Differences challenge assumptions


Spending the last month in Rishikesh, India, the presence of cows, dogs, red monkeys, and to a lesser extent horses, feral pigs and cats are a common sight on the streets, alleyways, roofs and vacant land.

Cows are a sacred animal in India and not butchered for meat. Nearly all Indians are vegetarian or vegan.

However sacred they may be, the practices of separating baby calves from the mother so humans can extract as much milk as possible from the mother that is secured, away from the calf, in a compound for milking purposes might be seen as cruel to the visiting foreigner. After the female cow has stopped providing milk to humans she is put back on the streets. Plenty of male cows wander about so that the cycle continues.

Because of this, foreigners buy bananas for 10 rupees a bunch to feed the street cows. The locals and restaurants empty food scraps and waste into street for the cows. Nothing goes to waste but then there’s animal waste on the streets that leads to interesting maneuvers while walking.

On one hand, one can look at this and feel great sorrow for the plight of these animals. But, on the other hand how are cows, pigs and chickens/poultry treated in the USA?

 Factory farms, CAFOs, all over Arkansas, Texas, North Carolina, etc., confine meat animals in packed-like-sardine conditions where they eat animal feed that is grown from Round-up or GMO-treated soy and corn seeds.
They are often fed antibiotics also because their conditions are so filthy that they are living in bacterial cesspools. To top it off, hormones and steroids are added to their food so they grow unnaturally with meat disproportionate to what happens in the natural world where we need muscle to do things like move and walk.

Our rivers are toxic and filthy from run off of pesticides, herbicides and the residues of poisons and chemically treated seeds used to grow food for food-animals and people.

 India is a place to come for insight and reflections on all kinds of issues. The Mother Ganges in the Himalayan foothills is clean enough to bathe in and ask for blessings. The Mississippi River is likely only clean at her source also, but she isn’t considered sacred. Look what flies into the Gulf of Mexico.

The main differences of India and the USA, is that normal people are not anywhere as affluent as Americans. People need the milk from cows for protein. They don’t eat flesh, eggs, or fish.

We in the states often eat three meals a day with flesh, eggs and fish included in each meal. Bacon for breakfast, lunch meat, and pork chops for dinner. I’ve been without all this for a month and feel lighter and brighter already.

So, having been here for a while and sifting through my feelings on these matters, I’ve concluded that it is better to be a stray or feral street-animal in India than a factory-flesh production animal in the USA.

Leaving soon. It was beautiful to spend time here with my daughter. She wants to come back and do something for the street cows. But I wonder if her efforts would be better spent in the USA where gross and abusive practices towards meat animals are accepted as a necessity.

I will say goodbye to my favorite calf that meets me every morning for bananas, peel and all. I’ll miss that little calf. But at least I know that the calf can move and walk. For me, that brings me some solace. If reincarnation happens and I come back as a cow, I hope I’m one of the lucky ones who has the basic freedom to move and whose purpose is more noble than a hamburger patty on the grill.

Susan Pang