Rod Meade Sperry reflects on the compassion and difficulty of changing your diet to vegan.
Once upon a time, I was a vegan. That lasted maybe three months, max. I did better with vegetarianism – something like sixteen years or so. But I had a hard time with depression, and so started I started eating fish, so long as it was rich with Omega-3s. Then the circle widened to more fish, and then shellfish. Then, after some years, I started eating turkey, and so on…. Not a good vegan, no, but one hell of a backslider.
If you’re like me – an animal lover who’s trying to lessen suffering and cultivate a more compassionate mind – you might find that this all starts to feel more and more untenable. And so yesterday morning I said to my wife that I wanted to turn things back around, whatever that might ultimately mean.
(Being the wonderful and supportive person she is, she’s game.) I know it’s not going to be easy. But then, later in the day, I saw this article, titled “On Becoming a Vegan,” written by my friend the good Dr. Nicholas Ribush and published by Mandala magazine. As he writes there,
My attachment to meat prevented me from looking at the issue objectively. I hid behind my ignorance. But since the advent of YouTube, there’s really no excuse, nowhere to hide. Search for videos with the terms “meat cruelty,” “animal cruelty,” “beef cruelty,” “pig cruelty,” “chicken cruelty” and so forth and you’ll see.
The experience of watching these was what I imagine a realization must be like. Of course, I have no Dharma realizations; this was kind of a worldly one. A sudden, deep, life changing understanding that led me to declare to my wife, Wendy, “I’m never eating meat again. I want no part of this entire process.” I defy you to watch these videos and not be moved.
And: he’s stuck to it, even going all the way to veganism.
Much of what Dr. Nick is saying comes from his Tibetan Buddhist perspective – which you may or may not relate to, but the main thing is that it’s born of A) facts about the very ugly truth about meat and animal-products, and B) a truly positive motivation. It’s inspiring, and he includes a couple of helpful links for those who want to explore alternative ways of feeding themselves.
I've been a vegetarian and support the notion of causing less suffering. I also believe that there cannot be any question that a lot of commercial farming is really hurtful to animals. That said, aren't millions of insects killed in the production of fruits and vegetables? Even organic farmers use insect traps or biologic pesticides. And how exactly do plants "feel" or respond to the constant culling needed for agriculture. We know that plants can communicate with one another regarding threats. See http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-224…. Y
All that's to say, as someone whose grappled with this issue, I often wonder whether we gift short shrift to insects and their value in this dialogue. That's not an argument against veganism. I just wonder how all that factors in.
Rod Meade Sperry says
Indeed — quite insightful. You may want to see this post by Lama Zopa Rinpoche which addresses some of this, also from the Mandala site: http://mandala.fpmt.org/archives/mandala-for-2013…
We should be making choices that reduce suffering in this world. Insects and the 'suffering' of plants fits in because it is making a choice to take the less harmful path. The insects aren't trapped their entire lives in tiny cages, aren't stripped of their young, don't have their teeth pulled out free from pain killers, aren't kicked around never seeing sunlight. Its everyone's choice to reduce the suffering in this world or to contribute to it. We can't eliminate all of it but we should be striving for reducing it as much as possible
Note: I put suffering in quotes because we are far from understanding if plants suffer the way animals do. We know that mama cows will cry for their young when they are stripped away, that animals will morn the loss of a loved one etc….
I am not interested in the deeper implications of reality, I just want to feel good about myself. I want to feel holy. We know that saints feel holy, that they are better than other people, etc…
I appreciate the discussion and information.
I'm not a vegan, though I was one for several years. I eat as an omnivore. With respect, I'm not convinced I'm in any way whatsoever wrong. I do support grass-fed and free-range. I feel that's important.
Everything is a choice, things happen and we react, things happen and we react. It is how we react that determines our karma. If you are comfortable eating meat, that is your choice. I no longer feel that eating meat is a choice I can continue to make as a human and a Buddhist and have been a vegan for nearly two years. I feel better physically and spiritually. But, that is me, my choice.
I agree with Tom, although I think many people forget to take in consideration the huge environmental impact that farming animals has on the earth – just the gas they produce alone is crazy!
I for one can't just eat vegetables, I have tried but I always end up hungry after not too long.
Not sure why but must be the make up the metabolism in my body. I do agree that it is disgraceful the way us humans treat animals.