A true yogi is one who definitely does not eat meat. Of the 8 limbs of yoga, there is one ‘yama’ called ‘Ahimsa’, meaning “non-violence”. It also means compassion for all human beings and living things. It then follows that being a vegetarian (or vegan) is a natural extension of this.
In my case, having my own nutritional challenges (which I have to write about one of these days), I am definitely advised to eat lots of ‘protein’. Eating meat then is the natural choice. Vegetarianism (or veganism) is definitely not on the agenda.
However, at what cost and on what basis should we accept such wisdom? Our lives these days are constantly saturated with attempts made by food manufacturers, supermarkets and take-away outlets (take Pret and their ‘British Chicken’ label on all their sandwiches) to make us feel good about the meat we eat. Animal welfare has certainly progressed in terms of consumers’ priority these days and massive attempts are being made by such entities to market it to its full potential.
Take me for example: the local kitchen at the bank prides itself on sourcing all its ingredients regionally within the UK. I always took this as a sound ethical basis for the consumption of meat at the work canteen.
However, my perception of this changed dramatically: One day, as I was queuing for a tasty plate of stir fried noodles, I noticed that the chicken that was being prepared all came from this very large plastic crate. In it were layers upon layers of chicken breast all piled on top of one another. My illusion was shattered! This was still “processed” meat as far as I could see, hiding behind the myth of ‘quality produce’ etc…These chickens still had to be reared (presumably in a large barn or factory), transported en masse, in the dark and probably crammed with hundreds of other besieged feathered friends, then slaughtered by some mechanistic means, before being plucked and processed by a team of workers who then arrange for the meat to be distributed to big City clients like the bank…
For me though, the City chicken kitchen story wasn’t what started it all off. Rather, it all came about rather innocently in Corsica this summer. We were sitting on a beautiful beach one late afternoon when this cow casually wandered down to the beach. Corsica is full of farms and paddocks and this one obviously made its way down from one of them. It stood there for a bit, pretending to mingle with the rest of the crowd, then elegantly made its way along the rest of the beach like it was just another beach-goer. I was like, “how could I eat these majestic beautiful creatures?” The seed of compassion and ethical eating was now firmly planted in my mind.
Three months later, after a trip to Florence and Bologna (where I once caved in and had to try the local bolognese speciality), I’m pretty much meat free. I feel nimble minded and more determined in my resolutions. I have wavered a couple of times though, thinking that I needed meat, but I think that is more my mind than my body since I’ve coped fine since then. I’m careful with my proteins, and have recently bought some fantastic complete plant protein supplements to ensure that I get all the essential amino acids.
I am also trying to replace the meat with fish and other protein sources such as organic free range eggs. Perhaps I am being a little bit of a hypocrite by eating fish (i.e. being a pescatarian), but I haven’t got that far yet, and I hope that at least with the vast majority of the fish that is sourced from the ocean, the farming and cultivation is more natural than pretty much all the meat that ends up on our dinner tables is. I also have this thing in my mind that death itself is something that all living beings face, and the physical process of catching fish is just another extension of that.
Of course, the other thing about eating meat is all the sh*t that goes into the animal feed. Despite the world being on the cusp of antibiotic resistance, poultry and livestock are pumped full of them in their animal feed to promote growth. According to one link, in the US alone, 29 million pounds of antibiotics are used every year in livestock production.
I have taken antibiotics very rarely in my life so far, yet some routine tests I recently had with a nutritionist looking at the state of my digestive health revealed that I was resistant to certain antibiotics. How is this possible?! I always finished my course of antibiotics in full, which is supposed to reduce the likelihood of developing resistance – The meat connection immediately sprung to my mind.
I also recently read that up up to 80% of US pigs that are slaughtered have pneumonia. That is just staggering! (Organic Consumers Association, ‘Disturbing Facts on Factory Farming and Food Safety’;www.organicconsumers.org/oldarticles/Toxic/factoryfarm.php) as referred to in the article by Kevin Gianni “Why I gave up my vegan diet” in What Doctor’s Don’t Tell You).
So, the choice is yours. For those who continue to eat meat, I respect that. For some, choosing cheap meat is an economic necessity. Besides, I was convinced that it had to be this way by many enlightened beings in the medical world. Even my blessed mother who is one of the softest people in the world has resorted to eating meat again on the advice of her nutritionist, so each to their own.
However, take another look at your meat next time and ask yourself the question what really went on behind (and is in) that plate. Think beyond the mere momentary pleasure and the alleged health benefits that eating meat gives you. Is it really enough to turn a blind eye to the way our modern meat is produced? If the answer is, “I don’t care, we are at the top of the food chain”, then think again. For the average intelligent human being, there’s got to be a better way than that.