In the West, raising cattle has a significant cost, but in India, according to Marvin Harris, it does not. Why does he believe that to be true?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Part of the reason why Harris argues that there is a greater cost benefit analysis to raising cows in India is because of the approach indigenous farmers take as opposed to their Western counterparts.  Harris argues that in America and "the West," feeding cows is an expensive endeavor. Harris quotes a Cornell economist who suggests that  "Approximately three quarters of the arable land in the United States is devoted to growing food for livestock." This is not necessarily the case in India, for while land is set aside for the cows to graze and upon which they can feast, the ability of taking cows into both rural and urban areas to eat along the sides of roads, in metropolitan areas, and essentially where ever they please.  It is at this point where Harris makes an important argument about cost.  Recall that in the West, land and crops must be "specially" made for the livestock.  This is not always nor as binding the case in India because of the cow's sacred nature.  Wherever the cow goes, it is treated as a guest and is fed whatever can be generated by the house.  In some homes, special meals that are consisted of left overs or byproducts of prepared foods (banana peels, rice, washed rice water, left over pieces of coconuts, banana leaves) are prepared for the cow that will come by and visit.  This creates incredibly less demand on the farmer to have to set aside land for the cow, which is incredibly helpful during the scant growth months of dryness and without rain.  This is a moment where economic expediency meets up with spiritual devotion.  Harris points to a 1971 study that displays how Indian cows are able to live off the humanly inedible remains of subsistence crops and how this is a sufficient food source for the cows.  Finally, Harris discusses at length the use and harvesting of cow manure as a way to cut down heating and energy costs, something that is being replicated in the West.

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