The world would be a better place if we respect the rules of nature. Change is difficult, might look ruthless at this moment but it should be bought in for the good of this planet.

    Posted by: A Vegan | 3 years ago | Reply
  • Overall I respectfully disagree with the author. There is no religion, caste or community above humanity. It is inhumane to eat meat solely for the purpose of getting protein, for this there are so many vegetarian options (soy for example). Having said this I do agree that some people are attached to meat eating for age old reasons and it is important to educate them on these points. Because people that eat meat can conveniently buy meat from the butcher shop or grocery store they are not aware of the atrocities committed against these voiceless innocent creatures. I am sure if you make people watch the videos of animal cruelty to produce meat then they will naturally get disgusted and get on the path to vegetarianism.

    Posted by: Shailendra Karody | 3 years ago | Reply
  • So the author's argument here is that as long as a less underprivileged group (economically poor humans) is involved in the exploitation of an (even more) underprivileged group (animals), we should let it continue. These kind of ideas are the very basis of discrimination of any kind, whether it is based on race, gender or species. Similar arguments have been made in the past to oppress other groups. E.g., a) Women should not work, otherwise who will take care of poor children at home, do you hate children? b) If we will free our black slaves, they will take up the jobs of poor white people, do you hate poor white people?

    People who are opposing veganism (or vegetarianism) are using the same arguments that sexists, racists or any other oppressor have used in the past to maintain the status quo and continue with their oppression. But history is evidence that moral ideas do ultimately win, and ultimately we will see a vegan world. However, in this case it may take long since animals can't fight for themselves.

    Posted by: Amit | 3 years ago | Reply
  • "he answer is to buy back each cow from the farmer, build large gaushalas that can take care of them "

    can you make an assessment on the economic cost of taking care of crores of cows ? This idea will fizzle out for complete economic unviability. We dont have enough water, land and money for crores of humans in india, where may i ask you will ever be able to take care of the greater chunk of the cows? You would have to divert much of the charity meant for human beings to taking care of cows.

    Give it 5 years, see how many cows are all over the place, and you will find that the cow vigilantes will suddenly change their posture.

    Except for the mental satisfaction of few who will build a couple of charitable gaushalas, which will close down in few years due to lack of funds unless it has rich religious benefactors. These gaushalas will not even take care of 5 % of total cow population.

    Just wanted to point out , otherwise its fine either ways for me. I am a vegetarian but would also like solutions which are practical and actually create well being for all , foremost in that list being humans and not animals.

    Posted by: Sidharth | 3 years ago | Reply
  • Ms Narain says: "I differed. As an Indian (I underline Indian) environmentalist I would not advocate vegetarianism for the following reasons. One, India is a secular nation and the culture of eating food differs between communities, regions and religions. This idea of India is non-negotiable for me as it reflects our richness and our reality. Two, meat is an important source of protein for a large number of people, hence critical for their nutritional security."

    One can see two obvious flaws in the stated position.First: The distinction between 'advocating' and 'imposing' is very important. The arguments forwarded by her delete to imposing vegetarianism. Seconfly, there is nomantion if the ethical aspects of killing and eating animals.
    The environmental aspects,of course,mare also of decisive importance.

    Posted by: Vir Narain | 3 years ago | Reply
  • Here's a response to this article...

    Posted by: Sailesh Rao | 3 years ago | Reply
  • A brilliantly sober, objective, logical and dispassionate piece of journalism -- a genre that is becoming endangered in the times we live in. Although I am not a habitual meat-eater, and can survive quite well on an entirely vegetarian diet, I question the right of others to seek to impose their will or their values on me regarding what I eat and drink, whom I socialise with, what I speak, read and write, and a number of other matters on which I increasingly find that I am sought to be bulldozed into a "national" cultural conformity and homogeneity.

    Posted by: Vivek Khadpekar, Ahmedabad | 3 years ago | Reply
    • You are absolutely correct. As a person protecting 35 desi cows at home, I confidently say that animals are not made for the convenience of men but they are made for them. It is the foreign culture which has perverted our innocent villagers that everything on this earth is for the benefit of man only. I am looking for a world order in which all living beings are taken care of and protected and given a decent living. The modern comforts will no more be our priority and we need to redefine the human achievements and purpose. I have left a comfortable city life and settled in my village since I realised this from Subhash palekkar. I am sure that as human beings, we need to conserve all living beings so that human life on this earth is sustainable. Thank you , Sri. Gopalji, for your post.

      Posted by: P. P. UNNIKRISHNAN | 3 years ago | Reply
  • A very materialistic perspective presented by the author lacking any emotional or moral standing.

    Any Life is as sacred. Life of a cow is dear to it in same way as life of a human being. You cannot take life if you cannot give life. Animals are not commodities provided by nature for us to enjoy the way we want..!!! Why kill if you can live without killing another animal? There are millions living on vegetarian / vegan food, so can others be as well.

    Please respect life and you will receive respect. The author's view is centered around a "Me only" world where other animals and creatures only exist for our pleasure and use. This is a highly selfish and corrupt view of world and its inhabitants.

    Posted by: SUNDEEP GUPTA | 3 years ago | Reply
  • Let us not forget that vegetarianism is mainly a cultural habit (generally of higher castes) and rarely a matter of choice. But this issue has come to the fore lately, due to the ban on beef in most states in India. Beef ban is a religious issue and not to be confused with being humane and all that. Millions of our cattle die of hunger, eating plastics and drinking all sorts of poison and i think that must be causing a lot of pain to the animals. They are a recurring traffic hazard in cities and towns and how many human deaths that causes is unknown. Yes, there is a need to find and enforce more humane and painless ways of slaughter, something like the electric chair for humans? Gaushalas are an un-viable idea. If there are some very rich people who are also humane, they could perhaps support some NGOs working with the dying and the destitute millions in our slums, first?

    Posted by: Vinay Tandon | 3 years ago | Reply
  • In reaching to that calculation what Sunita Narayan forgot to mention (1) size of Indian population in comparison to the Indian population when comparing per capita consumption and its environment impacts (2) Indian are genetically more prone towards diabetes and cardiovascular diseases and we live in a much hotter climate (3) the habits of cleaning, cutting the animals and disposing the waste are not regulated (NGT is trying to regulate lately). Some people support the freedom to eat everything then what about giving freedom to eat dogs, cats, horses and any other kind of possible meat and one should get freedom to openly display the dead animals across the streets for sale and throw the waste in the sewer. Of course, more people demand this freedom then going by the size of the population then it is going to be chaotic. Good luck for the intelligent people who selectively compare with west.

    Posted by: PP | 3 years ago | Reply
  • I support your position to allow meat consumption in India, and also the leather industry, because "Take that away and you will take away the base of economic security of millions in the country, greatly impoverishing them." Essentially, what you are saying is - environmental concerns do not have a veto power, and economic considerations can over ride environmental considerations. I fully agree. This is a welcome change in your perspective. Keep it up. Continuing on this line, do support other interventions also (viz. hydro-power, industry) because that too is equally essential for economic security of millions in the country.

    Posted by: Chetan Pandit | 3 years ago | Reply
  • Very practical and commendable viewpoint. Thanks a lot!

    Posted by: Dr Mainak Mukherjee | 3 years ago | Reply
  • If we really concerned about the economy of this country, we should promote quickly the project for interlinking all rivers. That alone will bring jobs for million people for about 10 to 15 years making the nation economy based on agriculture and promoting all related industries paving the way for a green circular economy.

    Posted by: Arivalagan Arumugam | 3 years ago | Reply
  • madam,
    you are wasting your time educating the bjp/rss type. If they are rational even at the minimum level, there is no rss or bjp. They are using meat to beat the muslims. i.e. 1/5th of the Indians. I am afraid, this is the beginning. let us see the rest in the next two years.(and now, mind you, one fellow bjp candidate in Malappuram is offering beef openly, if not free (e la NTR in AP, rice at 2)

    Posted by: C.a. Narayan | 3 years ago | Reply
  • I have read with interest Dr. Sunita Narain's editorial in DTE and all the responses, some of which had good points. At the outset, I wish that all of us are a bit more polite and a lot less militant than what some of the responses sounded.
    I think we should all "Live and Let Live"! Thank you Dr. Narain, Shoba, Nayomi Kapur, Sailesh Rao for your arguments. Cattle and poultry are a good part of our agrarian rural economy and small farmers are able to better survive droughts when they have these auxiliary activity.
    Again, some of the points you raise are relevant. However, there is too much mish-mash of religion, culture, majoritarian nationalism, minority appeasement. I think, none of these matter when it comes to survival and if the global warming and climate change go unchecked, most of Bangladesh, some Indonesian islands, most coastlines are in danger. The wars in the middle-east, Africa, former Soviet Union, the brewing unease in the S. China Sea, are major concerns and contributors to the global Carbon footprint (destruction of foliage, burning fossil fuels, use of chemicals, etc). add to all this America's new coal strategy, we're in trouble!
    In India, urbanisation is on a massive scale: arable lands and forest covers are fast disappearing and replaced by concrete jungles and black-topped roads for more and more and more cars, ...
    I hope CSE and other environmentalists (Sailesh Rao, etc) can provide us the current Carbon footprint numbers for wars, urbanisation, etc., and also come up with solutions on how to mitigate the climate change. That would be great.

    Posted by: Triceratops | 3 years ago | Reply
  • Living vegetarian is sustainable way of living.

    The facts put forth in the article are balanced yet protecting cows should never be related to religion only. Our ancient "gurus" were quite rational in defining any "rule", and to keep the rule protected they cleverly connected it with the "religion" / Dharma. ( For eg. Devraee)
    Dharma is "a way of living". Now look with this angle about protecting the cows, and you will find possitive answers with your self.
    In earlier days the economy was keeping its balance with farmers yield, overall population, less mix of different cultural people. ( read it as migrants) So keeping cows along with your farm give multiple benefits particular to farmers and in general to the society at large. Cows was treated as currency. Donating cow was symbolic of ones richness. We respect them as "mother"
    Cows produce milk, its helps in organic farming till end of her life, the manure can generate bio gas as energy, the bi-product of bio gas plant is fertilizer, animal form of energy and so on.
    Yes, farmer having cow is/was great economics, so one should protect them irrespective religion and politics.
    and going beyond any logical and balanced decision ( just to protects some one wasted interest / ego / money earning) will never be good for the society. Lets come together discuss the pros and cons, and make decisions which will be beneficial to the poorest of the society.
    Jai gomata !!

    Posted by: Atul RK | 3 years ago | Reply
  • Interesting post, as it can be reflected in richer countries. The question of eating meat is a privatel choice, which is to be open in a multicultural society. The question is more to reduce its consumption, not allowing waste. Now on farming a parallel can be drawn. Industrial European farms on the one hand are producing often poor quality in poor condition for the animals. On the other hand, local farms may produce high quality, either milk, cheese or meat, in good condition for the animal. This last production is to be associated with the perspective of reduced meat consumption.

    Posted by: Marc Darras | 3 years ago | Reply
  • Dear Ms. Sunita Narain,

    First make it clear that when you say meat you mean beef. Then your article is having some political direction. If not, the whole article is confusing. Nobody in India is insisting you and the other 60% population of the country who are meat eaters to stop eating meat. This being the case, then secularism does not find relevance with meat eating as majority of Hindus are also non-vegetarians. In our country,animals like sheep and goad and birds mostly cock and hen are reared by farmers for their meat/chicken. However, never were the farmers raising cows for their meat but for the milk they produce. Cows were not slaughtered at all and still there was no problem with old and unproductive cows. It is only after independence and for political reasons cow slaughter became an issue. I am a vegetarian and am happy with what I eat. If somebody had asked you the question about your eating meat and still talking of environment, they could have as well have asked you why you are using a motor car or a public transport based on oil for transport and still talk of environment. Actually environment advocacy has become an avocation for many people. They do preach but not practice because nobody wants to forgo the conveniences in life even when such conveniences degrade the environment. Probably this is the reason for you to have compared Americans and Indians in their meat eating habits.

    Posted by: H S Gopal | 3 years ago | Reply
  • " ... Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret is a groundbreaking feature-length environmental documentary following intrepid filmmaker Kip Andersen as he uncovers the most destructive industry facing the planet today – and investigates why the world's leading environmental organizations are too afraid to talk about it. Animal agriculture is the leading cause of deforestation, water consumption and pollution, is responsible for more greenhouse gases than the transportation industry, and is a primary driver of rainforest destruction, species extinction, habitat loss, topsoil erosion, ocean "dead zones," and virtually every other environmental ill. Yet it goes on, almost entirely unchallenged. ... " ... Explore More @ ...

    Posted by: Indranil Chakraborty | 3 years ago | Reply
  • " ... The balance of scientific evidence suggests that the healthiest way to eat is a vitamin B12-fortified diet of whole plant foods. ... Tip: If experiencing deficiency symptoms of Vitamin B12 (unexplained neurological, psychiatric, or developmental symptoms, & can result in paralysis, myelopathy, psychosis, or atherosclerosis), the best test is a urine MMA level (not serum B12 level) ... Attention should also be paid to these nutrients: Omega-3 Fatty Acids, Vitamin D, Calcium, Iodine, Iron, Selenium ... " ... Explore More @

    Posted by: Indranil Chakraborty | 3 years ago | Reply
  • I agree with the opinion that vegetarianism cannot pushed down somebody's throat in a country as diverse as India. Yes, religious sentiments should be respected. The cow is revered by a community, and it should not be killed for meat. As simple as that. But to enforce vegetarianism (which is overstepping the cow issue) through violence is absolutely wrong. Nobody should dictate the other what he/she should be wearing or eating.

    Posted by: Farid Siddiqui | 3 years ago | Reply
  • Have u asked the poor, innocent, helpless n harmless animals who r 4 their entire life r ill treated, caged, exploited, abused, tortured n tormented n eventually horrendously slaughtered àt the hands of humans 4 pure, unmindful, selfish n wrongful reasons.
    Our superiority does not permit us to we become the cause of their lifelong suffering n play no heed to their plight n living rights.

    Posted by: Sumit | 3 years ago | Reply

    Posted by: Nick Josh Karean | 3 years ago | Reply
  • The first part of the article is exposes the practical realities and economic realities. In the last part about gausahalas; there was a finding a few months ago about the poor condition of cows in Rajasthani gausahalas, due to lack of funding. So can you please explain on how these gaushalas should be funded?

    Posted by: Keshav Bhatt | 3 years ago | Reply
  • And here is the letter that tears the icon apart, and makes her look pretty plain! Agreed Sunita has a larger than life image, but regardless of her occasional posturing, she is part of the western scientific establishment, for whom 'ethics' has never been a major concern! they never cross the superficial walls of their acceptable norms of existence! :D their methodologies are always 'reductionist' and a holistic approach is still beyond her reach! :) not very deep!

    Posted by: Sandeep | 3 years ago | Reply
  • Shocked and surprised by your argument.

    1. Is secular fabric & culture more important to you that environment fragility? Culture should change with situation in hand

    2. Thank the stars that India culturally has a big section who are vegetarians. By your calculation, if our entire population of 1,339,040,095 people starts eating meat, and by your own scale, if they all eat 3-4 kilos per year ( reason for this low number itself is because of denomination of high veg population) then we will need to slaughter 7600000 cows butchered daily. ( Exports not counted) ... The total cow population has come down from 120000000 cows since independence to 330000000 ( reduced by 75%)... To meet the meat demand and to sustain exports India will need to deforest large hectares of forest land only to feed the greedy people. Water scarcity will increase. Poverty will alleviate. Cities will get congested.

    Unfortunate that you are an environmentalist.

    Posted by: Aswin | 3 years ago | Reply
  • Excellent and well-articulated article! Keep up the good work.

    Posted by: TRIDIB AND NEERU BISWAS | 3 years ago | Reply
  • Sometimes back, a video was posted on Facebook with the caption “Eat a Frog....While still alive”. Repugnant! isn’t it. I have seen videos of snakes being skinned alive and put in the frying- pan, writhing in pain, boiling live prawns and shrimps to be devoured as a delicacy, eating live ants to enjoy honey like substance in their body, roasting pigs alive as festivities. These examples can be multiplied ad infinitum. Nature has designed itself as a food chain based on the prey-predator model. Food chain demonstrates the fate of individual organisms in a particular habitat, since there are important differences between most plants and animals from the perspective of the organism that feed on them. Significantly, no plant or animal was, and still is, capable of producing food for itself by adding a new species, thus perpetuating the natural food cycle of transferring energy from one organism to another as prey- predator dynamics. But then, one day, the Homo-Sapiens evolved and graduated into Humans by innovating technologies to produce their own food. Human societies began to practice agriculture and domesticating plants and animals, allowing for the growth of civilisation, making a clean departure from other animals by shelving ‘cannibalism’, (broadly defined as animals eating other animals, the two generic divisions being plants and animals), liberating himself from the abhorrent food-chain, his new found humanism rechristened him as ‘animal- plus. Human beings who prefer to remain omnivores, should, at least learn from other animals, the lesser mortals: prey must not be subjected to unnecessary cruelty.

    Posted by: V P Jain | 3 years ago | Reply
  • Why can't people's food habits be left alone! Hindu extremists are killing human beings in the name of cows..that is unacceptable no matter the virtues of vegetarianism.Imposing food preferences using state violence & intimidation is becoming the norm in India..are we a democracy of the cows, for the cows & by the cows!! Why this obsession with what people eat by so-called animal lovers, vegetarians, & above all, Hindutva cadres. This was not the case a few years back..a poisonous politioco-religiosity ideology is infecting our society & most people are swept up in this fascistic fervour. I think India has more problems than dictating to people what they should or shouldn't eat irrespective of the justifications or beliefs.Narain is right that the 'idea of india' as a polity which respects diversity & different ways of life is at stake.

    Posted by: Nunae Kh. | 3 years ago | Reply
  • I am glad I stopped buying Down to earth products long ago. I realized you were fake environmentalist. This article just proves it. The entire world agrees that meat is bad for the environment. You are just a blatant liar. Meat in India is as commercial as Western countries especially Chicken and eggs which is eaten the most.
    You are deliberating trying to disparage the issue. Many farmers own cows and livestock but they don't eat it nor sell its meat and in many cases its milk or eggs.
    I am just shocked it seems there is not honest sincere NGO in India they all seem to be foreign funded corrupt that is why they don't bother sounding like a hypocrite or liar. Shame on you!

    Posted by: Raj | 3 years ago | Reply
  • A well-argued article, in fact, it was worth the time reading this! I believe there is nothing super healthy or super bad both veg and nonveg have an equal proportion of healthy components. It all depends on the way you consume them. There is nothing as pure vegetarianism or non-vegetarianism both has an equal role to play in health. With a balanced diet, every food is healthy. I suggest people read an interesting article on this at
    Very interesting side!

    Posted by: Shivaranjani | 3 years ago | Reply
  • I fully endorse the view of Dr. Sunitha Narain. We should recognize the fact that things and views can change over space and time and plurality of thoughts , diversity and secularism are our governing principles.Militant vegetarianism or vandalism or violence should not be encouraged at any cost.

    Posted by: Dr. UN Nandakumar | 3 years ago | Reply
  • I completely disagree with Sunithaji and I am really shocked by her attitude towards the right to life of another living being on this earth. I am surprised that she is a so called environmentalist. The decision as to whether an animal has the right to live on this earth is not decided by human beings. The law of environment is applicable to every living being and human being is only one among them. Sunitha, by making such a comment is letting herself down and showing her true colour as an anti environmental person. I have the courage to make this comment since I am looking after 35 desi cows at home giving them a true home. I had purchased 8 of them from market where they would have been taken for slaughter. After 4 years, I have the strength of 35 now. I gave a decent life to them. They have become the emotional companion to my family and I cannot think of a life without them. We are doing Palekkar model farming and these cow products are used for that . I have no profits from them but just a feeling of fullness of life that I am part of them. I have also picked up 5 stray dogs and giving them a home with love and care. I can see the brightness in their life and that makes my life worthy of being born as a human being. The argument of right to food is not at all justified as human beings are not canivorus animals. The way animals are taken to the slaughter house and killed cannot be justified as the cruelty behind the act is immeasurable. The argguement that everything on this earth is for the men is a very perverted thinking and cannot be accepted for a civilised society. I am an animal rights activist and can fully understand the issue from a holistic point of view. It is a disgrace for Sunitha narayan. Environmental protection is not only a topic for human beings and environmental activist is not a white collar executive.

    Posted by: P. P. UNNIKRISHNAN | 3 years ago | Reply
  • I am a vegetarian but I never thought about cattle from the perspective of economic security. I am really stunned by the truth. I must say it is a great piece of writing with rock solid fundamentals.

    Posted by: GUEST | 2 years ago | Reply
  • With increasing prosperity and development industrial farming is becoming more common in India with the environmental problems that follow.Google beak trimming avi

    Posted by: L Austin | 2 years ago | Reply
  • Thanks, Sunita ji for explaining the subtle nuances food vs emissions issues under the dynamic situation at survival level of developing countries. A fine distinction needs to be made while deciding on such issues in an adhoc manner. There is a need for developing a metric that could capture these issues in one indicator. Don't know if that is possible though!

    Posted by: Vinay Deodhar | one year ago | Reply