We started the discussion of ahimsa last week, but one little page isn’t enough to even introduce the topic, much less explore it. The importance of ahimsa (non-violence in thought, word, and deed) to yogis as well as other peace-loving folks is bound to transfer to daily life, but the issue of diet is one which can philosophically segregate even those devoted to a non-violent existence.
Plenty of people who eat meat would never dream of committing a violent act against a person or an animal, but the hard fact remains that meat cannot land on a plate without an act of violence having been committed, an act in which the carnivore is ultimately complicit when enjoying meat. At the same time, many spiritually dedicated and conscientious people do choose to eat meat, and I’m definitely not here to admonish anyone’s particular lifestyle choices. I’m the only vegetarian member of my family, and it’s only been 2 ½ years since I gave up meat myself. So I’m not on a high horse here. Nonetheless, this is a salient topic in the world of yoga, and one I believe worthy of exploration.
The evolution of my own dietary habits definitely mirrored the integration of yogic principles into my daily life. I was always one of those “don’t tell me, I don’t want to know” meat eaters with a stronger affinity for vegetarian rather than flesh dishes. Once I exposed myself, however, to the realities involved with not only the production of, but also the peripheral effects, of the meat industry, I gave it up. Happily. The decision has actually made me feel lighter, and has made my life easier. Rather than burying (and therefore on some level struggling with) the harsh truths represented by my diet, I’m now free from that burden.
Except for the fish issue, which I discussed last week, and which I am currently re-evaluating. One of the “justifications” I use for occasionally eating fish is that at least the animal has been afforded an opportunity to live life, to swim freely, and to, well, be a fish. As opposed to industrially-raised cattle and chickens, who live horrific lives and die horrific deaths, suffering through their entire existence without the opportunity to experience even one moment of freedom, of happiness, of being as they’re “meant” to be. Everything dies, everything transitions from earthly form, so the death itself is not as bothersome to me as the denial of life.
Many people believe that since we have “dominion” over animals, we have the right to do with them as we please. My personal response to this is that dominion does not equate a lack of responsibility. Parents have dominion over their children, but that does not mean they have the right to treat them any way they want. It actually means they are obligated to steadfastly nurture them.
The debate over the morality of meat eating could go back and forth forever, but I think the debate about the best production practices is more easily won. Massive, industrial meat producing operations are devastating to the animals, the land they inhabit, and the people who eat them, simple as that. Polluted farm runoff, overuse of antibiotics (which ultimately travel through the food chain and into human bodies), the direct support of monoculture megafarms, and the general dismal pall permeating the industry from feedlot to table can be avoided by kind-hearted meat eaters who alter their buying habits.
We do this first by eating less meat. It’s no secret, even within the mainstream American health community, that our culture tends to consume an unhealthy amount of meat, especially red meat, and for pete’s sake especially too much heart-stopping pretend food like hot dogs and chicken nuggets. Our beautiful state is a supreme example of a population that could benefit immensely from going veg a couple of days a week. Implementing the self-study required (another yogic prescription for the good life) to bring oneself to the realization that something might need to be changed in order to take a step further in living our healthiest, happiest lives, is in itself worthwhile. Nothing in the world wrong with a little self-discipline; just because we might want to eat hamburgers for dinner every night and bacon with breakfast every morning (or poptarts or macaroni and cheese), doesn’t mean we should. So less is more, in lots of realms. Easy enough.
Beyond this we can lessen our impact by choosing local, organically-raised meat. And produce too, if we can find it. Smaller operations tend to treat their animals more kindly, and the animals are more likely to die humanely. If you are interested in finding locally-raised meat, I’m aware of a couple options in the area. Feel free to contact me for information if you’re curious.
The environmental impact of the mega-meat world is too vast a topic for me to try to broach, but I can recommend some books that will enlighten you better than I:
The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. This book is incredibly well-researched and even-handed. It’s written by a meat-eater, and he won’t try to convince you to give it up. Entertaining and highly informative. I couldn’t put it down.
Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser. Learn more than you ever wanted to know about America’s favorite meal, the burger and fries. Yum.
The Hundred-Year Lie by Randall Fitzgerald. Not really a book about meat, but a book about all the stuff we put into our bodies that we might want to think about a little more thoroughly.
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. Explore the life of a family that goes local for a whole year. No trucked-in food allowed. http://animalvegetablemiracle.comt/
Most of these books, as well as some yoga cookbooks, are in the library at The Folded Leaf. Help yourself!
I think more important than our specific choices regarding diet or other habits in our lives, is our devotion to exploring the motivation and purpose behind the choices we do make. It is only through our own self-study and desire to grow that we might get from Here to There in our effort to progress -- even when that journey is a spiraling from wonderful to more wonderful, for yoga understands that our potential is infinite. What a great practice.