11/03/2015 8:18 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

Where's The Beef? One Expat's View On The Maharashtra Beef Ban

When I read the headlines about the beef ban this week, a couple thoughts struck me. A five year prison sentence for being in possession of meat! Are you kidding me? Makes the 10,000 rupee fine seem like an absurd punchline to a prison joke.

The Washington Post via Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC-February 4: The Beef Shortribs with charred baby carrots and celery root puree at Pinea Restaurant in The W Hotel in downtown Washington, DC. (Photo by Scott Suchman/For the Washington Post)

"I'll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today."

-Wimpy, Popeye's friend. 1932

When I read the headlines about the beef ban this week, a couple thoughts struck me. A five year prison sentence for being in possession of meat! Are you kidding me? Makes the 10,000 rupee fine seem like an absurd punchline to a prison joke.

"What you in for, yaar?"



"They caught me red-handed with a half-a-kilo slab of medium-rare steak."

"That's tough, yaar."

"No, it was juicy."

"Was it worth it?"

"Ask me in five years, buddy. Hey. . . I was wondering. Could you lend me 10 grand?"

I'm a Mumbai resident now. Have been going on two years. As an American I've had my fair share of beef throughout my life. My earliest form of ingestion was part of a culturally-accepted ritual consisting of unwrapping a wad of gaudy paper and extracting something called a cheeseburger - followed by a brief visual scan of the contents before scarfing it down at near the speed of light. I participated in this quaint phenomenon from about age six well into adulthood. Most my life. Then came the discovery of brewpubs at age 21 and an upgraded menu of quality burgers at more premium prices. This was apart from the occasional steak, or one of dozens of other zombie-eyed cattle dishes ranging the great American plains of hormone-injected beefiness.

Peculiarly, when I arrived in India, I didn't miss beef. Not in the slightest. Not that I could be tempted. The outsourced fast-food joints like McDonalds and Burger King didn't serve beef menu items. Much of the so-called beef in restaurants was actually buffalo meat, a whole other thing entirely. And the few other places that did serve beef in the form of steak really weren't up to snuff with what I'm accustomed to in the States. At best, places like Imbiss and some of the high-class eateries in Mumbai dished-up what could only be described as a strip-tease for steak-lovers. Much of the beef, I learned, arrived in customs frozen like a block of ice. Hardly sexy, heavily over-hyped, and no cigar.

Imports of Frozen Beef by Key Supply Country in 2008 - 112,066 Tonnes

Personal preferences aside, there is a bigger picture to consider. Could it be that if we were to look beyond the apparent overreach by the state on behalf of religious interests, that there could be a much more important reason for the banning of beef? More important than our "freedom" to choose what we eat, more important than animal rights, more important than job loss and a disgruntled cattle industry?

Consider the extreme environmental impact of beef as part of the overall red meat consumption the world over. The Guardian reported in 2014 that red meat production is exceedingly wasteful, requiring 28 times more land and 11 times more water than for chicken or pork. In fact, statistically-speaking, giving up red meat would be more effective for reducing carbon emissions than giving up our precious cars.

It's no secret that Americans consume more red meat than anyone else in the Milky Way at just over 120 kg per person annually. Comparatively, Indians are at the opposite side of the spectrum, consuming roughly 4.4 kg of red meat per person annually. But there's more to the picture than just consumption and demand.

On the supply side, cattle and all of our divinely-hoofed neighbors emit embarrassingly copious volumes of unpleasant odors in the form of CH4 (methane), a major greenhouse gas contributor. Cattle are cited as the biggest moo-vers of enteric CH4 emissions in the world. And who's got all the cows? As the below chart shows, India lights up like Mumbai during Diwali. While India shouldn't to be singled-out for the entirety of blame (bovine density represents only a small slice of the global warming pie), the developing world as a whole is responsible for the highest total of greenhouse gas emissions in the world stemming from livestock.

Granted, there are a lot of fed-up people over the beef ban, so to speak. Many of us don't like government and religious authorities dictating what we can or cannot eat. But where's the global concern about global warming and climate change? I'm talking about personal and direct actions that matter, lifestyle changes that could be difficult or even terrifying to undertake at first - like sustaining from beef and all red meat derived from irresponsible sources wreaking environmental havoc. Because at what point does just agreeing that there is a huge crisis facing humankind become little more than a joke if we can only think of our extinction in abstract terms?

The human race is facing extinction on a massive scale due to our own actions, according to overwhelming evidence. Changing our diets and the ways we raise our livestock - with the goal of having a sustainable impact on our environment - are a couple of vital steps Americans and Indians can take together to make a difference.