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Most of us share a very special bond with our mothers. Most relationships are fickle, but the relationship between a mother and child is one of the most selfless relationships, and the luckiest of us get to enjoy this relationship as perhaps the only experience of true, unconditional love that we may ever receive. I am very close with both of my parents, and I often feel like my mother is just another extension of me. (Or maybe I’m the extension—she was born first!) I want to wish everyone reading this a very happy Mothers’ Day.

But according to the Vedic tradition, which has roots in ancient India, there are actually seven mothers:  our birth mother, our guru’s wife, the wife of any priest, any nurse, the queen, Mother Earth, and Mother Cow, who gives us milk. All of these mothers must be honoured equally. We would never do harm to our birth mother, and as most of us consider ourselves environmentalists, we would never knowingly do harm to Mother Earth, either. If anything, we protect our mothers.

Right now, Mother Cow is under extreme duress, tortured and slaughtered for her flesh. Because cows suffer, so does Mother Earth as a whole. Cowspiracy, the controversial 2014 documentary that exposes the beef industry, identifies animal agriculture as being responsible for the majority of greenhouse gas emissions (yes, more than the transportation sector, including cars), water pollution, species extinction, ocean dead zones, and more. Animal agriculture is responsible for more than 90% of Amazon destruction. Over a hundred million acres of rainforest have been clear-cut, and over a thousand activists who dared to speak out have been killed in Brazil. Raising animals for slaughter is the most pressing environmental issue, and yet no one wants to talk about it.

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Cows feel the same separation as human mothers when they are torn from their babies in a matter of days on factory farms so that they can produce more milk. While a healthy cow can live over twenty years, dairy cows live to be four or five. Their children are often sold into the veal industry, and when the dairy cows get worn out, they too, are sold to slaughterhouses. This process was actually predicted in ancient Vedic scriptures, wherein the degradation of society was revealed to begin with slaughter and mistreatment of cows. To be honest, in my youth I interpreted this text to be metaphorical, implying that eating meat invokes insensitivity and brutishness. Cowspiracy, and even spiritual discussions on these passages, have shown us that the Vedas were meant to be taken quite literally in this regard; cow killing can and will destroy the planet.

In Vedic culture, dairy is a sacred food, because cows are sacred animals. The first time I visited India, which has a culture entrenched in vegetarianism, I was amazed to see how the cows roam free on the streets, interacting with humans on a daily basis. So why do we cage cows up in cruel factory farms? For food. There are about 70 billion animals in the world today raised for human consumption, and the vast majority of those are on factory farms. This is why there can be so many animals, yet we never see them. We have distanced ourselves from the harsh reality of the situation.

Cows should be honoured and respected and treated as friends, not food. A friend of mine who is starting a vegetable and dairy farm wherein the cows will be loved, hand-milked and never slaughtered has written a series of blog posts on the usefulness of cows around the farm not only for their milk, but also their labour, urine, and dung. They are intelligent and loving creatures with a lot of personality, much like cats or dogs.

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So in honour of Mothers’ Day, stand up for Mother Cow (and Mother Earth). Educate yourself about the cruelty of agribusiness, and encourage your friends to give up meat products. We need to show our mothers love, support, and protection.