India has always been progressive when it comes to animal rights. The country of over a billion people has around 500 million vegetarians, more than the rest of the world combined. Even those who are flesh-eaters find red meat hard to come by, particularly beef. India’s dietary profile is in sharp contrast to those of western countries, especially countries like America, one of the largest producers of meat. Vlogger and apologetic meat eater Hank Green points out that in the US, 80% of agricultural land and 50% of water are used to grow crops to feed animals bred for human consumption* and that meat production and transportation contribute to greenhouse gases approximately equally, making meat eating extremely environmentally inefficient. Whereas it requires 60 gallons of water to produce a pound of potatoes, a pound of meat requires upwards of a thousand gallons. This is encouraging for people trying to become vegetarian because it can serve as a reminder that every single time you make a conscious decision not to eat a burger, you are literally conserving thousands of gallons of water. This is also why, as an environmentalist, I’m so glad that almost half of the world’s largest democracy is vegetarian. America has a population of almost 320 million, and imagine the positive impact it would have on the environment if even half of them became vegetarian.
Vegetarianism is the right choice for the planet, but until Maharashtra banned beef, it’s always been portrayed in the news as a social matter rather than a political one.
“It shouldn’t be the consumer’s responsibility to figure out what’s cruel and what’s kind, what’s environmentally destructive and what’s sustainable. Cruel and destructive food products should be illegal. We don’t need the option of buying children’s toys made with lead paint, or aerosols with chlorofluorocarbons, or medicines with unlabeled side effects. And we don’t need the option of buying factory-farmed animals.”
― Jonathan Safran Foer, Eating Animals
If it is the right thing, then why shouldn’t it be law? There should be laws in place to uphold morality and protect living beings from harm. Yet the beef ban has stoked debate about whether or not the law is truly secular, and whether it’s an infringement on freedom of choice.
India is a deeply spiritual country wherein cows have been considered sacred by Hindus for thousands of years, so it isn’t surprising that if one of its states is going to ban meat, they would start with beef. However, it isn’t just about tradition. Cows are not the only respected animal that roams free on the streets of India, living in harmony with humans—there’s also dogs, cats, monkeys, etc. This also isn’t the first time that Maharashtra has taken a hard-line stance for animal rights, as the state enacted a shoot-on-site policy for poachers not long ago. Moreover, the Times of India reports that the Maharashtra government is looking to use the beef ban as a stepping stone to ban other types of meat. What seems like a restrictive law to some is actually quite renegade. I hope that Maharashtra goes on to ban all meat, that all of India follows suit, and that it eventually becomes international policy.
The issue of whether beef should be banned isn’t a religious debate, nor is it about freedom of choice. As we now acknowledge that the American south once tried to use the argument of “states’ rights” to justify something deplorable, there will come a time in the future when pro-beef justifications are seen as horrific and outdated, although it probably won’t be in my lifetime.
*I dislike using the problematic word “livestock.”