Both modern textbooks and the ancient Vedas praise milk as a miracle food because it contains all the nutrients needed for good health. The Vedic scriptures add that milk develops the fine cerebral tissues needed for understanding Kṛṣṇa consciousness. In the Vedic age, many yogis lived only on milk, which was so abundant that householders gave it away freely. Because milk nourishes man both physically and spiritually, Vedic culture considers it the most important of all foods, essential to a civilized society.
The importance of milk indicates the importance of protecting cows. Like human beings, a cow is happy when she feels protected. A cow that can suckle her calf and trust her owner not to kill her when she runs dry is happy, and naturally gives sweeter, more abundant milk. The Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam tells us that under the protection of the saintly king Yudhisthira, the cows were so happy that their large udders filled to overflowing and they wet the ground with creamy milk. Another great Vedic king, Mahāraja Pariksit, astonished to find someone trying to kill a cow in his kingdom, immediately arrested the culprit and punished him.
Because people drink the cow’s milk, the Vedas consider the cow one of the mothers of human society (See Who is Mother?). “The blood of the cow is very nutritious,” Śrīla Prabhupāda said, “but civilized men utilize it in the form of milk.” The bull, who helps produce grains by tilling the fields, is considered the father of human society. The interdependance of man and the bull and cow is a perfect example of the harmony of nature, as ordained by Kṛṣṇa Himself. Furthermore, both these animals are considered valuable because from them come panca-gavya, five pure substances, namely milk, yogurt, ghee, cow dung and cow urine. All these substances are required in Vedic ceremonies. Even the cows dung and urine are antiseptic and fit for sacrificial offerings and medicine. Thus, in Bhagavad-gītā Kṛṣṇa personally speaks of go-raksyam, cow protection. Unfortunately, in our “advanced” civilization, people neglect spiritual knowledge and promote cow-killing on a massive scale. “It is to be understood then,” writes Śrīla Prabhupāda,
“that human society is advancing in the wrong direction and is clearing the path to its own condemnation.”Srila Prabhupada
In the matter of protecting cows, some meat-eaters will protest, but in answer to them we say that since Kṛṣṇa gives stress to cow protection, those who are inclined to eat meat, despite all reasonable arguments to the contrary, should eat the flesh of less important animals like hogs, poultry, or fish, but they should not kill cows. The Vedas state that anyone implicated in the killing of a cow will have to take as many rebirths in the material world as there are hairs on the back of the cow. And the Vedas are not the only scriptures to condemn cow-killing. In the Bible (66:3) Isaiah declares, “He that killeth an ox is as he that killeth a man.“
On the whole, meat-eating is not completely forbidden in Vedic culture: a particular class of people is allowed to eat meat according to various circumstances and injunctions. Killing cows, however, is strictly forbidden to everyone. Śrīla Prabhupāda proposed that if someone must eat beef, then he should eat the carcasses of cows that die naturally. After an initial period of apparent scarcity, there will be plenty of carcasses to go around.
The most important reason for protecting cows is that Kṛṣṇa loves them. The Vedic scriptures tell us that in Kṛṣṇa-loka, Lord Kṛṣṇa’s eternal abode in the spiritual sky, there are cows called surabhi, which the Lord Himself takes care of. Kṛṣṇa’s abode is also called Goloka, or the planet of the cows.
Five thousand years ago, when Lord Kṛṣṇa appeared in this world, He played as a cowherd boy in the North Indian village of Vrindavana and showed His affection for cows. His childhood pastimes revolved around His cows and calves, His cowherd friends, and milk products. So Kṛṣṇa is also called Govinda, “one who gives pleasure to the cows,” and Gopala, “the friend of the cows. Because in play He pilfered His neighbours’ stocks of butter and yoghurt, He is called Makhana-taskara, “the butter thief.”
Cow’s milk is the source of three essential ingredients in Vedic cooking: ghee (clarified butter), paneer (fresh cheese), and Dahi (yoghurt). Ghee has been an esteemed cooking medium since the Vedic times, when along with grains and cows it was counted among the riches of the household. Ghee is the essence of butter and the very best of all cooking mediums. It is made by heating butter very slowly until all the water is driven off and the solids have separated, leaving a clear golden-yellow oil. It has a faintly sweet, delicate, nutlike flavor that lends an irresistible quality to foods cooked in it. And it won’t raise the cholesterol level in your blood.
Ghee has other attributes besides its taste. You can heat it to high temperatures and it won’t bubble or smoke, because the water (which boils at 212°F/100°C) and the protein solids (which burn at 250°F/125°C) have been removed. Ghee is ideal for sauteing, braising, pan-frying, and deep-frying. It will add a new dimension to your cooking.
Cheese as we know it in the West is virtually unknown in India, where people prefer their milk products fresh, rather than aged. Paneer is a fresh homemade cheese that has many uses. Drained, it can be added directly to soups and vegetable dishes, or eaten as is. Pressed, it can be made into sweets, or, it can be cut into cubes and used, raw or deep-fried, in vegetable dishes.
Yoghurt finds its way into practically every Indian meal. If not served plain in a little bowl (always unsweetened), it’s used in preparing some dish. The bland taste of yoghurt complements the flavour of spicy dishes, and, mixed with rice and vegetables, it acts as a binder to make it easy to eat with your hands. The Ayurveda suggests that yoghurt be eaten with other foods, not alone.
Yoghurt gets its healthful qualities from the friendly bacteria in it. Avoid commercially produced yoghurt that has been heat-treated, sterilized, or treated with artificial preservatives, sweeteners, and flavours. The processing destroys the bacteria. We hope you will discover how easy and pleasant it is to make your own yoghurt.