I’m a firm believer in going vegetarian as an effort to help heal our dear Mother Earth, but what I didn’t realize is how much of an impact this conscious decision can actually have.
A new study has found that Buddhists in China offset about 40,000,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions each year by eating a vegetarian diet. That’s equivalent to 9.2 percent of the total greenhouse gas emissions from the country of France! That’s not exactly a number to sneeze at.
Lion’s Roar reported on this, saying: “The study, authored by Ampere A. Tseng from Arizona State University, titled ‘Reduction of Greenhouse Gas Emissions by Chinese Buddhists with Vegetarian Diets: A Quantitative Assessment,’ was published in the Journal of Contemporary Buddhism. The study suggests that environmental benefits could encourage more Buddhists to take up vegetarianism.”
Contrary to the belief of many, vegetarianism is not a universal tenet of Buddhism—but in my opinion and experience, it arises as a natural evolution, because as we walk the Buddhist path, our desire to create less suffering grows stronger.
This excited me, because the next time someone asks me what difference going veggie can actually make, I now have a number to throw back at them.
It’s no secret that a vast amount of land in the United States has been taken over by the beef industry for raising cattle. A simple drive through any of our western states will show you mass stretches of what should be high-desert terrain, but is instead fenced-off miles of lush, green fields for the cows on their way to the slaughter.
I have two problems with this. First, one pound of beef produced requires 1,800 gallons of water. It takes a lot of water to keep a desert green enough to raise cows. And second, they own mass amounts of land that could be put to better use growing more sustainable foods, rather than raising cows for meat.
However, I firmly believe that to each their own. I don’t want to tell anyone how or what to eat, and I don’t want to deprive anyone of anything they need or enjoy. I’m not here to be a martyr or a preacher, but rather to spread awareness and offer a new perspective on a topic that has often pushed people’s buttons as much as religion—meat!
For me, my conscious eating choices came as a result of 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’s so much of it, and I could feel it all—especially from the animal kingdom, and it weighed deeply on my heart.
One day, I was eating at work, and I bit a piece of chicken. I literally could not 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—one 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, and I gagged on it. It’s difficult to even describe it.
I was disgusted—and from that moment on, I couldn’t bring myself to put another piece of meat in my mouth.
Now, I don’t recommend switching up your diet cold turkey (like I did) for your health’s sake. I already ate a pretty healthy, organic diet that was veggie-heavy anyway, so it didn’t really have a dramatic effect on me. And even since that day, there have been a couple of times when—for my health’s sake—I needed iron, so I chose to have a small portion of red meat. That’s where we get mixed up, I think—we believe it has to be all or nothing. But it doesn’t!
So, if you’re thinking of evolving, 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 like to say I’m a compassionate, mindful eater. I’m not militant about my diet, and 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 just 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 menu, ingredient by ingredient, to figure out 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 creating problems.
I say this to show that vegetarianism can be fun, proactive, and effective in the fight for our planet. It can also be a great opportunity for us to take responsibility for ourselves and make conscious choices in life without attaching to any certain identity.
It’s time for us to take action collectively toward creating the world we want. As our Chinese Buddhist friends have shown us, there is power in numbers!
Author: Lindsay Carricarte
Editor: Yoli Ramazzina