Four and a half years ago, I had an important conversation about food with a friend. We met during our Kundalini yoga teacher training in 2015. She is one of the kindest, purest, most beautiful souls I have ever had the privilege of knowing. While I taught my practicum, she was smiling at me from the front row all the way through, and happy tears streamed down her face when I finished. Although she lives a couple of hours away, and I have only seen her a few times since we graduated, I love her dearly and consider her a soul mate of sorts.
Sometimes I felt like I didn’t “belong” during my teacher training… being the only one present who was a member of my often-presumed-to-be closed-minded Christian church and being a mother of many children while most of my classmates were child-less. In addition to those weirdo-status items, I often felt especially different because I choose to eat meat. Most of my classmates are/were proud vegetarians or vegans (or at least appeared to be). During one of our breaks, I remember talking with my previously-mentioned friend and learning that she, too, was a meat eater. Suddenly, in that pivotal moment, I felt less like I didn’t belong.
I’m writing this post, I suppose, to bring comfort to other meat-eater yoga fans. You’re not alone, guys. And you’re not “less-than” because you eat animal flesh. It’s time to release any omnivore shame you might be harboring for yourself.
One of the reasons this friend and I bonded so easily is because of our mutual love and appreciation for plants. As we sat talking about our food choices in the context of the yogic diet teachings we were learning about, we discussed our love and respect for plants in depth. To us, consuming animals was no more or less ethical than consuming plants. Plants are living beings. The fact that their being-ness is different from animals (or humans) doesn’t make it void. When I came upon an article about plant consciousness yesterday, I shared it on my FB wall with the caption “Yes! Yes! A million times yes!”
Because we are steeped in an ancient tradition of human-centrism, we believe that our experience of life is what defines consciousness, and that our brain’s processes are the height of intelligence. But there is some evidence that other modes of existence are equally complex, which suggests that other living things have arguably intelligent or conscious experiences. (Source)
A couple of months ago, I was driving my kids home from their theatre rehearsal and I came upon a billboard. It featured a cow, a pig, and a chicken with the caption: “End speciesism. Go vegan.” I was sitting at a red light, so I quickly snapped this photo:
I understand the sentiment. I think it’s awesome that we have humans with so much love and respect for animals. Respect and love for animals is a wonderful, admirable thing. What I don’t find helpful, however, is the veiled accusation and sense of superiority embedded in the caption. If we want to inspire greater love among species, how about a billboard that includes all types of living things. Let’s not exclude plant-life (including weeds), all types of creatures (including spiders), and you see where this is going.
Plants are my friends, guys. I love my plants. I instagram my plants excessively with #plantsaremypeople in every post. My plants bring me joy. My plants give my life added meaning and purpose. I check on them daily and rejoice to see them thriving. Also… trees. I’m a tree hugger. Plants are my people.
My favorite statement from the plant consciousness article I shared yesterday was this:
Perhaps there is nothing we can eat that isn’t some form of murder, not even salad. Moreover, if we discover plant kinship relations are real, we’ll need to acknowledge that cutting trees down for furniture means splitting up families. More than that, expanding definitions of consciousness and intelligence could mean admitting we’ve been limited in our worldview altogether. What if everything around us is intelligent in its own way, and we’re just not smart enough to see it? (Source)
It would be nice if we could sustain ourselves without killing anything. Really nice. I look forward to the day when the lamb and the lion can be pals. And because I like to ponder and wonder about things… I can’t help also wondering… Will there also come a day when Swiss chard plants can reach toward the sky without fear of their limbs being ripped off and pureed into smoothies? When an almond tree can give birth without fear of its offspring being pulverized between human molars, or harvested en-masse to be turned into “milk,” butter, or flour? Sprouts are newborns, guys. And we love those newborns on our sandwiches. Yes, I know I’m being over-the-top. (I really enjoy eating Swiss chard, almonds, and sprouts.)
Yesterday, I was reading about Inuit cultural traditions. They have lived for centuries where very little vegetation grows, eating a lot of animal flesh. Inuit spiritual beliefs enable them to do this with great respect for the spirits of the consumed animals. For instance:
They had to pay a deep respect to the spirit of the animals that they hunted . . . . If they did not pay their respects to the spirit, the spirit would reappear as a demon. . . . After killing a seal, melted snow had to be dripped into its mouth to quench the spirit’s thirst. . . . A ceremony called a ‘Bladder Dance’ was often held after a large hunt. The Inuit believed that the soul of the animal was found inside the bladder, so if the bladder was honoured and returned to the sea, then the animal’s spirit would find a new body (Source).
There have been (and still are) groups of people in the world for whom eating human flesh is a sacred act. They might even believe that our pumping the bodies of the deceased full of embalming chemicals and burying them in reinforced boxes is cruel, disrespectful, and wasteful. I bring this up not to promote cannibalism but to illustrate that humankind has developed a wide array of dietary practices and rituals surrounding those practices. It’s not really fair for any of us to claim that our own way of eating is the “only” right or ethical way. We’re all doing the best we can to survive within the framework of our environment, upbringing, spiritual beliefs, genetic inheritance, and personal tastes and preferences.
Yesterday I told my husband that I wanted to start including a statement like this in my prayer before each meal: “We are grateful to the plants and animals who gave their lives so that we could eat this food.” He tried not to, but he couldn’t stifle a bit of a laugh. It’s a normal human response to things that feel a bit strange. Fortunately for me, he’s gotten good at embracing my ever-evolving weirdness.
Jesus ate fish. John the Baptist ate locusts. Lehi’s family survived on raw meat in the wilderness. You can eat animals and be spiritual. You can eat meat and have respect and love for all living things. The “circle of life” isn’t just a Lion King cliche. It’s real. Everything has to eat, and everything will eventually become what something else eats. Plants “eat” too. We don’t fault dogs or cats for being carnivores. We don’t fault frogs for eating insects (or baby turtles or each other). We don’t fault herbivores for eating what their bodies need either. How do these animals know what their bodies need? The same way any of us knows what our bodies need.