A Meat-Eating Yogi: Is a Veggie Diet the Only Option for a Spiritual Person?

Via Katie Williamson
on May 18, 2015
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I had been a strict vegan for 4 years when I moved down to Peru to work for a nonprofit on the outskirts of Lima.

My decision to become vegan was influenced by years of practicing yoga with teachers who advocated for a plant-based diet as the cleanest option for the health of the body as well as the health of Mother Earth. In yoga we are taught that a vegetarian diet is a way of practicing ahimsa (nonviolence) for all beings everywhere. Animals products which include meat, seafood, eggs and dairy are commonly viewed as the antithesis of ahimsa since they require the blatant killing of many beings for the satiation of a few.

With my vegan ideals in mind and heart, I packed up and moved down to Lima ready to help the world. Very soon upon arrival to Peru, I realized that veganism was not going to be possible outside of my green yoga community in the States and inside of the life I was creating in my new home. I didn´t have the luxury of a Whole Foods within driving distance to stock up on nut-based milks and meat substitutes. I couldn’t be so picky with food when I was around people who didn’t always know when their next meal would come.

Working at the orphanage in Lima wasnt the only moment during my time in Peru when I questioned my decision to remain vegan and even vegetarian. A year after my arrival to the country, I found myself at a holistic medicine center in the jungle. The lunch being served that day at the center was a beautiful plate of freshwater fish caught in the local river just a few hours before the meal. I graciously refused the fish and loaded my plate with rice and veggies instead.

The Peruvian shaman (indigenous healer) who was present at the meal turned to me to ask why I wasn’t eating the fish. I had to explain to him what “vegan” was. He began to laugh so deeply and so hard without stopping for ten long minutes. As he was laughing and I was slowly making a dent in the mountain of rice I had on my plate, I experienced a whole range of emotions. I began to feel angry that he was laughing at me, then I started feeling superior to him, thinking that he didn’t realize the goodness and higher spiritual quality of excluding animal products entirely from the diet. After that, I felt slightly embarrassed, my cheeks becoming more tangibly flushed with every chuckle. Toward the end of his laughing spell, a question rose up from a deep, guttaral place inside of me.

Why was I eating vegan here in the jungle where fish is super abundant and nutritious, the traditional fare of people who have occupied this part of the world for thousands of years? Is it a violent choice to eat animals even here?

To answer my question I had to understand the other’s perspective. This shaman laughed so hard and so long not as much to poke fun at me (although maybe he was having a little fun), but rather because I think in all honesty he did not understand my decision to not eat animals. He saw the fish as an offering from Pachamama (Mother Earth). Mother Earth nourishes us with plants and animals, and we take care of her in return. At least, that’s how it’s supposed to be—a symbiotic relationship between man and Mother, a beautiful and never-ending cycle of death and rebirth that’s happening in every single moment.

That relationship has been broken now that food is more of an industrial commodity rather than an offering of love and abundance from Pachamama.  Animals are confined to tight quarters in which they never see the Sun and aren’t free to roam and graze. The factory farms where these animals live use up enormous amounts of resources to feed the sick animals that will eventually feed us, probably making us sick, too.

Today’s horrific factory farm industry is truly violent to animals, to our bodies and to the environment. Of course yogis who want to practice ahimsa will avoid partaking in such an atrocity. The death involved in the killing of these animals seems unnecessary and avoidable. But I wanted to go further and find out if can we ever avoid harm. Is it possible to not eat violently in today’s world?

To answer my question, it seemed like the next best step to take in my quest was to look back to the way things were done before the current industrial system came to dominate the way we eat. Through my encounter in the jungle with the Peruvian shaman, I already knew that there was at least one traditional culture of highly spiritual and connected people still eating animal products in a sustainable and loving way.

It turns out that traditional cultures from around the globe have been eating meat for thousands of years respectfully, sustainably and spiritually. In fact, according to a book called Nutrition and Physical Degeneration written by Dr. Weston A. Price in the 1930s, indigenous tribes from all continents were studied for their diets and level of health.

Not one of these groups of traditional people, from the Eskimos in Alaska to the Amazonian Indians in Peru to the Maori in New Zealand, were totally plant-based cultures.  Not one of these groups excluded animal products entirely from the diet. In fact, many of these cultures had sacred foods, certain animal products that were fed to newly married couples, pregnant women and small children because of their high nutrient density and healthful properties.

As I’ve continued to explore my own food choices, I’ve learned that even today it is in fact possible to eat meat in a sustainable way that is good for your body and spirit, even if you’re not fishing for your own lunch in the Peruvian Amazon. As the real food movement grows, we now have greater access than ever before to locally-raised and responsibly grown meat and produce. The factory farm system is not the only option available.

I realize that there will be resistance to the above paragraph. Yes, I agree that eating healthy meat means we will have to spend more money on food, money that some people may not have. I also know that a more sustainable system means we probably won’t be able to include meat at every meal. Some people will disagree entirely that meat can ever be sustainable and instead insist on a grain-based diet for the planet. But there are many reasons why grain and corn will not eradicate world hunger nor nourish the world’s population. I’ll leave that discussion to Lierre Keith’s well-written and thought provoking work The Vegetarian Myth.

The bottom line is that what’s wrong with meat and other animal products is the system we have in place, not the actual act of eating animals.

As you’ve probably guessed, I’m now a meat eater. I eat meat, seafood and whole fat dairy in generous quantities and take great care to source the best food I can find within my budget. After everything I had learned and studied about humans and their diets, my decision to switch back to animal products was a personal one and ultimately out of necessity. I had gotten sick in my gut, the intuitive center of my being, and it was the very animal foods that I had once villainized that nourished my body back to health so that my spirit could also be healthy.

Just as my ancestors did, I give thanks to Pachamama and her animals who have sacrificed their own lives so that I may live a healthy, vibrant and spiritual life. I am healthier today than I have ever been as a body and as a spirit. Including animal products in my diet has enabled me to achieve that level of health so that I can share my gifts with the world. I don’t just pray before every meal. I pray with my life. My life is my prayer.

~

Author: Katie Williamson

Editor: Alli Sarazen

Photo: McKay Savage/Flickr


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About Katie Williamson

Katie Williamson is a yoga teacher, traveller, Weston A. Price Chapter Leader, Peru enthusiast and Nutritional Therapist who organizes retreats for mind, body and spirit transformation in the beautiful and sacred land of Perú through her business Sacred Retreats Peru. She is thankful for the remarkable journey she as had thus far and is looking forward to many more adventures to come, in Peru and beyond! You can check out the website for Sacred Retreats Peru here.

Comments

119 Responses to “A Meat-Eating Yogi: Is a Veggie Diet the Only Option for a Spiritual Person?”

  1. Cedrik says:

    I rarely read such lame, weak arguments to not be a vegan (anymore).
    I have plenty of omnivore friends, as far as I know none of them make up this kind of stories to justify the fact that they eat animal products.

    "In fact, according to a book called Nutrition and Physical Degeneration written by Dr. Weston A. Price in the 1930s, indigenous tribes from all continents were studied for their diets and level of health."

    Jarvis, William T. wrote "The myth of the healthy savage" that partly demolishes the (simplist if not racist) theories of Weston Price but this idiot probably prefer to refer to biased informations written in the 1930´s.
    Price´s book is full of clichés and approximations.

    "Just as my ancestors did, I give thanks to Pachamama and her animals who have sacrificed their own lives so that I may live a healthy, vibrant and spiritual life. I am healthier today than I have ever been as a body and as a spirit. Including animal products in my diet has enabled me to achieve that level of health so that I can share my gifts with the world. I don’t just pray before every meal. I pray with my life. My life is my prayer."

    Were your ancestors from Peru all of a sudden ?

    "To answer my question, it seemed like the next best step to take in my quest was to look back to the way things were done before the current industrial system came to dominate the way we eat. Through my encounter in the jungle with the Peruvian shaman, I already knew that there was at least one traditional culture of highly spiritual and connected people still eating animal products in a sustainable and loving way."
    Back to the caves, you should not use any computer anymore, travel on foot and naked, you also should hunt and kill the animals yourself, something you don´t do as you still use money to buy corpses other people provide you, in a real wild world Pachamama would send predators to ethically kill you and eat you with love.

    "I already knew that there was at least one traditional culture of highly spiritual and connected people still eating animal products in a sustainable and loving way."
    Sure, what´s best to kill the one you love so much…

    I could go on and on for every single mistakes you wrote to justify your action, I thought as a yoga person you had to be honest…
    Your appeal to tradition is the weakest argument ever, those who exploit and mistreat women often do it in the name of tradition too : "Women in the kitchen, men at work", it´s also a tradition that I execrate.

  2. SpanielMom says:

    I have no doubt in your mind that you, like any of us, are trying to find a way of life and connection that speaks to you, that feels authentic to you. That in itself, in my opinion, is a wonderful path to be on. I cannot say that you will be a better person or a better yogi on one diet over another. I don’t think that has much to do with any “diet”. I will, however, suggest a couple of sources. If you feel so inclined, please look into them. I too have been trying to figure out the ways of this world and find a way to live an authentic life and though it is an ongoing process (and always will be), these three sources have really helped take my understanding of “life” and “living” to another level.
    1) Unity (movie) – currently screening in theaters
    2) Speciesism (movie)
    3) Food For Thought (Podcast by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau)

  3. SpanielMom says:

    I have no doubt in your mind that you, like any of us, are trying to find a way of life and connection that speaks to you, that feels authentic to you. That in itself, in my opinion, is a wonderful path to be on. I cannot say that you will be a better person or a better yogi on one diet over another. I don't think that has much to do with any "diet". I will, however, suggest a couple of sources. If you feel so inclined, please look into them. I too have been trying to figure out the ways of this world and find a way to live an authentic life and though it is an ongoing process (and always will be), these three sources have really helped take my understanding of "life" and "living" to another level.
    1) Unity (movie) – currently screening in theaters
    2) Speciesism (movie)
    3) Food For Thought (Podcast by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau)

  4. simplysolitary says:

    Thank you. I honor your truth.

  5. azihayya says:

    Eating flesh is neither respectful nor a manner of encouraging human life towards a higher spiritual end. If you truly believe that flesh is food, and that consuming an animal is paying respect to it, then ask your relatives if you may consume them- truly, it must be the only respectful way to honor their lives. And to wear their hides on your back, so that you may carry them with you forever- or stuff them so that their image can be frozen in time. None of these are ways to pay respect, and although spirituality is not inherently exclusive to those who abstain from the consumption of another animal, non-violence and non-consumption are vitally important towards the path to a higher spirituality. Agriculture is the greatest blessing that has ever been bestowed on humanity, and those who choose not to kill, not to consume, not to wear, and to lend integrity to other animals as we do humans, are the people who are making transcendental spiritual progress.

    Eating the flesh is wrong- it is a backwards step in our spiritual evolution and on our path towards enlightenment. If you don't believe so, then consume your family. If that starts to cause conflicts, then maybe you'll realize that the only reason we find it okay to consume animals is because they're weak; does it make you a strong person to exploit the weak? No.

    • Shawn says:

      Maybe you could describe in detail what makes one person more spiritual than the other. If we placed a vegan who curses out cashiers for taking too long – or even one who judges others for not being on the same spiritual path as them – next to a shaman who eats meat for survival but dedicates his life towards healing others, which one would win?

      • Azihayya says:

        The shaman apparently must consume others to survive- now, take one person who is perfectly reasonable with other humans, yet consumes flesh, versus someone who is rude, but does not consume others- rudeness can not be compared to stealing, trapping, raping and slaughtering animals. It's ludicrous to suppose otherwise.

        Spirituality, and goodness for that matter, can be defined by Mutuality. Non-mutuality is conflict, and conflict is not indicative of spirituality, however, concepts that we value ourselves, as in when we are lent these values, such as peace, integrity, freedom, etc, are indicative of spirituality. Spirituality is to understand the value of life and to grant others the same values that you desire.

  6. d'Argent says:

    A line in your article , "I give thanks to Pachamama and her animals who have sacrificed their own lives so that I may live a healthy, vibrant and spiritual life" and also in your Bio you indicate that you live by all this teaching yoga, nutrition, spirituality and tours / retreats.
    Animals have "sacrificed" their own lives that you might live on a higher spiritual plane.
    The history and success? of mankind has ridden on the backs of the other creatures of this earth. Even living as vegan in our world, the production of all our food now is at the huge expense of the natural world and its creatures, the airport your next plane lands on. I fear you are a rich girl trying to ride a camel through the eye of a hypodermic needle

  7. LearningAhimsa says:

    I loved your post. Some people may see it as a justification for your decision, but I view it as a sharing of experience and perspective. I don't think you are trying to sway people away from a vegan diet at all. As for me, I'm struggling with the same choice right now and it has taken me a long time to eat eggs and now fish. I don't like the idea of killing animals, however, I am thankful that I am offered nourishment by mother earth. All we can do is make the best decision we can given our knowledge and present circumstances; this means to consciously carry out as little harm as possible including to ourselves.

    Right now I'm faced with a decision between synthetic hormone injections or trying to see if eating animal protein would resolve a health problem. To me, animal protein in small amounts makes more sense. I've been practicing Ayurveda and am in school for holistic nutrition so I'm by no means close to being on a poor American diet — even so, it seems my body may need a different source of nutrient.

    Perhaps I'll be unsuccessful on a meat diet and go back to being a vegetarian. That's okay too. I think it's more important to be gentle on ourselves as our journey's change direction — there is no need to be 'right' or prove other people 'wrong'. This is all merely a journey and we all take different paths. Again, thanks for sharing. :)

  8. Nara says:

    I was on my way to write a comment and had to scroll past a lot of really confident but also angry responses to your post. I’m sorry that there is so much hatred stirred up in people who are making choices out of love and care.

    I have also had the long journey of vegan and vegetarian diet. And similarly, it was a shaman who first suggested that I needed meat in my body, as well as my Chinese medicine doctor. I fought that for almost two years. I have a really really healthy diet and don’t really want meat anyway. I do crave fish though and started eating it this year as well as eggs from my friends chickens on her land and make my own yoghurt from happy cows nearby. Angry rants about veganism definitely don’t help anyone make choices but those people on my life who grew up practicing medicine helped me finally ask the same question you did, is it always bad? It’s not.

    I have been living in central Australia working with indigenous kids and families, literally the old nation of people. Their only work for food means meat. That is what is here out in the desert, that is what they eat,( depending on their animal dreaming and what time of life they are in they will avoid certain animals). Any vegan protestor in that land would really not seem like a loving and aware human but someone who doesn’t understand anything outside of their own life and products of western evolution. They would look at them like they are a crazy person or someone with a bad spirit inside or something.

    So anyway, thanks for sharing.

    • Azihayya says:

      You do not need meat in your body, and the decision to consume another life, especially without consent is not a decision made out of love, but rather selfishness, in the case of a majority of people including yourself.

  9. Beautiful, beautiful post. Thank you for sharing your journey.

    I have had a daily yoga practice for 14 years–it is an integral part of my entire life, my entire being, my entire spirit. AND for about 10 years, during my 20s, I was a vegetarian (sometimes vegan). Wow was I attached to that identity! It took a health crisis to get me to loosen my hold.

    Now, at age 40 and a Doctor of Oriental Medicine, I integrate real-food eating guidance, holistic medicine and mindfulness to help people who experience eating and food as a place of struggle or pain.

    One of our core principles is that there is no ONE best diet for everyone. The optimal eating pattern is individual, responsive and relational. Another core piece is that Eating is more than just eating, and food is more than just food. They are wrapped up in our history, identity, social context and beliefs. Changing eating patterns requires self-experimentation and mindful, focused exploration. It is a learning process that extends beyond what’s on our plate. And, as your journey illustrates so beautifully, it also encompasses our connection with spirit and Mother Earth. Thank you!

  10. Penelope says:

    Justifying your palate pleasure ): how sad. You had a chance to explain about veganism. Most humans are inherently speciesism and just because they live in the jungle doesn't mean that they're not! What if these people had been canibals? Would you have participated? No? They would have laughed at you! It's wrong to take any life when you don't need to. And to those who claim that being vegan made them sick…..what a load of bull! It's not veganism that made you sick maybe you didn't do it properly? It's well known that animal products cause cancer and are destroying the planet! Come on!

  11. Jax says:

    Great thoughtful post! What most vegans don't consider is that plants have to die for us to eat them. Moreover, they are living beings that can feel things too. More and more research shows that they are more intelligent and sensitive than we think: http://inhabitat.com/plants-know-when-theyre-bein….

    Nobody thinks about how pesticides affect plants and some animals. Perhaps this is the equivalent of mistreating animals. Bottom line is that you have to kill to live, whether that means eating animals, plants, washing our hands or showering (bacteria). I agree that we should strive to do this in the most humane way possible.

    I am against treating animals badly and keeping them caged up, but

  12. Kami says:

    a true yogi/spiritual person (in India, for example) will tell you that yes, you cant take part in taking lives of innocent sentient being, regardless human or nonhuman (animal), make your body their graveyard and expect to have any spiritual insight, progress or whatever you want to call it. it just doesnt work that way on the soul level. the laws of nature are very strict and they simply do not permit it. just as they dont permit drugging your body or infesting it with any other impurities, outside or inside. body is the temple of the soul. even mind has to be constantly purified to even start embarking on some path of spirituality. its same a trying to remain dry while jumping into a lake. or trying to remain clean while rolling in the dirt right after you wash….. does.not.work.

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