If you know me or have read much of this blog you know that I’m all over the map on just about everything, and perhaps especially–food.
I remember being judged–a lot–for that trait growing up. It puzzled me then and still, why people prefer others to be constant. Maybe it’s a deep seated fear of death, that big unknown? Maybe we get complacent and someone else constantly changing threatens that? Whatever it is, however ridiculous I believe it to be, it’s powerful and at work in all corners of our culture.
That said, the chastisement I received for ever re-inventing myself never really bothered me so much as surprised me. I guess I always took the disapproval as confirmation of something about myself that I actually really like…contradiction.
Why I hate the word VEGAN.
Off and on over the years, usually as a result of something I’ve read, I find myself going back to a diet sans animals. The whole topic is a mixed bag for me. Why?
My first “attempt” at vegan-ism did not end well. I got sick. I got fat. I got judgmental. And so did my wife (yes I used to be married) who joined me for almost two years of admittedly vegan junk food binging. We did it all wrong, and all the while just kept congratulating ourselves on the sole fact that we weren’t consuming (or wearing) any animal products. We were horrified to go back to meat eating, but after a few months we were “normal” again.
I had other periods of time in my life where I was or close to vegetarian, just not feeling the need for meat. And slowly over the years, even a “normal” diet for me never got back to my childhood levels of flesh consumption, eating meat with every meal, every day. But other than my two 100% raw food forays I’ve deliberately avoided the “V” word. For many reasons:
- “ISM’s” bother me. A lot. They fly in the face of true free will, give people a false sense of importance, and almost always for convenience toss the baby out with the bathwater.
- I hate faux food. Along with serious misgivings about soy (health & environment) I can’t stand imitation food. I don’t want soy nuggets or soy bacon. A lot of crap is technically “vegan.” I applaud people who cook authentic real recipes that are what they are and are naturally devoid of animal products (or gluten, or don’t need to be cooked, etc.).
- I’m not convinced that eating meat, or eggs, or dairy is bad for you. I feel great when I eat red meat. I think a lot of the standard vegan arguments, like the assertion made in Fit For Life by Harvey Diamond that because we don’t want to chase down squirrels and tear them to pieces with non-existent fangs and claws, are silly. Nature and evolution are complex, why pretend to know any of it beyond doubt?
- I think proselytizing about not eating animals just reinforces the majority of others determination to do so. If you are serious about your desire to limit the atrocious suffering caused by industrial food, much more can be accomplished by a.) getting most people to eat even just a little less commercial meat and dairy, and b.) using consumer pressure to radically change the unacceptable practice of factory farming. Congratulating people for making better choices goes so much further than chastising them for their bad ones…
Buddha was full of seeming contradictions.
So after saying all that, I gotta say that after all these years I’m seriously considering adopting essentially a vegan diet. Told you I’m all over the place. But why?
Jonathan Safran Foer’s book Eating Animals along with some reading I’ve been doing on the Buddha dharma regarding doing no harm are both deeply resonating with me.
Foer makes a powerful argument that right now, in our current food system reality, being a conscious eater who wishes to avoid factory “farmed” “food” essentially means not eating meat or dairy. Much of the feel good reassurances on animal product packaging regarding the absence of hormones, antibiotics, or cages, is as Foer says, complete bullshit. Does it really surprise us that an industry so dark and dishonest would continue to lie to us, this time by telling us what we want to hear?
At first I thought Foer should have titled his book Eating Less Animals. That way, the everyman could find it in him/herself to make a commitment to meatless Mondays and lighter vegetarian lunches. The net effect of which would vastly eclipse the result of a relative few who give up animal products altogether. But for days my new title kept making me laugh. Eating Less Animals–there is something absurd about that to me. I picture us as these weird Aliens with a depraved sense of entitlement to the flesh of other creatures. And then I picture a random phone conversation between two perfectly nice human beings…
“Hi Barbara, whatcha been doing?”
“Not a lot. Just reading this fab new book called Eating Less Animals.”
“Yeah, I really need to eat a few less chickens, and pigs and cows Barbara!”
Weird, right? By the way, read Foer’s book, I think you’ll be shocked at exactly how many whole animals most of us eat in one year, and in our lifetimes! And I think you’ll also be surprised by his tone and treatment of such a complex personal issue.
At the essence of Buddhism (oops there’s another Ism) is compassion and a whole lot of talk about suffering. The reason vegetarianism is associated with Buddhism is because of perhaps the simplest teaching…if we cannot help others or be good human beings ourselves, the Buddha said at least do no harm to others. And guess what? Others is not restricted to other humans. It’s others in it’s truest sense, and extends to anything capable of suffering.
But also wrapped up in the often confusing, yet somehow enlightening mumbo of Buddha’s teachings is compassion and understanding toward numero uno. In fact, at the heart of the No Harm philosophy is a necessary selfishness rooted in simple cause and effect. It ultimately hurts us when we hurt others. Whether they have two legs or four. Whether we think they are stupid or cute. It just does. One look at how sick we are as a nation demonstrates that. We are literally a culture of death. We mistreat and kill to eat, and it’s killing us.
I want to make it clear that I genuinely applaud every single person that is involved in bringing real food to consumers. That includes meat, dairy, and vegetables. I hope someday the average person will reduce their overall consumption of animals (see sounds silly again) and insist that those they do eat came from real farms, not factories.
For now, I’m going to spend some time not eating meat. I’m also going to eliminate any dairy except for raw aged goat cheese & eggs that I buy from a local farmer I trust to not exploit her goats and chickens.
Interestingly (and this is according to the Dalai Lama), Buddhist monks are not prohibited from eating meat despite their profound compassion for animals. As monks they eat either the vegetarian meal provided them in the monastery or beg food once a day when traveling. While they would never want an animal to be killed specifically to feed them, out of compassion for their human hosts they eat whatever they are given. Also tied up in that is a profound acceptance of their reality and a refreshing lack of concern over food in general–allowing them to focus on other things.
So if you ever see me eating a juicy burger again, I hope I’m selfish enough to be eating the flesh of an animal that was well cared for up until its slaughter, and that you will understand that like life, I’m an ever-changing contradiction.