When I stopped eating meat it surprised a lot of people who knew me. It surprised me too.
I’m a foodie, always have been—and meat was my favorite food.
My favorite part of traveling was being food adventurous and I thoroughly appreciated a quality meal. I would try anything.
I prided myself on my ability to handle business on the barbecue—making my own marinades and seasoning and smoking any piece of meat to perfection.
After about a year of practicing yoga and meditation and studying Buddhist and Hindu teachings, I developed this deep connection with all beings. The connection was already there I’m sure but my practices nurtured it and it grew stronger. At first, I was often overwhelmed with the collective suffering and pain in the world. There was so much of it and I could feel it all.
I guess this was when I found out I was an “empath.” This helped me understand a lot about myself and that I was a little different from many people. I was highly sensitive to emotions and energy. “Ok, cool. I can learn to work with that,” I thought. I didn’t realize it was going to change my whole diet.
So that all of these feelings didn’t continue to overwhelm me, I practiced tonglen and maitri and I got comfortable with impermanence and equanimity. I found comfort in the shared feelings of the collective consciousness—all of them. I started really enjoying the deep connection I had with all beings. The sorrowful isolated loneliness I had once suffered was no more. Even in sadness I felt connected and it was magical to me.
I was practicing mindfulness, as taught by Thich Nhât Hańh and I was becoming more and more in tune with the Precepts, Noble Truths and Dharmas of Buddhism.
One day, I was eating at work and I bit a piece of chicken. I literally couldn’t go on chewing it—I had to spit it out. As my teeth chewed I could feel the suffering of the animal I was eating, who had once lived a tortured life under inhumane conditions of a poultry farm, so I could have chicken for lunch. The meat tasted of fear and pain. I tasted every bit of suffering that being had gone through.
I was disgusted and from that moment on I couldn’t bring myself to put another piece of meat in my mouth.
I realized in that moment, that to be “empathic” meant I felt the suffering of all beings. So how on Earth could I continue to perpetuate the cycle of suffering while being an empath? The answer was, I couldn’t. I couldn’t selectively choose which being’s suffering I would feel while turning a blind eye to others. Maybe that’s a type of selective empathy and I didn’t possess it.
Soon after that day, dairy followed. I had a hard time with three things: cottage cheese, Greek yogurt and cheese. I thought it would be those bloody, rare filets I used to savor. Or bacon. But no, I never looked back. I was really surprised. I never thought I would go vegetarian, let alone vegan. I mean, I used to wrap my meat in more meat. I used to laugh at my vegetarian friends because I was cut off from my own emotions. Now I am so grateful to see the bigger picture and a better way.
I don’t recommend switching up your diet cold-turkey like I did for your health’s sake. I ate pretty healthy and organically, with a veggie heavy diet anyway, so it didn’t really have an effect on me. But if you’re thinking of evolving then take it step by step. There’s no rush. if you’re thinking of cutting out meat—good for you! Congratulate yourself. It’s the first step.
I don’t like to label myself vegan, or empath, for that matter. I like to say I’m a compassionate, mindful eater. I’m not militant about my diet. I don’t inconvenience others over my dietary preferences. I choose to support restaurants that have vegan menus and options rather than frequenting those who have zero options and complaining about it. I don’t expect waiters who are working in under-staffed restaurants to take time at my table to go through an entire restaurant menu ingredient by ingredient to find what I can eat. I do my research before I eat out because I am responsible for myself and I choose proactive solutions rather than problems.
I opt to spread awareness of the emotional capacity of animals rather than gory graphic images, so others can see how false their programmed beliefs about animal equality are. I feel that quietly infiltrating the psyche of others with loving images and videos of animals displaying their sentient nature will have more of an effect than forcing people to see the bloody, harsh realities of the meat industry. When we force graphic images on others who aren’t ready to receive them, we do more harm to the cause than good. (In my opinion).
So, please, if you’re already “vegan” and you judge everyone around you, and act super-rude to wait staff because they don’t know what you can eat, get off your soap box and try being friendly and approachable, and maybe, just maybe, others will be attracted to this way of living instead of turned off by it.
The idea behind a vegan diet is to decrease suffering in the world, yes? So let’s be careful not to get so high and mighty in our righteousness that we forget this lifestyle is a process of evolution. And for us to say how quickly someone should be evolving is just a manifestation of the ego’s need to play God.
Let’s not add to the suffering of the world if we can help it. If we radiate love and kindness for our cause others will come. Harsh, loud judgements don’t recruit anyone.
I opt for a peace and love campaign and I feel like it’s having success. Many friends are now talking about and considering dropping meat. Some have started to cut way back. This is success! This shows me that by being a quiet, loving example of compassionate food choices, I can plant seeds in others. This shows me that by being approachable people who are curious feel like they can learn from me instead of feeling judged by me.
My friends explore vegan restaurants and are pleasantly surprised when they love what they ordered.
It’s all about planting seeds not trying to drop a full grown tree on top of another deeply rooted one.
That is how we can change the world.
Author: Lindsay Carricarte
Editor: Sarah Kolkka