Sunday, December 5, 2010

Killing, Eating, and Non-Harming

There's quite a lively discussion about yoga, non-violence, meat eating, and vegetarianisms going on in response to this post over at Elephant Journal. The author of the post, Sadie Nardini, opens with this:

As many of you know, I consider myself a conscious carnivore.

An omnivore, actually, as—unlike some in the more hardcore vegan community may believe– I do enjoy other foods besides meat. And I haven’t been shy about sharing my views on why I choose a diet that includes animal protein.

As a yogi, especially one who is now entered the public eye, it’s even more important to me to provide a role model for those middle path folks; the ones who want to eat meat (or like me, require it to be vital and healthy), and have their yoga, too. Yeah, I said it. I positively know that the two can co-exist.

Nearly one hundred comments follow, including one I just made, which I will offer to you as well because these same issues are often discussed and debated in Buddhist circles, and in my view, how we eat and what we eat is either a major place of practice, or a major source of mindlessness.

A few thoughts as a long time vegetarian and yogi.

1. There's something troubling about this whole appeal to non-judgment that flies around yoga circles. The "I'm ok, you're ok" appeals are a kind of individualistic relativism that gets in the way of having healthy, sometimes challenging discussions. For example, it seems that no one here supports factory farming, myself included. This is a judgment, an intelligent one, but still a judgment none the less. In my opinion, it's important to be specific about where judgment turns into harming and violence. And most often, this is when judgment is personalized, when what someone does or thinks is equated with the value and quality of a person as a whole. In this discussion, that means comments like "Meat eaters are bad people" or "Vegans/Veggies are self-righteous." This is quite different from untangling the various strands of food politics, body constitutions, etc. and determining what is truthful and/or intelligent, and what isn't. Point being, telling people to refrain from all judgment is not only a conversation duller, but also impossible to do really.

2. I'm of the school that recognizes different body types, different cycles within one's own body, and bodies situated within a specific geographical and social context - and thus doesn't believe it's possible to argue for a single diet for all people. In my opinion, it makes sense from a planetary standpoint to lean towards much less meat consumption, but it also is important to lean towards far less chemical usage on the veggies we eat, as well as a shift away from mono-cropping, giant single species ranches, and other abusive forms of food production.

3. I sometimes wonder, when reading comments by vegans in particular, if they are adhering to a philosophy that is based, at least in part, on a fear of and avoidance of death. Even if everyone on the planet ate like me, there would still be death. I will still die someday. And there's no guarantee that a longer life for me, or for any animal, means a more humane, less painful life. No way to know. In addition, every breath I take kills micro organisms, so the idea of never killing is a false one. Just impossible. By all means, I support arguments to kill less, to question our consumption of all food, and to consider what is it we need, versus mindlessly want. But the idea that ahimsa will look exactly the same for all people in all places denies the realities of each co-created present moment.

4. I'd also like to ask meat eaters in the U.S., Canada, and Europe, for example, to remember that even though there are more of us than in the past, veggies and vegans are in the minority, often far outnumbered - and for some, have found yoga to the only arena in their lives where they can express their choices without a need to defend and explain themselves. Even though a post like this generates a lot of challenging comments, those of you who eat meat have an easier time in the mainstream culture, and need to realize that some of the defensiveness and clinging to ideas coming from veggies/vegans is the survival mechanism we built to deal with societies that dismiss us as weird or ridiculous for not eating meat. It's my job, and the rest of the veggies/vegans out there to check our defensiveness and clingings, and hopefully develop more looseness around the decisions we've made and reasons for them. But for those who are meat eaters, never forget that you are privileged to live in a society that doesn't question your choice to eat meat.

How do you practice around food and eating? What teachings support you, or challenge you in regards to food and eating?

*Photo is from my garden. I ate the eggplant in question.


Unknown said...

firstly: that is freaking awesome about the eggplant!

secondly: yes it is a hugely complex debate. I was a vegan for a long time. Now I still dont eat dairy but I am a vegetarian, so I do eat eggs from time to time. There are lots of ways to engage people in the debate - but starting with defensiveness (nd maybe hostility?) as the writer did over at the EJ might not be the way to begin a peaceful and thoughtful dialogue. Then again - people get nutty when emotions are invoked.

Either way, good to dialogue. Everyone makes change in different ways. Maybe through eating differently, maybe through working with people experiencing violence in their homes. Both valid!

But for me - I will probably never get past the "ewwww" factor to go back to eating meat. That's just me.

BK Max said...

I had posted a thread over at Zen Forum International asking whether being Vegetarian was necessary for one's practice and was amazed at the variety and anger of people's responses. Myself I have been vegetarian before finding Buddhism ,my youngest daughter is but my oldest not so much. People get very defensive about their food choices.

Mumon K said...

I am an omnivore myelf, and it's undeniable based on the evidence we have that we evolved that way - our nearest relatives, chimpanzees, are also omnivores.

That said, of course, we should deal with the ecological issues - and I've said that quite a few times on my blog.

Interestingly enough, your post meshes quite nicely with one I did earlier today:

Dean 'Jagaro' Crabb said...

My eating habits are a constant work in progress. I think meditation and mindfulness help one constantly evaluate this aspect of our lives. I'm moving and more and more to a diet that is more vegetarian-based but still eat meat, just not as often.

I just wrote a blog post about this the other day.

Anyway, I thought it might be interesting and relevant to this topic.


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