For some yogis, practicing ahimsa (non-violence) means being vegetarian or even vegan. If you’re practicing ahimsa, then you don’t want to cause harm to anyone or anything; that goes for causing the harm personally or having it done on your behalf. They believe that, by eating meat, they are taking in and nourishing themselves on the animal’s pain and suffering. If “you are what you eat”, why would you want to be pain and suffering?
The counter-argument can be made that human beings are omnivores. We’ve been eating both plants and meat for thousands of years, and that’s what our bodies are designed to do. But humans haven’t been raising animals in factory farms for thousands of years, so there are different ways to look at this. How much suffering do my diet choices cause? As I understand it, chickens and cows in large factories are kept in small cages, fed food that is unnatural for them to eat, and are pumped full of hormones and drugs to make them fatter and their meat tastier. This seems to me to constitute a suffering overload. Also, I am lucky enough to live in a country where we have access to a huge variety of foods. In the past, humans had to eat whatever they could to survive, but our modern society allows for different choices than previous generations could even imagine. We have the luxury of not eating meat if we don’t want to. And… I don’t want to.
For a while now, F and I have been trying to buy our animal products organic, because the animals are humanely treated and allowed to live with a cow’s or a chicken’s natural dignity before they become our meal. We don’t buy beef anyway, but we’ve been buying organic hormone-free milk for a few years now, and we prefer organic chicken meat and eggs from free range, cage free chickens. It’s hard to make this kind of change on everything, though: we buy organic milk, and we’ve started buying organic yogurt, but I like Activia yogurts too – what kind of milk do they use? What kind of milk is used to produce the cheese at the deli counter? And (and this is huge) I rarely pay attention to this issue when we go out for dinner, and we eat out often. I doubt Panera is using free range chicken breasts or organic cream in their sauce. We should be thoughtful about what we eat; it’s not just food, it’s your lifestyle. If I’m going to make a lifestyle choice, I ought to be making it across the board, no matter where I’m eating.
We’ve also been working to add more vegetarian options to our daily meal plans – originally with the idea that we wanted more variety in our meals, but then more and more with the idea of trying to phase out meat. Our honeymoon in Belize was a huge eye-opener for me on beans, because people there eat beans with EVERYTHING, and the beans were always delicious. We haven’t managed to recreate Belizean rice and beans here at home yet, but we do a lot more with black beans and refried beans. I’m also in love with edamame, and F discovered this terrific chickpea salad recipe last week. There’s so much more out there than meat and potatoes.
All of this combined so that I had a revelation at dinner one night two weeks ago: I feel really passionately about this issue, and I am already ideologically a vegetarian. I was so surprised, but it’s true! I just haven’t totally stopped eating meat yet. In a typical week of meals, I was only eating meat maybe 1-2 nights, so I was already almost there. I’ve been paying attention since my first teacher training weekend, and I’ve been a practicing vegetarian all month now, even while traveling last week. With beans and soups and salads, and oatmeal with pecans and raisins and cranberries (yum), I’m already doing pretty well on the nutrition front, and that’s without even really trying. All I need to do is take the next natural step.
So I’m going to finish phasing meat out of my diet. I’m going to eat the last of the meat that’s in our freezer (because it seems worse and more disrespectful if I throw out the meat than if I eat it), and then that’s it. We have a free range bison chuck roast in there, and that will probably be Easter dinner, and then I’ll be done with meat. I’ll still eat seafood, dairy products, and eggs (I don’t want to try to make too big of a change, plus I can’t imagine life without cheese), and will try to eat these organic when I can, but no more meat.
Will there be challenges? Of course. I keep coming up with new difficulties: Bacon. KFC. Hot dogs. These are things I adore, and so I may slip from time to time. But overall this is a new adventure that I’m excited about. I’m finally going to find out what lentils are for! Think of all the kale and spinach in my future! Maybe I’ll try beets! (Okay, not as excited about beets.) But being vegetarian just feels right. That was the biggest surprise in my realization the other night, that this is absolutely the right path for me.