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. I have also included resources from other vegans as helpful views to consider.Updated slightly Nov 5/2021.
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). The blood of horseshoe crabs is used to test for contamination. Animal testing was conducted, though side by side with human experimentation of the early COVID-19 vaccines. No doubt there is animal suffering in these steps of vaccine development and production. Ideally, we would have alternatives. A supplier of FBS acknowledges that alternatives should be developed but so far are not adequate.
It is clear and direct. “Refusing to take a vaccine on ethical grounds will not help animals who have already been used in tests but could lead to a decline in our health — and our ability to speak up for animals in the future. What is needed is a change in the law so that animals are no longer required to suffer in regulatory tests.”
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 re-infect humans. In the US, vaccines have received FDA approval and there are an increasing number of institutions and workplaces that are mandating them. They mRNA vaccines 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. In 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.
This post elaborates on the point that taking a COVID 19 vaccine may be morally excusable though not justifiable.
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. They 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. But we should be. 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 and other alternatives to animal testing have been discussed in recent UC Irvine webinars. The NY Times article on squalene mentions a CA based company and working on a synthetic alternative to shark derived squalene. 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 and could use our support. 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.
This is a guest post by Sunny Jain an MBA Candidate who is a leader in US Young Jain Professionals
I’ve heard the story one too many times of my vegan friends
abandoning their diet while visiting India either due to misinformation or
perceived difficulty. Some would say it’s too difficult and would rather just
enjoy food there, and others falsely believe that the dairy industry in India
is humane (would be interested in educating you if you’re one of those people
spreading fake news).
Before my trip to India, I decided that I would be the one to
break this mold and wouldn’t give in like everyone else does, and I readied my
battle armor as I boarded my flight.
10 days in, I found being vegan in India extremely reasonable
and not as awful as I originally thought it would be. In addition to eating
lavishly and trying almost any and every street food I laid my eyes on, I had
the opportunity to attend Mumbai’s first and largest vegan food festival.
Here are a few tips I want to share with those who plan to remain vegan while in India:
Dealing with Aunties and Uncles
Don’t hesitate to speak up and tell them in advance what you can
and can’t eat. To them, it’s like some unusual variation of the Jain diet
that they may not entirely comprehend
Aunties are notorious for being pushy and persistent when it comes
to eating home-cooked food, but they’ll respect your dietary restrictions
without question (at the end of the day, you’re the guest and they want to
cater to you!)
Just say: “no doodh (milk) and no ghee (butter)”
By default, food labeled “vegetarian” in India doesn’t have eggs
in it, so it’s just a matter of avoiding butter and milk
The Plane Ride to India
When purchasing to your flight, you’ll have an option to request a vegan meal. Depending on the airlines, you may have to do some digging and click the “Extras” tab to select a special meal type, ask for VGML, this is an international airline code for vegan meals.
Important: You must request a vegan meal 24 hours in advance before the flight or you will be out of luck
If that happens, just let the flight attendant know (they’re usually super accommodating and will find something for you – even if it’s as little as providing you with snacks and fruits/vegetables during the flight)
The vegan meal I received was delicious: quinoa rice with tofu and red sauce, a fruit cup, salad with vegan ranch dressing, bread, and vegan butter
It was so fire that I took a photo of it just to share on social media
If you’re able to survive the first connecting flight, the airport in Amsterdam has great vegan options
Soy Milk (“Soya Milk” in India)
The first thing you’ll want to do when you reach in India is get a
hold of soy milk wherever you’re staying
This is important because you’re going to be offered chai
multiple times a day so it’s good to let them know in advance to make it with
One option is to either ask your family in India to get some in
advance before you arrive, or you can buy some yourself
Soy milk is very accessible and readily available
Can be found at almost any decently big grocery store. If you
can’t find it at a location, just walk next door because all the grocery stores
tend to be next door to each other
I found regular unsweetened soy milk, chocolate soy milk,
hazelnut milk, and rice milk
When converted to USD, you’ll spend about 6 bucks a box
I would recommend getting a few extra boxes to last your time there. Vegan milk doesn’t spoil so it makes sense to stock up
SoFit Soya Milk is a famous Indian soymilk brand endorsed by John Abraham
Pau Bhaji is a staple street food you’re going to want to indulge
in. However, it’s usually served drowning in butter
I watched in disgust as a street vendor tossed entire slabs of
butter (un-human amounts) into the Pau Bhaji, and used another slab of butter
to wipe down with pau
There’s legit more butter swimming in it than actual bhaji
Fortunately, there’s an easy workaround which will allow you to enjoy street Pau Bhaji without the animal cruelty. It is completely acceptable to demand Pau Bhaji with no butter (remember: they’re catering to you, not vice versa). Tell them what you want, and 9 times out of 10 they’ll deliver
In their continuous process of making and replenishing bhaji, they’ll just serve you bhaji from the batch they cook before adding butter. This goes for pau as well.
Indian McDonald’s and Burger King
Request any veggie burger or wrap and subtract the cheese and mayonnaise
I would choose a food item that comes with other stuff like tomatoes and lettuce so you don’t end up with a plain burger with just the patty and onions (those burgers are already pretty simple as is)
If you’re a daring and adventurous foodie like I am, try out the Maharaja Mac
Ask a nearby Aunty about which desserts have ghee or made with milk. Should knock out about 75 percent of your options, but you’ll always find something worthwhile
For me, it was Kaju Katri and fresh Jalebi cooked in oil
Avoid sweets with Warakh (the silver coating on top) because it’s associated with animal cruelty
Vegan Friendly Indian food
Below are some great food items I tried in India which are vegan
South Indian food
Home Food (Moong, Daal, Sabji)
Burger King Burgers
Pau Bhaji (without Butter)
Feeding Biscuits to Stray Dogs
This is something I wish I realized early in my trip and recommend
to all my friends
Purchase a few packs of biscuits and carry it around wherever you go
Comes at about 10 rupees at any stall or store (converts to mere
pennies in USD)
As you travel and explore the city, hand biscuits to any stray dogs
These poor dogs on the streets are malnourished and hungry/thirsty,
and will gladly accept any food you give them
You can just place them on
the floor and make a kissing sound to get their attention
Vandhana gave three thoroughly researched and well delivered talks at JAINA 2017, of which we are posting two. The first talk was regarding the suffering of farmed animals with an emphasis on dairy and egg production. The second talk, for a Women’s Forum program, connected the exploitation of female animals in milk and egg production with the moral choices Jain women can make to avoid the violence.