August 4, 2015

Why Vegetarianism is Sexy.

Natalie Portman 1

I was raised by my grandparents in a traditional, 5,000-year-old culture.

In this way of life, there is room for birth, for growth, life, for kinship and for communities based upon the sharing of stories, of joy, of art and music. In this way of life, there is also a space, a respectful space for death, for loss, for anger, pain and alienation.

This cultural paradigm allows for darkness as an integral part of human experience. It allows for darkness as the fundamental path to our inner light.

In this way of being, there is never a “me versus you,” “mine versus yours” or “us versus them.” It is more about “us.” This “us” is understood as the collective soul that lives uniquely in each unit of creation.

The Navajo Indians have a prayer:
The mountains, I become a part of it.
The herbs, the fir tree, I become a part of it.
The morning mist, the clouds, the gathering waters,
I become a part of it.
The wilderness, the dew drops, the pollen…
I become a part of it.
The animals, my brethren that walk and crawl and fly,
I become a part of it.

That is why the Hindus have plenty of Gods. For the Hindu, creation is an object of mutual co-existence and adoration.

Before juvenile sensationalism took over the media, before profit making became the exclusive pursuit of businesses, before colonization took away a sense of self-worth, traditional cultures all over the world knew the secret to sustainable sustenance.

It was to live in harmony with all that is.

I am particularly interested in exploring food choices in the context of a paradigm of one-ness. In our current civilizational context, meat is our primary food.

Primarily the arguments in favor of meat eating are:

1. It has a high “nutritional” content. It therefore forms the basis of a long and healthy life.

2. Any guilt about the killing of animals is misplaced, even unnecessary. After all, eating each other is normal in the food chain.

3. Vegeterianism has an inherent hypocrisy to it. After all, plants are living beings too. And vegeterians wear leather shoes and coats.

My concerns with these arguments are:

1. Research shows that plant-based diets are cost-effective, low-risk interventions that may lower body mass index, blood pressure, HbA1C and cholesterol levels. They may also reduce the number of medications needed to treat chronic diseases and lower ischemic heart disease mortality rates. Physicians should consider recommending a plant-based diet to all their patients, especially those with high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular disease or obesity.

2. Vegetarian diets were associated with lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure.  Vegetarian diets: what do we know of their effects on common chronic diseases?

3. A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that women with breast cancer who regularly consumed soy products had a 32% lower risk of breast cancer recurrence and a 29% decreased risk of death, compared with women who consumed little or no soy.

4. The American Dietetic Association states that iron-deficiency anemia is rare even in individuals who follow a plant-based diet.

5. Calcium intake can be adequate in a well-balanced, carefully planned, plant-based diet. People who do not eat plants that contain high amounts of calcium may be at risk for impaired bone mineralization and fractures. However, studies have shown that fracture risk was similar for vegetarians and nonvegetarians. The key to bone health is adequate calcium intake, which appears to be irrespective of dietary preferences.

6. The fatty acids that vegans are most likely to be deficient in are the omega-3 fats (n-3 fats).

Consumptions of the plant version of omega-3 fats, alpha-linolenic acid, are also low in vegans. Adequate intake of n-3 fats is associated with a reduced incidence of heart disease and stroke. Foods that are good sources of n-3 fats should be emphasized. They include ground flax seeds, flax oil, walnuts, and canola oil.

7. Several studies have documented the benefits of avoiding excessive consumption of red meat, which is associated with an increased risk of all-cause mortality and an increased risk of cardiovascular mortality.

8. Low meat intake has been associated with longevity.

No guilt trip needed—all a part of the food chain.

One could argue that we are all carnivores.

Much the same as the lion wouldn’t bat an eyelid before having you and me for lunch when it is hungry, we have an equal right to satisfy our hunger. Our cavemen ancestors were not strictly vegan after all!

And what is wrong with death anyway?

There is a subtle nuance to this argument which is often overlooked.

There is a difference between killing and a natural death.

A killing is an “imposed” death—where the will of the killer or his needs are superior to that of the killed. There is an inherent violence here, a force against one’s natural will. And that is why killing of human beings is a punishable crime called murder. And rightfully so—even if this killing is in war. We humans try our war criminals in courts of justice for murder—the act of taking life against the will of the dying.

Some of us even condemn the killing of fetuses in the womb.

The issue is not so much about ethics, as about a deeper understanding of the pulsating rhythm of life. Our cavemen ancestors killed because they did not know how to grow food to feed their hunger. Our cavemen ancestors also killed in self-defence.

A lion is no different. A bison does not farm to grow his food, so he does what is his instinct led habit to satisfy his hunger.

It is often argued that animals have “no conscience” and “varying levels of consciousness.” That is the premise of “humane killing.” What is a humane killing? Killing is messy and painful. And what about killing for sport. In the UK, foxes are hunted down for a Sunday afternoon gentleman sport.

We are becoming increasingly aware that animal farming is a big environmental threat, arguably the biggest. Once again the paradigm of economic productivity—maximizing profits has meant that meat is cheaply and readily available. The threat to the eco-system that over fishing in our waters causes, the clearing of vast spaces of natural habitat brings, is more than just a threat to an ideal called unity consciousness for the “holy moly” hippies and Buddhists.

Our planet is changing. We have been instrumental in that change by living a consumptive consciousness.

The hypocrisy in vegetarianism.

Vegeterianism is a life style choice, a way of being. It is not the moral pronouncement that most of us—including a lot of the vegetarian and vegans themselves—like to think. Being vegetarian does not make us holy or righteous or better than thou. Being vegetarian simply allows for greater sustainability and co-existence with the planet and its abundance.

Man has consumed meat since the dawn of civilization, but not at the rate and to the extent with which he is consuming meat today. And we know that this is environmentally unsustainable. Our children have a right over our planet—our only home—as much as we do.

The choice of vegetarianism is not so much an ethical, “I am holier than you” argument, it is more about living a practical paradigm of co-existing with the earth, our mother, honoring all of her children as sacred—even if their consciousness is different to ours. For our mother, the earth, we are all her children, equal to each other and not separate from the consciousness that animates us all.

Relephant bonus:


Compassionate Vegetarianism: Meat is more than just Dead Animals.


Author: Rekha Vijayshankar

Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock

Photo: flickr

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