The taboos of eating beef and slaughtering cows explained with references to social and environmental constraints faced by Indians.
The picture of a ragged farmer starving to death alongside a big fat cow conveys a reassuring sense of mystery to Western observers. Some western trained agronomists say that the taboo against cow slaughter is keeping one hundred million ‘useless’ animals alive. These cows contribute neither milk nor meat while competing for cropland and foodstuff with useful animals and hungry human beings. The average yield of a zebu cow in India amounts to less than 500 pounds a year and an estimated half of them does not even give milk at all! To the Western observer, cow love seems senseless, and even suicidal. But, there is a practical explanation for this.
India has 60 million farms but only 80 million traction animals. This shortage is a terrible threat - when an ox falls sick a poor farmer is in danger of losing his farm. If he has no replacement for it, he will have to borrow money at usurious rates. As a result of such debt, thousands of destitute farmers lose their lands. A farmer who owns a cow owns a factory for making oxen. The main economic function of a zebu cow is to breed traction animals and so there is no point in comparing them with specialized American dairy animals whose main function is to produce milk. Above all, zebu breeds are remarkable rugged, and can survive the long droughts that periodically afflict different parts of India. Indian farmers cannot afford to buy tractors as this would require incredible amount of capital but, most Indian farmers are poor. Cows and oxen provide low energy substitute for tractors and tractor factories.
India’s cattle annually excrete about 700 million tons of recoverable manure. Approximately half of this is used as fertilizer, while most of the remainder is burned to provide heat for cooking. The thought of dung in the kitchen may not appeal to the average American, but Indian...