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Spiritual food

Veganism

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What's Krishna's view on veganism?

Many people consider veganism—the practice of not eating or using any animal products—an ideal, healthy, nonviolent diet. Some vegans avoid milk for health reasons, while others do so as a reaction to the suffering of cows, and they boycott the meat and dairy industry. Some even say it's unnatural for humans to drink the milk of another animal.

Krishna teaches in the Bhagavad-gita that ahimsa, nonviolence, is most perfectly applied according to spiritual principles. For example, Krishna encourages Arjuna to fight—despite Arjuna's pacifist protests—
by reminding him that freedom from negative karma comes only by acting according to the directions of the Supreme.

The teachings of Krishna consciousness emphasize the many transcendental benefits of milk. The Vedas say the cow is one of the mothers of mankind; cow's milk and its many preparations are a key part of the recommended diet for human beings. Milk is considered essential for the proper development of the human brain, enhancing our ability to understand and apply spiritual knowledge.

Srila Prabhupada, founder-acharya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, was aware of the exploitative nature of the modern dairy industry. In his books and lectures, he repeatedly condemned the slaughterhouse economy as the crux of all the world's problems and urged his followers to establish self-sufficient, agrarian economies centered on cow protection.

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He also taught that milk is necessary for the cultivation of spiritual consciousness. Krishna, the Supreme Person, the Absolute Truth, is fond of cows and milk products; when we attempt to please Him by making offerings of love based on His stated preferences—such as He gives in Bhagavad-gita 9.26—everyone benefits. Human life is meant for serving God; humans also have a natural responsibility toward cows, which needs to be healed and reestablished on a higher level rather than abandoned.

Cows naturally give an average of ten times the amount of milk required by their calves, so milking by humans is far from unnatural; it's a necessity. Ancient histories say that prior to the modern age man was traditionally a caretaker of cows; economies were local, agrarian, and based on milk products from cows as well as grains produced with the help of bulls and oxen.

Cows whose milk is offered to Krishna make spiritual benefit. The same principle applies to plants whose fruits, vegetables and flowers are offered to Krishna, and even to manufacturers of other things—such as automobiles and printing presses—used in Krishna's service. If something can be used in Krishna's service yet isn't, that is called phalgu-vairagya, insufficient or false renunciation.

Veganism, a relatively recent philosophical innovation, is an understandable reaction to mistreatment of animals—and may also be medically necessary in some cases—but the eternal teachings of Krishna consciousness are intended for the ultimate benefit of all living beings, at all times, in all places, and in all circumstances.

A Diet for Spiritual Health

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When our oldest son was less than three, he and I were once in a supermarket when a woman passing out samples handed him a cookie that looked like ones made at our temple. He was several yards away from me, and I was apprehensive he’d automatically put the cookie into his mouth. Instead, he ran over to me and asked, “Prasadam? Prasadam?” I said no, it hadn’t been offered to Krishna and couldn’t be. He smiled and gave up the idea of eating the cookie.

Training our children to be strict vegetarians can be difficult. Giving them enthusiasm for further restricting themselves to prasadam, food prepared for and offered to Krishna, can be even more challenging.

Devotees of Krishna strictly avoid meat, fish, and eggs, and though a growing number of food products don’t contain any of these, many products have onions or garlic, which devotees also consider unfit to offer the Lord. Devotees try to avoid commercially prepared food altogether. Krishna is hungry for our devotion, not the food we offer Him, so we need to take time to prepare Krishna’s meals ourselves, with love for Him.

Not only the cooking, but also the offering of food to Krishna should be done with love. An ideal offering involves setting up at least a simple altar, putting the food on a plate reserved for Krishna’s use, and reciting prayers asking Krishna to accept what we’ve prepared.

While following the rules for a prasadam diet seems troublesome to nondevotees, taking trouble for a loved one is a great source of pleasure. And serving Krishna, the supreme lovable person, gives the greatest pleasure. Children easily feel the happiness of love for Krishna even when very young. As they watch us in the store, we can show them how we read the labels. By age ten, a child can learn to spot listings of meat products such as rennet and choose only suitable food. We can explain to our children how we try to pick the best and freshest items for our Lord.

Most children love to help in the kitchen. While cooking we can create an atmosphere of devotion by singing the Lord’s holy names or listening to a recording of devotional singing. As our children help, they learn that Krishna is the first to eat—no tasting while cooking! They can become excited about pleasing Lord Krishna.

As our children mature and gradually learn to prepare varieties of full meals on their own, they are equipping themselves for a life of cooking for Krishna. If, on the other hand, they don’t learn cooking skills, they may grow up to think that buying foods that nondevotees have prepared is a necessity.

In the temple, devotees follow a strict schedule for offering meals to the Deities. At home there can be some leniency, but a schedule of offerings reminds us we are cooking for the pleasure of Krishna, rather than simply for our own hunger and desire. Can children wait to eat until after an offering? Yes, if we feed them at reasonably regulated times, from when they first start to eat solid food, and make sure meals are both sufficient and frequent enough for their needs. “Wait until Krishna eats!” should be exciting, a spiritual game, rather than an austerity.

As we bow before Krishna’s picture or Deity and ask Him to accept our offering, even our toddlers can bow next to us. By age ten or so, a child can learn the standard prayers and offer food without adult help.

We should also show our children how to offer food when away from home. Many devotees carry small pictures of Krishna and their spiritual master and can set up a simple “altar” almost anywhere.

Being away from home or a temple is one of the most difficult times for sticking to a prasadam diet. We adults may be willing to wait until we get home and cook. But children on an unexpectedly long shopping trip may feel that avoiding all but properly cooked and offered food is impossible. Sometimes we can bring prasadam with us, but other times we are caught unprepared. At such times, we may be able to buy fruit and make a simple offering. If we absolutely must buy prepared foods, we should strictly avoid grains that nondevotees have cooked. Lord Krishna in His form as Lord Caitanya has told us that such foods make the mind wicked. A devotee must strive to keep the mind pure, so that it will be a suitable place for thoughts about Krishna.