portland independent media center  
images audio video
newswire article commentary global

animal rights | faith & spirituality | sustainability

The Ethics of Eating

Today concluded the class that i took at LCC - Nature, Religion and Ecology. It was a dynamic and powerful course that left us all with a sense of possibility and responsibility. Our finals were presentations on creation; what an amazing amount of wisdom there was from everyone! This class, will not however, be the end for many of us who want to meet as a group and continue our exploration of how we can help further the path of human rEvolution through our personal and collective actions.
"Nothing will benefit human health and increase the chances for survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet" (Albert Einstein)

Eating is a sacred act. Food is love; our first primordial memory of our connection to our mother. The umbilicus of the earth mother provides us with lifelong nourishment. Many of us have forgotten this sacred connection - that we come from the land and are nourished by the
land - and therefore we do not see the value in holding the earth in deep reverence.

The further removed we are from nature the less consciousness we have regarding food. In today's world of fabricated foodstuffs, many people believe that what we eat comes from a nippled bottle, a box or a can. Paul Stitt, an outspoken food scientist, tells us in his book Fighting the Food Giants, that "An ever increasing proportion of the food we eat is no longer even food but is now a conglomerate of high-priced chemistry experiments designed to simulate food".

A lack of consciousness in what we feed our bodies affects us on many levels. Vegetarianism and Organic Food, two issues that have significant impact on the earth, will be the primary focus of this discourse, with an attempt to convey the importance that our food choices have, both personally and globally. The discussion of dietary issues frequently generates friction and defensiveness in people. The goal here is not to create divisiveness or suggest the superiority of one diet over another, but to simply and necessarily further our knowledge of and give consideration to the effect that our food choices have in the world. The conversation will not be completely limited to the food that we put into our mouths however; expanding the definition to include what we feed our minds, in order to look at the intimate correlation that exists between the two.

To begin, a brief definition on what Vegetarianism and Organic Food mean since there is some confusion around these two terms: ie.; "I'm a vegetarian but I eat chicken and fish".

There are different levels or types of vegetarianism: Veganism, Ova-lacto and Lacto, and Fruitarianism. In a Vegan diet there is strict avoidance of all animal products including honey, and sometimes the use of animal-derived products such as leather and silk. An ova-lacto vegetarian diet includes eggs and milk products, lacto vegetarianism includes dairy products, and a frutarian diet consists of only fruit, nuts, seeds and other plant matter that can be gathered without harming the plant. Therefore, in conclusion, vegetarianism excludes the eating of animal flesh; one cannot be a vegetarian and eat chicken or fish.

The term Organic has been misused, generally in an attempt to put a higher value on a product than it rightly deserves. To quote from The National Organic Standards Board: "The principal guidelines for organic production are to use materials and practices that enhance the ecological balance of natural systems and that integrate the parts of the farming system into an ecological whole. The primary goal of organic agriculture is to optimize the health and productivity of interdependent communities of soil life, plants, animals and people."

Those who choose vegetarian diets may do so or a variety of reasons but the two most common are opposition to the killing of animals and the infliction of unnecessary pain and suffering, and because they consider meat to be unhealthy. The most frequently stated reason was that of ethical concern (67%) followed by health concerns (38%), spiritual and religious reasons (17%), and gustatory (taste) or aesthetic reasons (12%). A large proportion stated both ethical and health concerns (43%).

Many cultures have strict dietary rules that reflect their belief systems or religious views. Every major religion celebrates vegetarianism, though few adhere to it exclusively.

In India, the religious sect of Jainism is one exception. The Golden Rule in Jainism is ahimsa or nonviolence; with a deep compassion for all forms of life. Amar T. Salgia, founding member of Young Jains of America, says "Jainism is a momentous example to all of us that there can exist a successful, ecologically responsible way of life which is abundantly nonviolent in thought, action, and deed."

Salgia tells us that "only one-sensed beings, primarily from the plant kingdom are consumed". He answers a prime question oft times raised with regard to the moral issue of killing and eating animals versus plants, since both are living beings: "While the Jain diet does, of course, involve harm to plants and microorganisms, it is regarded as a means of survival which involves the bare minimum amount of violence towards living beings." Salgia says that the practice of vegetarianism in Jainism is regarded as a potent instrument for the practice of nonviolence and peaceful, cooperative coexistence. Gandhi, though not a Jain, practiced the central tenet of this religion; ahimsa, and felt this to be the greatest virtue that a human being can possess; that it is the path to peace.

Hinduism does not espouse strict avoidance of meat, though most devout Hindus and certain castes abstain to protect the sacred cow, which they feel may be an ancestor from another lifetime. Vegetarianism became established in Hinduism because of the Buddhist emphasis on respect for life.

Buddhism incorporates vegetarianism into its philosophy, though not exclusively. The Chinese and Japanese (mostly Zen) followers of Buddhism are primarily, (some entirely) vegetarian while the majority of Tibetans consume meat on a regular basis. For those Buddhists who do follow a vegetarian path, ahimsa is the primary reason. The nineteenth-century Tibetan Lama Patrul Rinpoch, felt that the practice of meat eating violated the First Precept of Buddhism (no killing ~ reverence for life)) and that it was not in alignment with those who claim to practice bodhicitta (wisdom-seeking mind):

"The beings with unfortunate karma that we are supposed to be protecting are instead being killed without the slightest compassion, and their boiled flesh and blood are being presented to us and we—their protectors, the Bodhisattvas—then gobble it all up gleefully, smacking our lips. What could be worse than that?"

Within the Christian, Jewish and Islamic Religions there is a schism with regard to the eating of flesh. In Genesis 1:28 God says "... have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth", which sounds like the granting of permission for humans to use animals for their consumption. But in the next passage (Genesis1:29) God says, "Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which [is] upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which [is] the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat" , and from Romans 14:20: "Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of something to eat." , indications that a vegetarian diet was what God intended of humans.

According to the Essene New Testament, Jesus practiced and advocated a Fruitarian diet: "God giveth the grains and the fruits of the earth for food; and for righteous man truly there is no other lawful sustenance for the body.... For God is just and bountiful who ordaineth that man shall live by the fruits and seeds of the earth alone."

From a religious standpoint, the practice of Vegetarianism is considered an important path to becoming a compassionate, loving and peaceful person. An equally compelling reason to adopt a meat-free diet is to help lessen the destructive environmental impact that such a diet produces.

John Robbins, heir to Baskin and Robbins, is one of the biggest proponents of a Vegetarianism/Vegan lifestyle. In his book Diet for a New America, Robbins makes many persuasive arguments for adopting a diet free of animal products, including: the mistreatment of animals, the health implications of eating meat and meat by-products that are laden with hormones, antibiotics, steroids and the element of fear when the animal is being led to slaughter, the amount of resources needed to produce meat versus non-meat foods, and the growing problem of soil erosion. From Robbins book May All Be Fed he tells us: "If Americans alone were to reduce meat consumption by only 10%, it would free land and resources to grow over 12 million tons of grain annually for human consumption, more than enough to adequately feed every one of the 40 to 60 million human being who will starve to death on the planet this year."

In summary, the arguments for adopting a vegetarian lifestyle are many but the most cogent is the issue of world hunger. How can we look into the eyes of a child dying of starvation (a child dies of starvation every two seconds) while justifying our consumption of meat?

If we chose a vegetarian diet, the question is what and how do we eat? Many fear that they will become protein deficient and malnourished if they deprive themselves of meat. It is true that there are many sickly vegetarians who have not discovered how to eat healthfully, and in their suffering they erroneously think that a lack of meat is the reason for this. Organically grown food is a vital component of a nourishing diet, which goes hand in hand with eating a diet of whole foods that have come from the earth versus foodstuffs manufactured in a factory.

Organic farming is the fastest growing sector of agriculture with approximately 2% of the U.S. food supply grown using organic methods. Over the past decade, sales of organic products have shown an annual increase of at least 20%. Today, more people than ever are opting for food that has not been grown with poisonous chemicals, even though the cost of organically grown food is more (due to intensive management and labor) than conventionally grown food. There is mounting evidence however, that if all the indirect costs of conventional food production were factored into the price of food (including the hidden costs of pesticide regulation and testing, hazardous waste disposal and cleanup) organic foods would cost the same, or, more likely, be cheaper than conventional food. An additional important consideration with regard to cost is the investment factor. We can choose to invest now and thereby enjoy better health and contribute to the preservation of the planet. Or we can ignore the benefits that an organic lifestyle offers and pay later with health problems and medical expenses.

The reasons to 'Go Organic' are as varied as those for choosing Vegetarianism, many of them overlapping. Mass scale conventional farming is destroying the planet at an alarming rate. North American farms are suffering from the worst soil erosion in history. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that (cancer causing) pesticides contaminate the ground water in 38 States, polluting the primary source of drinking water for more than half the country's population. The average child receives four times more exposure than an adult to at least eight widely used cancer-causing pesticides in food. A National Cancer Institute study found that farmers exposed to herbicides had six times more risk than non-farmers of contracting cancer. Modern farming uses more petroleum than any other single industry, consuming 12% of the country's total energy supply. It is estimated that North America has lost more than 650,000 family farms in the past decade; organic farming could be one of the few survival tactics left for family farms.

Perhaps there will need to be a profound shift in human consciousness, or a monumental calamity before we wake up and see the necessity to use organic farming methods and adopt dietary principles that do the least harm to the planet and to all other life forms. If we start with the idea of self-preservation, with the realization that we are made from the same elements as the earth and that our food comes from the earth, we can begin to cultivate a reverence for Mother Gaia, with the sincere desire to protect not poison her. Poisoning the Earth Mother with chemicals is the ultimate misogynistic insult, the equivalent of poisoning our own Mother.

To conclude, what we feed our minds has far reaching effects on the choices that we make in life, including our food choices. One of the most persuasive and destructive tools of the 20th century has been the advent of television. It's viewers become passive consumers that are profitably brainwashed into believing everything they are being fed. Like anesthetized zombies they go to the supermarkets with the saturated advertising lingo and jingles in their brain and head straight for the foods and products they are promised will make them sexier, wealthier and more alluring. Television has proved to be one of the most effective tools for subduing the masses and perpetuating the grand capitalistic American scheme.

This primer only touches on the issues regarding the ethics of eating but it can help us to start looking at the impact that our food choices have. If we do as Brian Swimme suggests in his book "The Universe is a Green Dragon" and fall in love , to feel the magnetic pull of attraction to everything in the universe as sacred and divine, the desire to nurture and protect ourselves and all our relations will become as instinctual and effortless as breathing.

I cannot eat a cow
not necessarily because I think that it is my ancestor
but because when I look into her eyes
I see my own reflection.
minor correction 08.Jun.2004 17:10

Buddha's daughter

Thanks for the well-written article-I hope you continue contributing. As for Buddhists and vegetarianism: Tibetans eat meat primarily because they have no source of vegetable protein at their altitudes; about the only grain that grows up there is buckwheat and they only get a little protein from yak milk and cheese.They don't usually butcher their own meat and refrain from harming critters, including insects, as best they can. Japanese monks and nuns are often but not exclusively vegetarian but lay people are not, except for certain holy days; I once went to a barbeque held at a temple there. Chinese monks keep to a stricter diet but the laity is about the same as the Japanese. Nuns and monks will eat whatever is provided them by donors. American Buddhist converts are predominantly vegetarians although immigrants usually aren't (or at least not fulltime). The main idea is that we are responsible for our actions and the subsequent outcomes (karma) and should try to err on the side of compassion. Sometimes that means accepting what we are given in the spirit of the giving, including meals containing animal flesh. As an American priest once said:"The animal is already dead but the host isn't"

Excellent article!!! 09.Jun.2004 06:07

K.C.Roberts

Very good article!!!Your article reminded me of a story I heard once.
The Buddha wished to take a bath.He told one of his monks,"Go,and clean the bathtub".When the monk got there,he saw that a family of insects had made a home in the tub.The monk said,"I cannot possibly clean the tub without harming these insects,so he went and told Buddha,"There are insects in the bathtub".Buddha again told him,"Go and clean the bathtub".The monk went back to the tub,and looked at the insects.Then he went back to Buddha again,and said,"Even if I tried my very hardest,I cannot remove these insects
from the tub without harming them".Buddha replied,"I did'nt tell you to kill the insects,I told you to clean the bathtub".
I have heard it said,that if you are Buddhist,and are a vegetarian,then you are a vegetarian Buddhist.Well,I guess I'm in that category then.
I did'nt give that animal it's life.I have no right to take it away.
An animal should'nt have to die,just so I can have something to eat.

Metta,
K.C.

Order of Nazorean Essenes 09.Jun.2004 06:21

K.C.Roberts

By the way,I just happened to run across the following:

"If, O Great Life, we have sinned in any way against the five kinds of living beings: the two-legged, four-legged, those that fly, those in the waters, or those that crawl on their bellies - if we should have hurt or frightened them, stolen or used their milk, eggs, or body parts in any manner, participated in the preparing, serving or eating of their flesh or oozings, or benefited directly or indirectly from their death or torture - then we now, O Great Life, pray to be forgiven." (New 32 Fold Confession)
The website below has a lot of really good articles,including vegan.

 http://essenes.net/subindexvegan.htm

Metta,
K.C.

You Rock, Peace Rebel Girl 09.Jun.2004 09:10

CatWoman

It's in the small and intimate acts of our own lives that we tend to make the most difference. Thanks for reminding me of that.