Svetambar sadhu Padmasagar Maharaj talks to the community about the blood and pus consumed in drinking milk and encourages his followers to give up milk, too. He reminds them that mung beans and other legumes are very nutritious and a staple of the Jain diet.
This post was written to answer a question that was raised in the JAINA webinar on 12/27/2020 and sent by email to the JAINA education committee on the acceptability of the COVID19 vaccines in use from a Jain vegetarian and vegan perspective. Views are mine as lead of the Ahimsak Eco-Vegan Committee, as a physician who has worked in vaccine development and drug safety, and who has also been vegan since 1990.
Animal ingredients and testing in vaccines
Both mRNA vaccines, the Pfizer/Biontech and Moderna vaccines, contain fetal bovine serum (FBS) to culture cell lines used in production of the vaccines and use animal testing, as required by regulatory agencies, for early stages (preclinical) of vaccines development. Some of the vaccine candidates use shark derived squalene as an adjuvant (to increase the immune response to a vaccine). No doubt there is animal suffering in these steps of vaccine development and ideally we would have alternatives. A supplier of FBS acknowledges that alternatives should be developed but so far are not adequate
Regulators require vaccines and drugs to be tested on animals.
Choosing the least harmful option in an world that exploits animals endlessly
Our foremost ethical principle is ahimsa. There is not an absolute prohibition against taking medication and vaccines that have been developed or tested on animals or that continue to be produced using animal byproducts. However, where we can find alternatives, we choose the least harmful. If a woman needs to take estrogen for menopausal symptoms, it would be better to take yam based estradiol rather than pregnant mare urine derived conjugated estrogens. It would be preferable to take vegan Vitamin D3 and DHA rather than that derived from animal sources. Some vegans are able to find compounding pharmacists to make the active ingredients of a medicine available without encapsulating it in gelatin.
In the case of COVID19, the benefits of vaccination are an order of magnitude greater than most since the disease has ignited a global pandemic. In addition to the human suffering that is foremost in our minds, animals, such as mink have been killed because of their potential risk to reinfect humans. In the US, so far no vaccine has been FDA approved, rather they are being used with Emergency Use Authorization. However, they are 95% efficacious, have local and non serious side effects in the time frame studied so far, and, along with continued social distancing and wearing of masks, represent society’s best hope to end a pandemic by decreasing transmission of SARSCoV2. Healthcare workers, elderly in nursing homes and others who have no choice but to interact with large numbers of people in their jobs face greater risk in the continuation and worsening of this pandemic than the risk of a rare adverse event that may surface in the coming months. These groups have been appropriately prioritized to get the vaccine in the first wave in the US. When a vaccine becomes available to the broader population and with the dynamic situation of the virus mutating and increasing numbers of vaccines becoming available, there may be continuing opportunities to evaluate the most beneficial and least harmful option. In the short term, we may have to take in products of society that exploits animals– in so many ways that byproducts of slaughter are cheap and use in science pales in comparison to the amount eaten– for our survival. Below are links to two webinars that present views pertinent to vegan Jains.
Webinars with additional points for vegans and Jains
In the webinar below, from about 54 minutes to 1hour 10min several vegan doctors discuss animal testing in the vaccine with an extended ethical discussion grounded by the small numbers of animals tested as compared to the large number of lives saved. He didn’t even discuss the mink killed as an example of animals harmed by continuation of the pandemic. As a side note, I was surprised to hear their discussion of organic produce that follows, detailing the greater harm to animals because of the by products used, compared to conventional produce. I am not sure that the harms to workers of pesticide application and to climate and soils has been adequately considered but it is an interesting discussion.
Another excellent webinar was in the UK discussing the COVID19 disease, various vaccines available and their health system’s approach. There are some differences between the UK, US and other countries in disease spread, health system functioning and vaccine roll out, and since information has changed so quickly, some aspects may not apply as time goes on, but it is instructive. They correctly note around 1:23 that the vaccine was tested on animals. They also note that the ingredients of mRNA vaccines are vegan, a point which is strictly true, but as referenced in the articles I linked above, the process involves culturing in cell lines and the media contain some animal byproducts. Still as I discuss above, I believe it makes sense to take the vaccine because of the greater benefits for us compared to harms to animals and risks to us as humans.
Towards a better way
We as Jains have not been at the forefront of developing alternatives to animal products in drug and vaccine development and to move the regulatory agencies and companies away from testing on animals. We can support the improvement in methods of systematic observation and interpretation of data which we call science, without condoning the view of animals as soul-less machines that are to be used as humans wish. Organs on a chip were discussed in a recent UC Irvine webinar. The NYTimes article on squalene mentions a CA based company and working on a synthetic alternative to shark derived squalene and organizations such as Center for Contemporary Sciences , Physicians Committee For Responsible Medicine and PETA are working on supporting innovations in human based research and reforming the US regulatory system. Europe may be ahead in accepting alternatives to animals in research. If any reader is aware of the situation in India or other countries please comment.
Choosing a vegan diet, avoiding non-vegan clothing and entertainment and educating others to do the same helps us, as a human global community, move in the right direction. The more we move away from wet markets, encroachment on wild animals’ lands and slaughterhouses, the better our chances to prevent such outbreaks in the future. We can also support veganic agriculture to avoid environmental and worker harm from pesticides and animal harm from their byproducts being used in forming.
And if we as Jains consider ourselves to lead the world in our practice of ahimsa, we need to step out of our traditional comfort zone of home and temple as the locus of Jain practice. We need to apply our extraordinary professional and entrepreneurial success into development of ahimsak alternatives in all fields, including science.
A traditional Gujarati dish called patra is made with colabasia leaves in India, which are lovely large green leaves. Here’s an example of a traditional recipe which has nice step by step pictures.
I’ve adapted the recipe to use collard greens that are rich in bioavailable calcium and other important nutrients and easily available in North America and omit frying with oil. I like my patra hot and freshly steamed, no oil necessary.
Wash the collards after cutting the thick stems
Then make a Chickpea flour paste:
1 cup chana flour 2 tsp salt ½ tsp cayenne pepper (marchu) ¼ tsp dried turmeric (hardar) ¼ tsp garam masala 1 tsp cumin and coriander powder (dhanu jeeru) pinch baking soda
Add water to form a paste and apply on the collard leaves. It should be a little thicker than pictured below.
Stack the leaves on top of one another, with the largest leaves farther back.
Roll them up and steam them for a long time. I steam them in the Instant pot, about 15 minutes manual pressure cooking. You could use other steamers too.
Below is how they look after i steamed and cut them. You’ll see some prettier versions on the more professional recipe sites, but they taste just as good if they’re not as tightly wrapped.
You can adjust the seasonings per your taste. Sprinkle on some sesame seeds or coconut flakes if you like.
I was born in the state of North Carolina in the US. Every meal I had up until about four years ago had body parts, animal secretions or both in them. This is still seen as normal, especially in the south of the country. You see, in the south, there is a whole culture, one where people proudly display stickers andlicense plates on their cars and trucks with pictures of happy pigs along with the word “barbeque”. There are billboards on the sides of roads advertising things like steak, cheeseburgers, chicken, tacos, fish, milkshakes… On and on it goes, billboard after billboard after billboard, all of them screaming out to us, “In the name of our profits and your desires, participate in this violence!”. The same message over and over again one after the other. Not only do we have billboards screaming these messages at us, but, for some reason, the advertisers seem to think the more body parts and secretions they put between two slices of bread, the better these things they are advertising will be to those that consume them. In actuality, there is a culture of more (more violence/more harm) equals better, and many restaurants in the country are cashing in because of it.
About four years ago I went vegan. Why? I saw footage from a film called “Earthlings”. This film is not for the faint of heart, as it dives deep into the dark details,showing us what goes on in the hidden places that the meat industry, dairy industry, and fishing industry need to thrive. By the way, a little sidenote here about the dairy industry, something that is important to know: the meat industry and dairy industry are tied together, not exactly two separate industries as many seem to think, they are pretty much one and the same. More here on that.
Now, back to the film… What changed my heart, the thing that went deep into me, was seeing a cow in a slaughter chute on her way into the area of the slaughterhouse where they put a bolt through her skull. Can you imagine the fear she was experiencing, the trauma? I couldn’t help but think of the smells, the sounds, the things she saw, what was happening inside her mind and body because of all this. I didn’t know what to do with what I was deeply experiencing due to this, so I did the only thing I knew to do, I paced the floor. Back and forth. Back and forth. Back and forth. My whole body felt like it was quaking. That day I made the decision to never participate in any of these things again, and I never did. Fast forward to the year 2020. This is where Jainism enters the picture.
Dr. Brianne Donaldson, scholar of Jainism, recently wrote an article about the cultural blindness of our response to slaughterhouse workers. In the Covid19 pandemic, the mental health of farmers was deemed worthy to support. However, “essential” slaughterhouse workers are traumatized every day.
As she says, ” If killing animals is this traumatic, why have anyone do it? Far from “essential” business, slaughterhouse work destroys animals and corrodes the well-being of people. Since nearly all humans living in the industrialized world can live well and healthy without animal flesh, the time has come to transition away from a practice widely acknowledged to be a source of personal trauma and social harm.”
She also gave an engaging 40 minute interview the role of animal agriculture in the Covid19 pandemic.
As Dr. Donaldson describes, it is often immigrants and refugees that work in slaughterhouses. Back when I worked on refugee health, I, too found that the resettlement agencies in NC had placed the refugees from Asia into slaughterhouse jobs.
I try to eliminate both plastic packaging and eat local and vegan. This quiz tells us that it would take 11 years of minimizing plastic to achieve the same climate benefiting effects as going vegetarian. We know that going vegan is even better! Here’s the reference
The article accompanying the quiz makes the important point that we can choose to prioritize those actions that make the most impact on the climate; in addition to choosing a vegetarian diet, limiting airplane trips, having less children. They also note that those in the US and Canada contribute far more to climate change than those in India. However, authors of the Lancet article cited in this NY Times piece suggest that poor people in countries such as India NEED animal protein. Iron deficiency anemia is an example of a micro-nutrient deficiency that people recommend meat eating to address; however that can create iron overload in a way that plant iron in green leafy vegetables and nuts do not. While Jains will not make these arguments for eating meat, we do the same regarding milk. It is the type of argument that a Jain sadhvi made about why she does not recommend veganism to the community. “They don’t have access to green smoothies”, was her variation on the theme.
This is our cultural blind spots at work. We can summon the will to transform our agricultural system to cultivate a greater variety of plants, and to reform our economic system to ensure that people have access to enough quantity and variety of food, including a variety of sources of plant proteins and sufficient micro-nutrients, including iron. Let’s not fall into the trap of assuming that traditions of cruelty and convenience are the only way to meet human needs.
We have just posted the Jain declaration on the climate crisis as a new page. Please read and consider it and on this day of Samvatsari for Svetambar Jains, consider if you’d like to endorse it and make any commitments. There is an endorse button at the top of the page. Above for illustrative purposes only. This is not the pledge associated with the Jain declaration.
Sailesh Rao of Climate Healers places our going vegan as the #1 thing we can do for the plant.
The book Drawdown and its associated website gives details of solutions in all different sectors.
My co-author, Sudhanshu, also describes the top 8 items you can do to address the climate crisis. Continue reading →
At the last JAINA convention in 2019, I had the great honor of meeting and interviewing Shree Charukeerthi Bhattarak Panditacharyavarya Swami about ahimsa as the guidine principle for Jains to should consider veganism. He explains the lineage of other monks and teachers such as Chitrabhanuji that have inspired him. His gentle style “No force”, is a beautiful example of how we can encourage each other.
Vegan Jains went to India in November 2019 for a trip that combined medical care volunteering near Hyderabad, visiting a palliative care organization in Trivandram, visiting tourist sites up the Kerala coast, including the Mata Amritamaya Ashram, and then visiting family in Mumbai. From the traditional vegetarian food which had plenty of vegan options to unique vegan restaurants, to hotel breakfasts and specialties made by family, we found that those who catered to travelers had all heard of the word vegan, family was accustomed to preparing food vegan, and the level of spice and oil, as well as food safety when eating out were bigger concerns than veganism.
We flew Air India on the way and were pretty disappointed by the bland food on the long transpacific flight. However, I was delighted when upgraded to first class on the Delhi-Hyd leg AND, they had extra vegan meals so i could eat a nice Indian dinner. Arriving at the Novotel airport hotel, the breakfast buffet offered temptations that flew right in the face of eating with restraint! Made to order split mung crepes, called pesarattu, as well as the more usual south Indian specialities of idli and dosa, as well as North indian breads such as cauliflower parathas along with fruit and nut loaded oatmeal, toast with vegan bread, soymilk and juice and all manner of international dishes left me full for the day.
Eating with our fellow volunteers in rural districts around Hyderabad, we were able to avoid the yogurt (curd in India) ladled up by our colleague in the photo at the top, and still enjoy the dal, squash,mixed veg curry, chappati, rice and peeled cucumbers. There was a whole article on how Hyderabad was voted the most vegan friendly city in India and at the end of the trip we got to go to Smar Alec’s, an all vegan restaurant.