“We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. Remote from universal nature, and living by complicated artifice, man in civilization surveys the creature through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion. We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate of having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein we err, and greatly err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours, they are more finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other Nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendor and travail of the earth”
~ Henry Beston
I was a vegetarian for eight and a half years. Until I wasn’t.
During those years I was anorexic—then I decided I didn’t want to be anymore.
It’s been four and half years since I introduced meat back into my diet. I started with the big guns: the hamburger. Red meat (insert bloodcurdling scream here). Then chicken. Then sushi. I wanted to face my fear of meat-eating and fat-gaining in order to disprove all the twisted theories I had about food and my body.
I also chose to eat meat because I hadn’t had my period for two and a half years. My acupuncturist “prescribed” it for me to get the iron and other minerals my nutrient-deficient blood so desperately needed.
In these recent years, I ate meat pretty much without a problem. I gained weight, my menstrual cycle returned and I started sleeping better. Over time, the desire for red meat naturally waned until all I was eating was white chicken and fish.
All that changes when I went to a recent meditation retreat. While sitting, I had the experience of deeply connecting to birds. As freaky as it may sound, I felt the angry and agonizing spirit of the animals and how disconnected we have become to them.
We “build” animals now like we make cars in a factory.
We view them as objects for our consumption. They are “other.” Not like us. We have forgotten that they too carry the mystery of life inside their bodies.
Of course, there are cultures where an animal’s sacrifice is honored and where the continuation of life depends on the gift the animal brings. But in these cultures, animals are not overbred and tortured simply for our own selfish needs. These people take what they need in utmost gratitude and leave the rest be.
I struggled in silence as I sat with the realization of the horrors of factory farming. Birds injected with hormones until they are too fat for their brittle skeletal systems. Chickens confined to only 67 inches of cage space. Fish piled on top of each other in vats of their own excrement. Geese force-fed so we may extract their precious ‘fatty livers.’ Thousands of sharks pulled from the ocean and killed simply for a single fin, the ultimate ‘status food.’
Even animal products listed as ‘free-range,’ ‘organic,’ or ‘hormone-free’ are not exempt. Though they may not use any pesticides or hormones, many farmers still keep the animals in squalid conditions, burn or cut off their wings, feet and beaks and overstuff them with GMO-filled feed (or starve them so they will molt faster).
I recalled how much of the world’s resources goes into maintaining animal farms and noted that if we put those resources into renewable energy and non-meat based foods, world hunger and global warming might not be an issue.
I felt sick. Even as I sat with the arguments for meat consumption like getting enough B12 or we are naturally-born omnivores or animals “just taste good,” I knew inside my body, I could not eat the same way.
The next day, I pulled out my organic, free-range turkey slices. I put one in my mouth. I started to chew. Slowly and with very little pleasure. I had a second. And then I felt sick. My stomach rolled over and I couldn’t bear it anymore.
I haven’t touched meat since.
That was three months ago. In that interim, I’ve struggled with two sides of my conscience. One is obviously the newfound compassion towards animals, as I described above.
But the other is just as powerful: how I honest am I being with myself and my relationship to food? I have a fear that this pull towards vegetarianism is the first step on a ‘slippery slope’ back to anorexic thinking. One plagued by guilt and devoid of pleasure. I remember family dinners or parties where I knew meat was being served and lived in fear that people would discover my secret: that I was desperately hungry despite my cool exterior as I passed the plate.
The excuse was simple: “Health reasons.”
(Side note: please know that I am not insinuating that people who are vegetarian have eating disorders—this is simply how the disease showed up for me).
I want to feel alive and energized in my body. I want total vitality and orgasmic living. And eating meat was a huge part in helping me face my fears and reclaim my power.
Honestly, I don’t harbor any judgments about other people who eat meat. My husband eats meat and I love him just the same. How we live our lives and what we choose to put into our bodies is a very personal journey. One must go deep inside one’s moral, ethical and spiritual codes and discover what is right for her.
My goal in sharing my struggle isn’t to shame anyone for liking what she likes, nor to suggest that only one way of eating is the ‘right.’ Perhaps it is less about the fact that we eat meat and more the how we do it (often unconsciously and in a way that uses food as a buffer from feeling our emotions).
What I do want to do is foster a dialogue around our cultural relationship with food, animals, consumption, compassion and perhaps find solutions with how we can get in right alignment with what is loving and sustainable, both as a society and as individuals.
For me individually, that means abstaining from meat in this moment and continuing my inquiry into the nexus of spirituality, pleasure and nourishment.
And we continue to rapidly evolve, technologically and globally, as a culture and species, we must ensure that we do not lose our humanity and connection to each other along the way. We are unique in that we have the intelligence and cognitive capacity to choose how we’d like to evolve; which is what makes the following quote that much more potent and pressing:
“Nothing will benefit human health and increase chances for survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet” ~ Albert Einstein
Special thanks to my dear friend, August Schulenburg, for inspiring me to post this article.
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Ed: Bryonie Wise