Oh my Vegan!

Oh my Vegan!
Photo - Getty Images/iStock: Mizina via GEA website

The headline in an authoritative Indian newspaper screamed, 'PETA India advises Amul to switch to creamy dairy-free milk'.

The argument they gave to justify their onslaught on a venerable brand was:

'PETA India is calling on Amul to realize which way the wind is blowing and switch to producing creamy dairy-free milk that today's consumers want.

Females (cattle) are used as milk machines until their bodies give out, at which point many are abandoned or slaughtered for cheap meat.'

Caught off-guard, Amul's response against PETA's siege was tame and defensive: 'If dairy players start making plant-based beverages, then who will be giving livelihood to 100 million dairy farmers, 70% of whom are landless'.

Till another news statement affirming, 'Milk is a natural elixir for strengthening our immunity and an integral ingredient in our dessert and sumptuous curries' thereby more or less concluding the argument in an attempt to deflect PETA's salvo.

Even the empire struck back with: 'PETA's push for vegan milk (which cannot be officially labeled as milk) raises hackles of minister, dairy industry', retort getting a bit harsh, 'An NGO cannot dictate terms to us about our food preferences'.

Not to be outdone and wanting to add their two cents, a leading newspaper introduces a new dimension in favor of milk, '…..enhances gender equality'.

Amul and PETA engaged in a War of Words over vegan milk, which can't be called milk as dictated by FSSAI. However, even a minuscule fraternity of celebrities threw in their lot with Peta for veganism.

Thankfully, the guns were holstered and peace, or call it better sense, prevails, for now.

The last that I heard about PETA was that it was established with the objective of providing ethical treatment to animals. But since when management and product strategy role for industries was incorporated into their protocol, confounds me. PETA's unsolicited advice to Sh R S Sodhi, MD of GCMF (Amul), on how to run his business, is not only insensitive, but insulting too. It is akin to tutoring Philip Kotler in the nuts and bolts of marketing.

After Dr Kurien, the individual who has contributed the most to the Indian dairy industry and for the wellbeing of our farmer brethren, is Sh R S Sodhi. I would like to dedicate this article to the man who has made available Amul products in every nook and cranny of India, and made it a formidable household brand.

I would like to recount a story shared by a dairy industry associate of mine, in his words:

"Every few years, we invite renowned dairy processing consultants from Europe to benchmark our management systems against established dairies of Europe. Three years back, it was Mr X (as we will refer to him for confidentiality reasons) from the Netherlands, a country with advanced dairy farming and processing practices. He was mighty impressed by our company's culture and hygiene practices.

He evinced his interest in visiting a dairy farm. In India, more than 90% of dairy farming is unorganized and unregulated. So, it was a task to identify a respectable sized dairy farm for his visit. After all, it was our countries reputation at stake. When he visited the farm, he was shell-shocked and at a loss for words, seeing the pathetic state of the cattle there. I won't deny that it was an eye-opener for me as well. The entire day after that, the gentleman mentioned afore was totally withdrawn.

The next few days that he stayed with us, he had no words to express his agony of seeing those poor creatures. Every post-visit advisory mail that he wrote on returning home would conclude with his heartfelt concern for and wellbeing of the cattle. "

Being in this trade for about 15 years and frequently traversing the length and breadth of the north Indian dairy farming belt, I have not encountered, even once, any PETA representative doing my rounds of such farms. Rather, as per our milk vendors account, there has been no intervention of any type, including but not limited to creating farmer awareness or onsite protests or motivating the State or Centre to form a special working group for the bovines' wellbeing. On the contrary, most of them were oblivious of PETA's existence.

For argument's sake, let's say we tow their line and become vegan. But, then, what would be the fate of millions of existing and future cattle population? Will PETA adopt them till their extinction, or would they be left to rot in the lanes and by-lanes of our cities and villages?

Though I am a hardcore dairyman, I will not be biased in bringing vegan vs. dairy skirmish to its logical conclusion.

We, our Company, established a soya milk plant way back in 1989. This was to be the first vegan alternative to dairy milk available in India. We struggled very hard to establish the business but fell flat on our face. After suffering substantial financial losses, we switched to dairy products. Since then, we have been watching this industry closely with all our interests. Every few years, a new brand of soya milk enters the field and suffers the same tragic fate.

The simple reason for soya milk not getting traction is our sensitive palates and voracious appetite for everything made from milk. All these years, despite exposure to soya milk, we have not got used to its undesirable chalky taste and flavor. So then, how would we take to the taste of downstream vegan products like butter, cheese, paneer, chaach? And it doesn't stop there. There is a whole range of delectable Indian sweets to be made. These sweets essentially get their delightful and addictive taste from the dairy base (read fat).

How can PETA even dream of depriving us of our freedom of taste?

Let's take the discussion forward to reinforce the dairy industry stand. Soya is the cheapest source of vegan milk and downstream products, but still is more expensive than dairy milk (2x), the other options being much more expensive alternates like oat, coconut, almond, and others (4 to 6x). Milk extracted from these would be far more expensive than the dairy milk we consume. Imagine the plight of millions of Indians for whom vegan milk would be a luxury they will not be able to afford if PETA's proposition is promulgated.

There is no alternate to the goodness and richness of our beloved milk. There's a reason we refer to it, reverentially, as an elixir of life. Full of calcium and essential vitamins and minerals, it finds no suitable alternate in any other food on our planet. Since our existence, we have been devouring this luscious bovine product. Its consumption is rooted in our culture.

To sum it up, vegan milk would be a non-starter with no mass appeal. Its taste being a definite deterrent to its consumption, and another being its prohibitive price. With this, I rest my case.

Vegan milk only finds favor with me as another line of business. Which of course Mr Sodhi would appreciate and explore, to provide new products to his devout customers, and spoil them for choice. Isn't that the essence of a business?

It is heart-wrenching to witness the pathetic conditions of the waif bovines, wandering the streets and squatting on the pavements. Their state being much more dismal than at the dairy farms. Shelterless. Foodless. Waterless.

A sincere request to PETA office bearers, please do something for those poor creatures, cattle and dogs alike, rotting on our streets!

Oh my Vegan!
Milk-Vilk Doodh-Voodh
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