How to Love Your Cow and Eat it Too

Switzerland loves its cows. But unlike India, there is no merging of the bovine and divine.

A cow stands on the Klausenpass mountain pass road, 1,952 m (6,404 ft) in the Swiss Alps August 19, 2009. In the background is the Urnerboden Valley. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann (SWITZERLAND ENVIRONMENT ANIMALS TRAVEL IMAGES OF THE DAY) - RTR26VUH

A cow stands on the Klausenpass mountain pass road, 1,952 m (6,404 ft) in the Swiss Alps August 19, 2009. In the background is the Urnerboden Valley. Credit: Arnd Wiegmann/Reuters/Files

Switzerland and India are united in their love for the cow. Unlike many Indians though, the Swiss have no qualms about tucking into beef.

The cow is an integral part of the Swiss landscape and an important part of its economy. Their milk goes into making Swiss chocolate and cheese and they are a tourist attraction unto themselves. The zeal with which Indian tourists take pictures of Swiss cows is only matched by westerners clicking away at the cows loitering on Indian roads.

Swiss farmers have come up with numerous ways to show them off – most notably through cow beauty contests and cow fighting competitions. One of the great Swiss mountain traditions is the “Désalpe” or “Alpabfahrt” in autumn when cows descend from their summer Alpine pastures to the plains. They are adorned with flowers and welcomed like heroes by hundreds of people who line the route to catch a glimpse of the bovine procession. The closest Indian equivalent I can think of are the temple chariot processions in southern India. But unlike India, there is no merging of the bovine and divine.

The Swiss love their beef and consume around 28 kilos of beef and veal per person every year compared to a measly 0.5 kilos per Indian. I’ll never forget the sight of seeing a whole cow being barbecued for an entire day at the over 500-year old St Martin fair in the town of Vevey where I used to live. When ready, the entire beast is consumed by fairgoers in a couple of hours. Only a few yards away, the best cows in the region would be paraded by farmers, who, in the old days, would exchange them for other goods.

This adoration of cows along with an appetite for beef is not seen as a contradiction but the natural order of things here. The Swiss express their attachment to the animals in the way they treat them during their short but productive lives. Animal welfare laws are very strict. Cattle cannot be transported more than six hours, must be stunned before slaughter and ritualistic killing practices like Halal are not permitted. Furthermore, the law has provisions to protect the “dignity” of the animal and protect it from “humiliation”. These measures could include providing a bra for cows with udders that are painfully full of milk, or even straightening curved horns that can cause discomfort or injury to the animal.

Some attempts at cow protection have even gone beyond what the law requires. Swiss scientist have conducted a study to test the impact of cowbells on behaviour. At over 100 decibels, the bell noise appears to affect their feeding patterns and pioneering attempts to replace bells with GPS units are underway. Even the Swiss political system of direct democracy has been harnessed in the name of cow welfare. A farmer recently collected over 100,000 signatures to launch a nationwide vote on providing extra subsidies for letting cows keep their horns. It is estimated that only around 10% of Swiss cows have horns due to the practice of removing them when young to avoid accidents and fights.

On learning that I am vegetarian, most of my Swiss friends and colleagues react by saying they are trying to reduce their meat consumption and buying free range meat from local farms. Far from being a defensive reaction, it is a demonstration of an understanding of where one’s food comes and animal welfare issues. If there is any contradiction, it is in India where beef eating and beef eaters are forced underground while cows are often left to fend for themselves by foraging for garbage.

Anand Chandrasekhar is a journalist at and is based in Bern, Switzerland.

  • Rohini

    Author, we don’t need to look west all the time. That would only give us a crick in the neck and a permanently distorted vision.
    The idea that you ‘care’ for an animal that you intend to dismember and ‘kill humanely’ is a perversion of logic. Its an oxymoron. The meat and fashion industry is a shamefully immoral gluttonous industry run by humans who pretend to ‘care for animals’ .

    • alok asthana

      So, what would you do with an old cow? And why kill goats & chicken. Any sin they committed? In any case, India is for Indians of all hues – ask the foreign ministry.

      • Rohini

        Does my comment exclude chicken and other animals? And my comment makes some specific points – about the mean and fashion INDUSTRY!
        Counter question – any reason the consumption of meat and fashion products from animals should show such a steep upward curve? Is it about food or something else?

      • Rohini

        “So, what would you do with an old cow? And why kill goats & chicken. Any sin they committed? In any case, India is for Indians of all hues – ask the foreign ministry.”

        What would I do with an old cow? I don’t have one, to be able to tell you but if I did, I would look after it till it died – like I look after an old dog which has been a valuable companion 🙂
        Any reason dogs should receive more attention and be treated with such kid gloves than cows? Why not sell off all our old dogs to vietnam for their dog meat industry?

        ” And why kill goats & chicken” to eat them, is my answer 🙂

        “India is for Indians of all hues – ask the foreign ministry.””
        I suspect the foreign ministry is NOT responsible for the ‘hue’ of our Indians – it is their genes, in other words their ancestry which can answer for the ‘hue’ of an Indian. But, What has this got to do with a cow in Switzerland?

  • alok asthana

    Very well written. How much Indians truly care for ‘mother cow’ is seen by me daily on indian roads. About a year back, it was all over the national TV channels where condition of government cow shelters in BJP state MP was shown. Cows were dying of hungers and cow-bhakts were siphoning all the money. Cow-worship is as genuine in India as is worship of mother Ganges. After all, all the muck in Ganges has not been put in there only by 12% population of India knows as Muslims, not is the much due to ISI. Is all done by hindy bhakts.

  • alok asthana

    There are some interesting comments here talking of comparing cow slaughter, keeping your old parents in an old age home and handing over your old pet dog to the meat industry. I think there is a confusion. Is a question of your rights versus your ethics. Rights are enforceable, ethics is not. If I wish to hand over my old pet dog to the meat industry, I am allowed to. No one is forcing anyone to hand over the cow to a slaughter house. As for ethics, we are trying to force a person to keep an old cow or to keep old parents ( for which the BJP will NEVER make a law), but then people might ask for a law to force the PM to keep his wife with him or to divorce her properly.
    Are wives and parents not even as important in hinduism as an old cow? Why the comparison only with a dog?

    • Rohini

      you asked what I would do with my old cow..i gave you the answer.
      the reason we compare dogs and cows is that both are animals that are domesticated. Yet, cultures that eat the cow shudder at the thought of eating dog the west. The same for Muslims around the world. In fact, Muslims are even forbidden to keep a dog as a pet.
      there is a huge outcry from the so called animals rights orgns against the dog meat industry in se Asia.
      the point here is that it’s clear that cultural connotations play a huge role in what is seen as acceptable meat to consume and what is not.
      and certain animals receive protection in certain cultures because of this cultural connotation. But we can continue to disagree with each other.
      but now, I want to call you out on a more important issue..that of the dignity of a woman and how you choose to violate it at will…ypu and people like you who want to pick a fight with Modi but then drag a private female citizen and her dignity onto boards like this. For shame. Leave her alone. Learn to fight your political battles without using her.

      i think the whole idea of dragging in a private citizen into your comment to make what you believe is a rock solid point exposes your misogyny.
      you think nothing of dragging a woman, a senior citizen and her personal life into your political fight with care nothing for the privacy of the lady..
      and here you are, claiming to fight for the rights of unnamed people to eat beef!!

      I would say that when you learn to show some respect for a woman’s privacy, and not violate it in this cavalier manner, with such colossal lack of respect for her, then, maybe you can be taken seriously. As of now, you appear to be just another Indian man who thinks nothing of verbally violating a woman, when suitable to him.

      • alok asthana

        I like your idea of leaving Modi free to decide how to treat his wife and mother. Genuinely, I agree wholeheartedly. But only if you too agree that people should be allowed to do what they want to their cows. So, what now?

        • Rohini

          **”I like your idea of leaving Modi free to decide how to treat his wife and mother. Genuinely, I agree wholeheartedly. But only if you too agree that people…etc”***
          The dignity of women cannot be bargained for. Notice how you brought an eighty year old woman in as well
          What is your argument worth when you cannot defend it? You use maa, behen, biwi..when you run out of logical arguments – as a deflection, a so called ‘weapon’. Clearly, you lost the argument with me, hence bring in Maa, behen, biwi…
          That exposes your illiberal, backward, misogynist, lethal and rapist mindset. People who ‘like’ your request are of the same mindset.
          This is exactly the mindset of men who molest women on the streets – “I will not molest you but you should not look me in the eye when I say a few disgusting words about your body..what now”?

          Answer to your “what now” – nothing now. You carry on with your attitude – except you now stand exposed for what you really are and all that talk about secularism, intellectualism, liberalism is worth little when your actions and views wrt to women are worthy of contempt

          • alok asthana

            I agree with you that the dignity of a woman (anyone’s dignity for that matter) can not be bargained for. That is why I am rooting for a dignified life for the wife and mother of Sri Modi. For a wife and 85 year old mother, dignified life is with the man, isn’t it?

          • Rohini

            Thank you but they will root for themselves. we don’t need internet political warrioirs to use them as their ‘brahma astras’ when they run out of logical arguments.

          • Rohini

            Maa behen, biwi…Intellectually weak men always need a crutch when they run out of logical arguments, insulting women being the easiest. You need that crutch..root away, my good man, root away.

          • Rohini

            “. For a wife and 85 year old mother, dignified life is with the man, isn’t it?”

            Women have no agency? That a woman who lives without a MAN is undignified!!

            Thank you for so thoroughly exposing yourself, sir. According to you, any single woman – divorcee, single mom, widow, raped women with children from the rape, other rape victims etc..are leading ‘undignified’ lives because they don’t have a MAN!
            HEAR HEAR..the views of the modern male ‘intellectual liberal’ in 21st Century India.

        • Rohini

          ***”But only if you too agree that people should be allowed to do what they want to their cows.”***
          I think animals deserve dignity especially when you exploit them for commercial reasons. I htink nature needs to be preserved from human depredation and greed.
          You think animals should be killed at will and that women can be dragged on the streets when it suits you to be stripped of their dignity.

          • alok asthana

            So, animals deserve dignity but not mothers and wives? Am shaken that it is a woman of mother India who is more keen on the dignity of an animal but not on that of other women ( mothers, wives). A cow is revered because it is considered to be equal to a mother. But what about the actual mother? Roles reversed, is it?

          • Rohini

            ” Am shaken that it is a woman of mother India who is more keen on the dignity of an animal but not on that of other women ( mothers, wives). A cow is revered because it is considered to be equal to a mother. But what about the actual mother? Roles reversed, is it?”

            Indeed, Shaken, are you? How shaken? Shaken enough to bring drag a 60+ old woman and an 80+ year old woman onto these boards for your arguments? From there, it is but a small leap to rape and molestation, sexual abuse. You may get ‘so shaken’ someday, you would leap logically to everything beyond.
            You exemplify the worst of Indian men – misogynists and rapists masquerading as do-gooders. You are in exalted company – Tarun Tejpal, Pachauri, William Dalrymple, Tunku Varadarajan….all ‘fighting for women’s dignity’ while assaulting them when it suits them.

  • Sumanta Banerjee

    This is a suggestion that may be considered by the cow-bhakts, Modi-bhakts and Sangh Parivar bhakts. The `sants’ of the latter are promoting a remedy for all ailments, called `panchagavyam’ – a concoction prepared by mixing five products deprived from cow: (i) milk; (ii) dung; (iii) urine; (iv) curd; and (v) ghee. Since they strongly feel that nothing from the cow should be discarded, and every part of her should be worshipped, I suggest they also add `beef’ as the sixth component of the concoction, so that the non-vegetarian consumers can derive benefit from the cow’s remains and pay their respects to `go-mata.’ They can change the name of the concoction as `shatgavyam.’

  • Akshay Rajput

    Alok asthana , yes india is land of all hues. Therefore cow slaughter ban is Logical religiously and economically. Alive cow gives milk that can be given to hunger childs.

    Cow has been Uppemost place as animal in Jainism, Sikhism, Buddhism and Hinduism.
    So there should not been allowed to hurt religious sentiment .
    Vanderbilt mataram & Bharat mata ki jay

  • Rohini

    I am sorry to disagree with you. The data does not bear you out so, can you point me to a source where I can check this ‘beef is a cheaper form of protein’ for myself?
    Both global and local commodity prices indicate that chicken is cheaper than beef.

    Use the website to compare with chicken or anything you wish.

    below is another webiste that calculates cost of living in India..check the prices of beef vs. chicken.

    The data released by the WPI also does not support your contention. Please check the website for data comparing beef with chicken, for e.g.

    Besides all this – your assumption that the BEST form of protein is meat protein is erroneous. There are many vegetarian substitues available for protein. In fact, for a long time, we Indians considered meat to be a ‘treat’ to be had once a week or on certain special days…now, it is a daily affair. That’s over-consumption, and is unnecessary as well as harmful to our health and the environment.

  • Rohini

    ***”As an English-writing, internet-browsing urban person, you have no idea what happens on the grassroots. More than 70 per cent of Indians eat meat traditionally.”****

    Can you refer me to any objective data that shows 70% of Indians eat meat today? Please define ‘traditionally’?
    And you are conflating meat with beef. The entire discussion is about beef in India and its connotations, NOT other meat or sea food. Neither is the discussion about vegetarianism.

    Please explore this invaluable resource from the OECD website that documents historical meat consumption across countries, and meat categories. Tt shows, clearly, the position of India on beef, poultry and pork consumption. (Mutton (or goat meat) and sea food is missing) You can play around with it to see the data in a time series as well.
    Observations that clearly throw off any contentions about teh widespread use of meat in India:
    1. Total overall consumption of the 3 types of meat in India is the LOWEST in the world – approx < 3 kg per capita. In a country of 1.2 bn, this shows that the per capita consumption of meat is miniscule – and he no. of people doing so is also tiny. Probably a small % of people account for most of this meat consumption.
    2. India has the LOWEST consumption in all groupings of similar countries, including BRICS, G 20.
    3. BEEF CONSUMPTION per capita In India has FALLEN steeply from 2000-2016
    4. PORK CONSUMPTION has fallen steeply from 2000-2016
    5. POULTRY (chieck) consumption has risen from 2000-2016 i.e., k here is a clear negative ccorelation between poultry and beef./pork consumption. This is in keeping with the fact that rising incomes moves people to better meat options. Why is chicken better in India? because Indian beef and pork are of the lowest quality when compared to international standards. Hence, low cost.

    So, the data belies your assertions that Indians cannot do without meat protein OR that they are 'traditionally' meat eaters – yes, a number maybe traditionally eating meat but nowhere near the sort of quatities that people like you imply. Indian diets are strongly linked to vegetarian soirces of proteins, making animal protein a 'nice to have' or a 'treat'.
    And now, with the scary warnings from the WHO classifying red meat as a carcinogen in the same c as tobacco, we must think carefully about what meats we consume as a nation.
    Add to this the mounting evidence about how harmfull bovine agriculture is to the environemnt – not only in terms of CO2 but also in terms of the land use changes, taking valuable arable land away from food grain cultivation – the headlong rush towards more and more meat consumption is simply not sustainable.
    India must think about sustainability – and in the long run, bovine agriculture for meat eating is NOT sustainable.

    "People like you advocate compassion towards animals, but in actuality you are ignoring the poor."

    I suggest you bring data to back your assertions about brahmins and ignoring the poor. Such statements like 'ignoring the poor' are melodrama, not fact, Works in JNU campus, not in the real world

  • Rohini

    Er…female feticide IS illegal….And its not only the Hindu ‘gentry’ that does it, dear asit guin – Indians, religion no bar, covet male children and kill of females. Just as they covet and demand dowry and burn brides for it…