"Cow love," Marvin Harris says, "is an active element in a complex, finely articulated material and cultural order." Marvin Harris tries to convey the reasoning behind India's ongoing starvation versus their wealth of cows in the “Mother Cow” section of his book: Cows, Pigs, Wars and Witches. To Westerners it seems silly to have millions upon millions of people starving while such a tasty and nutritionally satisfying food source is wandering the streets. But who are we to truly judge what people on the other side of the world think. These people were raised with totally different beliefs and share few if none of the same values that we do in America. What may be socially acceptable here may be a crime in India. The differences are endless. Harris analyzes it from both a western point of view as well as from an understanding of how Indian social structure works from their perspective.
Harris believed that a society’s customs are strategies for providing life’s basic necessities, adapted to the peculiarities of the local environment. From this, he developed a comprehensive anthropological theory called Cultural Materialism—the purpose, benefit, and detriment of cultural behavior can be assessed in basic economic terms, most importantly knowledge of the local physical environment. Concerning “cow love,” Harris acknowledges that the benefits of this cow worship must be deeply hidden and the neglect of cow worship must cause true peril in order for this practice to be maintained in the face of life-threatening contradictions. Harris argues that cow worship and the prohibition against using cattle for food has these benefits:
* Protects cattle as draught animals, essential to agriculture and irreplaceable in India by the tractor.
* Prevents the establishment of a beef industry, which would lower the per capita calories produced by already low subsistence agriculture if the crops were fed to the cows for meat production rather than eaten... [continues]
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