Yak politics: Tibetans’ vegetarian dilemma amid China meat boom

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While China pushes for more industrialised farms, Buddhist monks urge now-sedentary nomads to embrace vegetarianism

Former free-roaming nomads now mostly resettled in rows of sun-baked block houses in Tibet are facing a struggle for their identity, their spiritual and cultural practices – and even their stomachs.

These yak-tending herders have always eaten meat. In addition to the milk, butter and cheese they derived from yaks, meat was a necessity in their harsh lives.

But a movement spurred by Tibetan Buddhist monks in the region over the past two decades has increasingly urged now sedentary nomads to practise vegetarianism, to pay a “life ransom” for the release of animals destined for the slaughterhouse, and to abandon the slaughter of their own animals because they have settled down.

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