The Myth of the Holy Cow and Cow Culture Health

Humans repeat patterns of cultures so predictably that it’s fascinating to study older cultures, with all their myths, and see where we are in the timeline of repetition. For example, India’s myth of the Holy Cow has nothing to do with the Veda texts. The Vedas contain contradictory passages of ritual slaughter and consumption taboos.

 Cow killing stopped gradually as castes developed in response to population explosion. India needed soil and draft animals for its agrarian society. To dissuade people from eating beef, leaders promoted the Vedic principle of  ‘ahimsa,’ which means non-violence or non-harming. Today, India’s oxen continue to be used 50/50 with tractors and much of the milk is provided by water buffalo, which has a higher fat content than cow’s milk.

The cow myth is currently being strongly debated in India. Historian, Dwijendra Narayan Jha documents the discrepancies in his controversial book,  Holy Cow: Beef  in Indian Dietary Conditions. He notes that by 300 B.C. “the forested Ganges Valley became a windswept semi-desert and signs of ecological collapse appeared; droughts and floods became commonplace, erosion took away rich topsoil.” 

There’s no denying the parallels between conditions that started the Holy Cow belief in India and what is happening in the US today. Our history demonstrates a variation on the same theme. However, it has only taken us a few hundred years to reach a similar state.

When the settlers arrived in 1620, or a few years later, they brought cows with them. Bison were the only bovines here. They were wild, west of the Appalachians, and never lent themselves to domestication. Native Americans valued their lean, high energy meat and used every part of the bison for food, clothes, tools, blankets, and more.

However, the settlers were accustomed to domesticated cows whose meat was marbled with fat due to being tethered, or otherwise restricted from roaming and finding wild grasses. Their meat was tender and the fat stimulated appetites.

The settlers learned to grow corn and fed it as silage to their cattle. Due to the high sugar content of corn, cows became even fatter and their marbled meat was prized; it made excellent gravies for roasted meat. For broiled steaks, the fat was spooned up as a delicacy at the table.

As more people came to America, and the population expanded west, ranchers needed grazing land for their cattle business. Since Native Americans were already there, ranchers decided that if they killed all the bison, the native people would head for Canada and they’d have unlimited land. Many native people who didn’t go to Canada remained and starved to death. Those who survived became customers for ranchers.

Step two was to grow the cattle business. When the herds pulled grass up by the roots, soil began to erode, draining topsoil of its nutrients. Ranchers continued to feed cattle corn, which was difficult for cattle to digest.

By 1960, we began to see sick beef, sick chicken and other sick foods in our markets. People were finding growths and demanded regulations. In 1960, rBGH (recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone) appeared. In cows, it increased their milk production and in steer, their bulk. The industry claimed that there was no interaction between rBGH and human growth hormones and that cooking the meat and pasteurizing the milk destroyed the hormones anyway. Research to the contrary was discounted.

Fifty years later, the evidence is clear as we look around and note that young women, raised on plenty of beef and milk, now struggle with huge breasts. Men are also developing large breasts and both men and women are electing to have breast reduction surgery.

Do we want this trend to continue? Are we headed for a time when our caste system invents a myth to reduce beef consumption for most of our people while continuing to be consumed by the few?

A pivotal time may be eminent as corn rootworm becomes resistant to Monsanto’s GMO seed and Roundup, as it is in Iowa, Illinois and Minnesota.

Currently, giving cattle growth hormones when they are 300 days old and then putting them in holding pens on a steady corn diet for several months, means they are big enough to slaughter at 15 months of age. Grass fed cattle mature in 2-3 years. If genetically engineered corn is allowed to wipe out heirloom strains of corn, and suddenly becomes vulnerable to root rot on a grand scale, we could repeat the same scenario India faced in 300 B.C.

It is time for us to check current research about our foods, and change what can be changed, to keep each other well. In this information age, we can no longer claim, “If we only knew.”


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