For the last few years, I have been exploring my relationship with eating animals.
Originally from Argentina, I was brought up with meat at every meal and taught that we cannot survive without it. As an Ashtangi, I am told that I cannot be a true practitioner and still eat meat. Where is the balance between these two perspectives? Is there one?
Daniel Siegel, author of “Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation”, claims that human beings have a tendency towards rigidity or chaos. Yet it is a balance between these two extremes that leads to a fulfilling, creative and engaged life.
Nature tends to find ways to balance between these two extremes. Periods of drought are followed by rain, seasons shift and change, and the Universe in general is characterized by as state of flow rather than one of inactivity or rapid movement.
After many years of trial and error, I am coming to peace with my own balance between rigidity and chaos when it comes to vegetarianism. Below are the reasons I am choosing to embrace a mindful and selective eating of animals over a strict vegetarian approach:
1) Each time I commit fully to vegetarian eating, I am less healthy.
I’ve tried dark greens at every meal, in a cast iron pan, with a squeeze of lemon. I’ve tried iron supplements, B-12, protein shakes and consulted with naturopaths and nutritionists. I eat a protein source with every meal and snack and countless fruits and vegetables. I still feel sluggish, weaker and develop very dark circles under my eyes after a few months of vegetarian eating.
2) I am not convinced that we are herbivores as many vegetarians claim.
When my babies were given meat, which was not very often in my household, they devoured it like nothing else. They loved meat and reacted very well to it. When my son, three years old at the time, saw a whole fish at a fish monger, eyes and all, he asked if he could eat it. My children, before being taught the morality of meat, seem to lean towards it. This makes me think that maybe we were made to eat animals after all.
3) Being “vegetarian” makes a statement about how I am and how I will always be rather than bringing me closer to what I need in each moment.
Last night, after a heavy period and a stressful time in my life, I eyed my husband’s steak with a jealous eye as I ate my kale and tempeh. My whole body told me that I needed the meat. I knew in every way that a few bites of this grass-fed, lovingly raised, organic animal would connect me most to what I needed in the moment. But I had to refrain because I was vegetarian.
4) There is a lot we can do to help the welfare and lives of animals beyond not eating them.
Michael Pollan, author of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” has done more to raise awareness of the treatment of animals and importance of connecting with the source of our food than most people in our generation. His reasons for continuing to eat meat are as follows:
“Meat eating may have become an act riddled with moral and ethical ambiguities, but eating a steak at the end of a short, primordial food chain comprising nothing more than ruminants and grass and sunlight is something I’m happy to do and defend. The same is true for a pastured chicken or hog. When obtained from small farms where these animals are treated well, fed an appropriate diet, and generally allowed to express their creaturely character, I think the benefits of eating such meat outweigh the cost.”
There are a number of former vegans turned butchers who are addressing the toxicity of the meat industry by changing it rather than avoiding it. They provide customers with meats from more humane and local sources, and are making great strides in shifting meat consumption to a model that is sustainable.
In my work with Indigenous peoples, I have seen a very natural and healthy approach to the eating of animals. Hunting and fishing are traditional ways they have of connecting with the land and nature. Before eating an animal, they thank the Creator for the opportunity to nourish their body, mind and spirit and give thanks to their prey for giving up its life so the eater might live. They are constantly finding ways to honor, respect and cherish nature and the source of life.
When I sat next to the Chief of the Manitoba Métis at a lunch, he remarked on my vegetarian plate. “You don’t eat meat?” he asked. I explained my reasons. He did not judge or say anything at all. Yet I was able to see how my decision was too simplistic, denying the riches that come from accepting our humanness, the contradictions that make us whole, the complexity of accepting that eating animals is part of who we are.
So for now, I am letting go of vegetarianism. I will stay open to the flow as I take the challenging approach of tuning in to my deepest self as I make my eating choices moment by moment, with an intention of kindness, compassion, and love for all beings.
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Apprentice Editor: Kathryn Muyskens / Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons