Veganism: Relative or Absolute
by Madhava Gosh
Posted March 15, 2003

While compelling arguments are made for veganism, examining them closely we see that most fall into the category of relative truth. On the other hand, while the case for cow protection is truth of an absolute nature, it does not provide justification for drinking milk in every circumstance. "Krsna is the Absolute Truth. Relative truth is not truth in all the three phases of eternal time. Time is divided into past, present and future. Krsna is Truth always, past, present and future. In the material world, everything is being controlled by supreme time, in the course of past, present and future. But before the creation, Krsna was existing, and when there is creation, everything is resting in Krsna, and when this creation is finished, Krsna will remain."

- Ref. VedaBase => SB 10.2.26

Cruelties involved in factory milk production have given rise to veganism, an austerity beyond merely being vegetarian. . Too austere for me, so although I realize what is involved in milk production, I continue to partake. While appreciating and respecting the concern vegans show for the cow, most arguments related to the ethics of milk production are relative. Now milk is being produced cruelly, but in the past we have examples where it wasn't, and it is possible to foresee where in the future milk could be produced by protected cows. If milk is produced from protected cows, the ethical arguments evaporate.

Devotees, on the other hand, seem to think that because Krsna was a cowherd boy, and Srila Prabhupada promoted milk drinking, that there is no responsibility to take into consideration how milk is currently produced. Some even disrespect vegans. I think it behooves devotees who ignore cow protection to seriously contemplate the following quotation:

"The brahmanas, the cows and the defenseless creatures are My own body. Those whose faculty of judgment has been impaired by their own sin look upon these as distinct from Me. They are just like furious serpents, and they are angrily torn apart by the bills of the vulturelike messengers of Yamaraja, the superintendent of sinful persons."

- SB 3.16.11

If you drink factory milk, you drink its karma. There are some fancy rationalizations floating around to justify doing so, but if it walks like a duck, talks like a duck, it is a duck. You are responsible for your actions. Offering it to the spiritual master, who has mandated cow protection, and thinking that he is some karma filter that will make it all okay, is lame, IMHO. I don't think you can ignore his instruction to protect cows, and then expect him to cover for you when you don't. If you drink milk without protecting cows because of cost or inconvenience, then you are supporting factory style production, and all that that entails. Therefore you are seeing those cows as separate from Krishna.

"The Supreme Personality of Godhead, in His instructions of Bhagavad-gita, advises go-raksya, which means cow protection. The cow should be protected, milk should be drawn from the cows, and this milk should be prepared in various ways. One should take ample milk, and thus one can prolong one's life, develop his brain, execute devotional service, and ultimately attain the favor of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. As it is essential to get food grains and water by digging the earth, it is also essential to give protection to the cows and take nectarean milk from their milk bags.

- Ref. VedaBase => SB 8.6.12

Key thing is, first protection, then milk. Not milk, and if protection is inconvenient, rationalize. For most of its infancy, ISKCON has found it acceptable to make offerings of "blood milk" (as per the definition of Harry Bowler where the low cost of the milk is made possible by the slaughter of the cow and her calf). Well reasoned and pragmatic objections to this have been ignored or even demeaned, based on rationalizations ranging from "milk is needed to develop finer brain tissues" to "offering the milk offsets the matter in which it is produced". The fruit of this philosophy is a movement that is stagnant in the important American field. Vegans constitute a demographic that is thoughtful, principled, and austere - wonderful potential bhaktas, yet they are ignored so the tongue can be plied with milk products.
Putting milk consumption ahead of protection as the reason for keeping cows has resulted in many problems for ISKCON farms. The most inglorious example being Kirtananada when he ran New Vrindaban, breeding hundreds of cows for milk production, then when the realities and responsibilities of cow protection set in, callously abandoning them. Breeding stopped by 1992, but there are still 170 of his cows at New Vrindaban, being protected at great cost to the current management. Whatever the external cause, I believe the internal cause for Kirtananada's imprisonment was the consciousness that could so cruelly abandon those cows. Cattle raising is not cow protection.

Cow protection can be seen as a positive. Factory farm milk production can be seen as a negative. To be a vegan is to negate a negative. While this is good as far as it goes, it still leaves the door open for the positive. As Visoka dasa has said in a different context, "If we all admit that both sides have "reasonable cause" for their positions, we can start deconstructing barriers." I don't think that because devotees are for cow protection, they should be negative to vegans. They should respect their position, and then endeavor to make, not by theory, but by action, a commitment to cow protection. A harsh response to vegans serves no purpose.
Veganism has a history in Vaisnavism. If you did the complete caturmasya, all you ate for 4 months was unspiced rice and dahl. A strict observance of Ekadasi is a full fast. Couple that with other fast days, and it is possible to show that the strictest followers of Vaisnavism were vegans almost half the time. Of course, for most, that is too austere, so Srila Prabhupada faced that reality, and incorporated milk consumption into ISKCON, but he always had a plan to move beyond the field expedient of using blood milk to setting up true cow protection.

We have spoken how the romantic agrarianism notion of everybody living on the land in this age is unrealistic. So we have put forth this idea of cow protection by proxy as a transitional stage. Where even though we buy milk from the factories, we make contributions to cow protection programs, or take our vacations and spend them working in cow protection projects. We need vaisyas making money to contribute to these programs, and ksatriyas to set up trusts to benefit these programs. We have an immediate need for someone to compile a list of existing cow protection programs that devotees could contribute to. That is a valuable service that someone living in a city with a phone and computer could do, and be an active cow protector even in urban circumstances.

There are suitable projects currently operational that are worthy of being supported. The decision to do so is not dependent on anyone but yourself. No GBC or temple management to blame or consult. No "whose adhikary is higher" or guru succession etiquette to sort out. Personal choice, personal responsibility. If cow protection is too costly for you personally, then the option of being vegan is there. At least it is cheap :-)

Giving up on Commercial Milk saves cows?
by Syamasundara dasa
Posted March 15, 2003

A perspective on whether devotees not using milk from commercial farming would save cows.There is often the suggestion that members of ISKCON should not be supporting the commercial dairy industry by purchasing its milk and products. The plight of the cows and calves in the dairy industry are mentioned and the proposal suggested is that we should refrain from implication in the abuse by not using the milk.

The dairy industry in order to produce milk has to:

Impregnate cows yearly to ensure the maximum yield per cow

The calves that are not kept for milk production are killed as soon as the best economic situation allows. Some Channel Island bull calves have not economic viability and are killed practically immediately

After a cow has served its time as a milk producer it is killed and its body enters the human food chain, unless one is in a country with BSE restrictions in which case any animals older than 36 months cannot be eaten. In this case the animal is killed and the body incinerated.

Cows are fed for the purpose of getting maximum yield without any excess body weight gain.
The cows, in some countries are given chemical stimulants to produce more milk
Cows that do not reach the optimum milk yield are killed
Cows that are disease prone are killed as the costs of medical attention in terms of drugs and time will make the cow uneconomic

From the above simple analysis we can note that all the cows involved with the dairy industry enter the human food chain at some point. Very early in the case of bull calves and later in the case of milking or low milking cows. In every case they are killed prematurely. A cow can live over 20 years if cared for naturally. The cows involved with the dairy industry all end with the same fate as those cows that are bred and reared solely for the beef industry. They will all be killed and eaten.

Here is my Question. Can it be shown that the drinking of milk is contributing to the number of animals being killed? We are trying to explore the depth of implication in the slaughter industry by the drinking of milk and the eating of milk products.

If we stopped drinking milk would that decrease the number of animals going to slaughter?

From the above we can see that all the cows are slaughtered and their bodies used in the beef industry. In other words there is a market in place to utilise their bodies. They are part of the beef industry already. If one takes the total herd of bovines’ dairy and beef they are supplying the demand for a certain amount of flesh required by the non-vegetarian population. Some thoughts are that if there was no demand for milk would that total herd number decrease. As all the flesh is already being eaten and satisfying the demands of the market then it would seam that a reduction in milk production wouldn’t decrease the number of animals killed.

To develop this point further it would seam that the only way we can reduce the number of animals being killed is for more of the population to become vegetarian and thus the demand for beef to drop.

The point of this argument is not to justify the drinking of milk even though cows are being slaughtered but it is to show that a position of demonstration by abstinence from milk is not actually beneficial in stopping the slaughter of cows.

We should restate our understood position from many ISKCON writers that we are benefiting the cows by offering the milk to Lord Krishna and that we must drive to establish cow protection where local milk from protected cows is available.

Comments on this line of discussion would be very welcome

Syamasundara Dasa
Goshalla Manager
Bhaktivedanta Manor, UK

Milk in a Vegetarian Diet
Interview with Harish Johari on the importance of milk in a vegetarian diet.

Milk is central to the yogic Indian diet, yet milk has been assailed in modern America due to its association with the unjust treatment of the cow. Its nutritional value is also questioned. You call milk the miracle food, even recommending occasional milk fasts (consuming only milk for up to 40 days at a time) for purifying the body and mind. What is your response to those who denounce milk?

Harish Johari:

First of all we are mammals. Our mothers have milk to give us and our life thus depends upon milk from the start. If modern society has polluted the cow's milk and caused harm to the giver of the milk, then so much for city living and "civilized life". This represents only 20% of the population. The other 80% living in the Third World are drinking milk without any difficulty. Because someone has corrupted natural living, that does not mean we should throw out milk. Milk has everything we require for healthy living. According to the Vedic culture, the rishis who gave up everything, all work, were living on milk alone as their perfect food.

Milk is a food that is readily converted into semen, which produces new blood. Thus if milk is the sole nourishment of the human organism for some time, it can rejuvenate that organism. "Milk kalpa" or a milk fast is a treatment employed by homeopathic doctors for patients who have lost hope of living a healthy, happy life. Such a milk fast can also cure premature aging. During the fast the body reorganizes itself. Premature aging is often the result of food material clinging to the intestinal walls. When the process of assimilation malfunctions, various organs in the system are unable to receive the proper supply of nutrients and thus begin to age quickly. If these waste materials can be expelled, all the organs will receive proper nutrition. Milk is known to clean the digestive tract. It expels toxins and waste from the stomach and intestines and supplies nutritious food material readily digestible and convertible into blood. Being alkaline in nature, milk is an aid to the stomach in its digestive function.`

The main organs of digestion are the mouth, stomach, and small intestine. Milk helps the entire digestive process and if digestion is working properly, the circulatory system works well. If the circulatory system is functioning properly, then the nervous system will be healthy. These three systems regulate the human body, and milk helps to regulate them.

Milk is best straight from the cow while it is still warm. Milk from a cow 21 days after she has delivered a calf is especially powerful. It must be remembered that in India cows are especially well taken care of, even revered. They are brushed and washed regularly and they are not milked when they are pregnant. In Vedic times, care of the cow was considered sattvic. There was no need to pasteurize or tone milk. With the appearance of anthrax, people in Europe became alarmed and pasteurization began and saved many lives. Pasteurization was an alternative to disease. But no one ever thought to revert to cleaning and properly caring for the cow. Thus today we have ultra-pasteurization and poorly cared-for cows who, instead of being gently hand-milked by someone who cares about them, are milked electronically without sensitivity.

In ayurveda cows are classified according to color and place of residence. Milk from a black cow is highly praised and recommended. Such milk is like nectar and it relieves gases, mucus, bile, burning sensations, depression, heart disease, stomach troubles, kidney disorders, jaundice and more. Milk from a spotted cow, brown cow or red cow cures problems of excess bile. But milk from a cow whose calf has died creates mucus, bile and gas. Milk from a cow who has stopped feeding her calf is strengthening but harder to digest. So in this way, before modern society condemns milk, they might do well to consult those who have the experience of loving and knowing cows as we do in India. There is more to be discussed than the fact that cows are mistreated. One must learn how to treat the cow properly and that includes taking her milk, which is her gift to humanity in return for her being nicely taken care of.

Extract from "The Spirit of Cooking" Interview with Harish Johari by Thomas Beaudry for "Clarion Call", Volume 3 - Number 4, 1990.


Good news! There is a totally vegan "cheese" which is nice tasting and versatile, one variety which can be directly melted on pizzas etc now available in New Zealand, imported from the UK. My children love Cheezly!
Redwood Foods "Cheezly" is a UK product, and when we lived in the UK for five years we were determined to ensure New Zealanders could enjoy Cheezly as well. We couldn't believe how lucky we were to be able to buy such an amazing vegan cheese in the UK, especially after our disappointment on tasting the Australian vegan "cheeses".
Our telephone calls and emails to Redwoods might have nothing to do with it, but Redwood's Cheezly is now available at health shops throughout New Zealand. Two varieties are available - Yellow Cheddar and the slightly higher fat but more meltingly delicious Mozzarella. Having mentioned the fat issue - there is no hydrogenated fat in Cheezly. Cheezly is Vegetarian and vegan, dairy free, cholesterol free, no hydrogenated fats, no artificial colours of preservatives, gluten free, wheat free and GMO free.
Redwoods also do other flavours, Garlic and Herb, Nacho and a Red Cheddar, as well as another higher fat melting one, which I can't remember the name of. However, at this time there is not a strong enough demand for these other flavours in New Zealand. If you want them - ask your health food shop to order them.
In New Zealand, the Cheezly's are distributed by a small vegan foodie business in Auckland called Angel Foods, who also do an amazing array of gluten and dairy free baking goodies, and amazing vegan catering for small conferences, parties and so on. You can contact Angel Foods and find out about their yummy goodies through their website:
You can also look at the range of delicious savoury goodies Redwoods Foods sells in the UK (some of their products we found were very transitional - when you really just had to have that slice of bacon but wanted a veggie alternative!)
From a grateful Cheezly customer!

Cheezly Soy Cheese
What is Cheezly?

Many people who no longer eat dairy products, whether for health or ethical reasons, really miss cheese!

Cheezly looks, tastes, smells and even melts like dairy cheese, but it contains:
no animal products
no cholesterol
no lactose or casein
no gluten
no hydrogenated oils or canola oil
only plant-derived natural flavourings and colourings

Cheezly is available in New Zealand in two varieties:

White Cheddar

Ingredients: Water, potato starch, non-hydrogenated vegetable fats and oils, soya protein, yeast extract, carrageenan (as thickener), salt, flavouring, carotene.
Total fat content: approximately 18.4%

Super-melting Mozzarella

Ingredients: Water, non-hydrogenated vegetable fats and oils, soya protein, starch, carrageenan and locust bean gum (as thickeners) salt, yeast extract, calcium phosphate and potassium phosphate (emulsifying salts), raw cane sugar, flavour, herbs, spices, annatto and beta carotene.
Total fat content: approximately 25.4%

Cheezly is made in England by the multi-award-winning Redwood Wholefood Company, a business committed to producing the best GE-free vegan and vegetarian food.

Angel Food is proud to be the New Zealand importer and distributor of Cheezly.