As an ethical vegan... would you drink this milk?

I am currently in the middle of a two week volunteering residency at a Hare Krishna (ISKON) temple near Madrid. I am always curious to learn more about others cultures, religions and philosophies to broaden my mind to experiences and ask questions.

Within the Hare Krishna movement, the preparation and eating of food is based on principles of compassion, non-violence and balanced living. In this way, Krishna devotees advocate a lacto-vegetarian diet, strictly avoiding meat, fish and eggs. Most do consume dairy and this is where I find it is particularly interesting since cow protection is a high priority, largely because according to ancient Vedic texts the cow is representative of Mother Earth.

From my first day in the community I made it very clear that I was vegan, and this did mean there was quite a lot I had to avoid. Upon realising this, many of the devotees were quick to inform me that their milk is raw, unpasteurised and ethical- ‘ahimsa’ meaning it is of ‘slaughter free’ origin. In this particular case all of the milk, butter and cheese consumed at the temple comes directly from their own heard of five cows that they care for on the land for the duration of their natural life span.

This concept intrigued me as I hadn’t been aware of this ‘ahimsa’ philosophy before, and upon seeing the passion with which the devotees spoke about their cows, I felt it my duty to understand more.

Regardless of the ethics, I stood firm with my decision not to consume the dairy since I don’t consider it to be a product that I want to consume on a nutritional basis. In addition my body no longer tolerates it well (proven by the ‘phlegmy’ throat I got when I accidentally had a trace of it.) That said, many people in the health world consider raw dairy to be a highly nutritional product in comparison to the regular pasteurised antibiotic and hormone laden cartoons of milk.  However this blog post is not a nutritional reflection, so I am not going to focus any further on that side of things.

The question that makes me genuinely curious… As an ethical vegan, would you drink this milk?

My first thought was that in many ways it was akin to eating eggs that come from you own hens. I know a few people who follow a vegan diet where the only animal product they ever consume is their own hens eggs. Is there any difference with these cows?

the cow 'shrine'

the cow 'shrine'

I decided to see for myself and headed down to the cow shed at milking time. I’ll admit I was not expecting the level of care and genuine love (almost ‘god like’ love) for the animals that I was greeted with. 

  • Each cow had her own painted name plate above her stall- as I understand it there spend very little time in the stalls.

  • There was a shrine within the cow shed.

  • There were ‘cow height’ windows in each of the stalls.

  • There were artworks and garlands hanging from the walls and ceilings.

  • The water trough in the main open space was decorated with mosaic as a beautiful centrepiece.

  • There was a large covered yard area and a huge field (not shown in photos) and then another huge field across the track so I was told.

When it came to milking the cows, there were no restraints used in any way, the cows gave their milk willingly. The cows are looked after for their entire lives REGARDLESS of whether they give milk or not. For example, one cow never gave any milk beyond the weaning  of her calf, yet she’s treated no differently to the others. This also interested me as I'd assumed they kept giving milk only because they continued to be milked- but that case suggested otherwise. There was another 16 year old cow with a 13 year old daughter who still gives milk each day. Interestingly, the 13 year old daughter who has never had a calf also gives milk each day… the community have no idea why that is since (as I understand it) cows typically only give milk after having a calf.

Learning all this from the ISKON devotees, as I watched them handle the cows with such genuine care and attention fascinated and inspired me. In all honesty, I struggle to think of a better way I’d want to live as a cow.

Now I’d love to hear your thoughts… 

As an ethical vegan, would you drink the milk from these cows?  

Would you consider anything ‘wrong’ with the way in which these cows live their lives?  

I’d genuinely love to hear any thoughts you would like to share on this matter. For me, there are still areas I am unsure of- for example the environmental impact and sustainability of creating ‘slaughter-free’ diaries on a mass scale seems very questionable. However it is undeniable that my mind has been opened during my time here, allowing me to understand, explore and question things in an entirely new light. 


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