The Reluctant Vegetarian …

May 24, 2013 § 2 Comments

So, I’ve become the reluctant vegetarian.

What, you may ask, does this have anything to do with being Buddhist?

Image courtesy of Sura Nualpradid / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Sura Nualpradid / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Not necessarily very much, as for lay practitioners, it is not particularly required for us to abstain from consuming meat. Of course, this seems to depend on what you’re reading and how you’re interpreting what you’re reading. Ultimately, Buddhist practice includes living with Right Intent and Right Mindfulness … and honestly, knowing what I know about the food industry, I could no longer make the claim that I am living with good intent or mindfulness if I were to continue to eat meat that comes from such a heartless and soul-less source. Since turning to vegetarianism, I can honestly say that I feel better on a more conscious level than I had before. Looking at pieces of meat or sausage now has a whole different significance than it did before. It has certainly made me all the more aware of the fact that the sausage being grilled is made of much more than ‘meat,’ it’s muscle, it’s flesh, it came from a once proud, living being.

So Why Reluctant?

Aside from my concerns regarding health (I became anemic when I was in my 20s, the last time I was vegetarian — my intent back then wasn’t quite the same as it is today), my reluctance to turn to vegetarianism are twofold:

Image courtesy of Tom Curtis / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Tom Curtis / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

  1. I love meat. Love it. There isn’t much better in life than the taste of a nice juicy grilled steak prepared by my husband. I hate to brag, but I also make a pretty mean roast chicken that — according to my husband — beats my mother-in-law’s. Some of my favorite dishes are meat-heavy.
  2. I dislike many ‘vegetarian’ and ‘vegan’ foods. Despite the fact that my aim is to one day be pretty much vegan, I’m very turned off by some of the recipes I’ve found out there. Some of the most horrific-sounding foods include soy protein shaped to look like whole roasted dead animals, ‘facon’ as I call it (and I’m sure someone else has already coined the term), and any ‘meat replacers.’

As a meat-loving vegetarian, I can’t get over the sick irony of trying to make tofu taste like turkey, bacon, or beef. If you are going to be a meat-eater, be a meat-eater. If you’re going to be vegetarian or vegan, EMBRACE IT. Don’t try to make … *shudder* … orange soy squares that look like that fake American cheese that we’re all ashamed to admit we love. If you’ve never tried the soy ‘equivalent’ of it, don’t. It tastes and smells like baby barf and has the texture of Moon Sand.

There are several cultures out there that already use little to no meat. Think Indian, Japanese, some Chinese, Mexican and Lebanese foods. They all lend nicely to the use of tofu, beans and lentils combined with delicious greens and spices. You can eat real, delicious foods that have nothing to do with meat that will satisfy you. Plenty of flavor, plenty of textures, and filling, too.

The Philosophy 

Image courtesy of rakratchada torsap / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of rakratchada torsap / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

My approach to being vegetarian is influenced by all of the factors I mentioned above: My love of meat, my distaste for the hypocrisy surrounding eating ‘meatless meat’ and my knowledge of Buddhism, such at it is.

My approach to my vegetarianism has also been about not being pushy about it. I’ve not demanded, nor will I, that a vegetarian option be made available to me when I enter someone’s home. My husband — bless him — has always been mindful of my decision and shopped for food and cooked meals with me in mind (yes, I’m a lucky gal). I also make sure that when I make a meal, in addition to my vegetarian/vegan dish, I offer food that my husband and children will also enjoy, that includes meat.

Why no pushiness? Well, let’s see … When a certain person from a certain sect approaches your door with pamphlets, sticks his or her foot in your door and insists on pushing their point of view on you, how much do you feel like listening to them, let alone considering their point of view?

Yeah, exactly.

If I want people’s interest to be piqued by my way of life, I’ve found it better to just quietly follow my own path, and welcome those who show interest in it. After all, my vegetarianism is mine, and mine alone. It’s my choice. Not the choice of my children, my husband, my friends or anyone else in my family.

So, will I eat meat if I have no other options? 

Image courtesy of rakratchada torsap / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of rakratchada torsap / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

You bet. And here’s why:

“When a monk partakes of the four requisites, he should contemplate them first. If, on contemplating, he sees that the food in front of him — whether it’s vegetables, meat, fish, or rice — is pure in three ways in that he hasn’t seen or heard or suspected that an animal was killed to provide the food specifically for him, and also that he himself obtained the food in an ethical way, that the lay people donated it out of faith, then he should go ahead and eat that food. This is how our teachers have practiced as well.”

— Luan Pu, via Access to Insight

While this quote is directed to Buddhist monks, it can be applied to all of us who decide to no longer take part in  using animals for food. Our decision is our own, and we make it because we have been informed, and have chosen to accept the information AND act on it. While we may find good reason to act on the information we received, we can’t expect everyone to do the same. At least, not before they are ready, if they ever are.

I will accept meat from those who make food from meat, and who do so with the intent of providing for their friends and family. They may not be informed about the food they’ve prepared as we have been. Am I saying they are stupid? Absolutely not. They have just not turned their hearts in the same direction as I have, yet their heart is still in a place of good intent.

Will I bring to any ‘bring a dish to pass’ type events, a vegetarian option that I can go to, and that others may enjoy? Absolutely yes. But if invited to a dinner or a restaurant, I’ll not sit there empty-plated if there are no meatless options for me, only to insult my hosts. That’s not the statement I’m going for.

I’ll do what I can to make sure that no animals suffer for me. I will not, however, cause ill will because of my decision, and I will also do what I can to let people see that being vegetarian does NOT equal being obnoxious. Nor does it equal eating jiggly, soy-based, turkey-shaped fake meat. Let’s face it, meat-eaters use that as ammunition to remain anti-vegetarian. I want them to turn to me, not away.

My best evidence to date that proves to me that my approach is effective?

Not long ago, I prepared a meal for my family: Grilled, marinated tofu for me, grilled, marinated chicken for my husband and children. The table was set, we sat down to eat, I dug into my dish and my daughter picked at her chicken. She turned to me and asked “Mommy, can I try some of that?” I was surprised, but said “Sure, of course.”

I put a small cube of the tofu on her plate, she popped it in her mouth and … “Mmmmmm! Mommy that’s good. Can I have some more please? I don’t care for the chicken.”

First. Time. Ever.

I gave her a full serving’s worth, and she ate it all. ALL. Then asked for seconds. My husband then also tried a piece, and also liked it.

It’s not a revolution, but it’s a small start.

And that, folks, is how I plan to take over the world.

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§ 2 Responses to The Reluctant Vegetarian …

  • Aled Hoggett says:

    Cool – I have much the same approach to vegetarianism. Only I have a larger dilemma. When I decided to follow buddhist practice I was a meat producing farmer. Part of my desire to farm was the ethical production of meat and reconnecting customers with their food. After 12 years of raising, killing and butchering my own meat, and making cheese for commercial sale, I was recovering from a week-long silent retreat when it hit me – I don’t want to do this any more… whats more, if I don’t want to become a living contradiction, I can’t do it any more.

    My challenge is to convert that meat producing farm to plant based business. Not that easy. All sorts of challenges. Three come to the fore. What do I do with all that land that is simply not suitable for crops? How do I manage the transition without bankrupting myself and imposing suffering on those around me? What to do all with all those animals that want to share my crops with me? The provisional answers – trees, time and ingenuity.

    I could have made the decision to sell the farm and choose a different life. That would have been a cop out – some other meat farmer would simply have continued what I was doing.

    That is what makes buddhism such a powerful fit for me. It is about practice, not necessarily about getting it right. It allows a pragmatic response to very real problems, and acknowledges that we are just as likely to cause the very thing we are trying to alleviate – suffering – by unwise actions.

    So am I comfortable? No. For the moment I am still doing something that I consider morally distressing – though I have stopped killing and butchering. But I am balancing a number of very real concerns and my impacts on a number of people around me. I am also on a path to create a realistic alternative. Just yesterday I invested in a mower unit for my tractor so I can manage my pasture by making hay rather than making meat.

    That is the point – there is a path, and we all start at our own doors. Practice is about doing what we can, not about doing things that, however well intentioned, perpetuate old or initiate new cycles of suffering.

    Thank you for your blog – these conversations are so valuable for spiritually isolated people (I live on a farm hundreds of kilometres from my closest fellow practitioners)

  • MiyoWratten says:

    Amazing, Aled! I commend you for the major change you are making in your life, especially because it is such a large-scale change.

    I love your comment about there being a path, and that we all start at our own doors, and being careful not to perpetuate old or initiate new cycles of suffering. I struggle with this exact issue every time I prepare meat-based dishes for my family … am I simply perpetuating an old problem, am I actually improving anything if I am the only one making the change? Or would I be causing a whole world of suffering and anxiety if I were to suddenly uproot my entire family’s diet and eating habits? Would that really do any actual good?

    Because of what happened between myself and my daughter at the above described dinner, I feel that the way I’m doing it now is effective, even if preparing meat is still part of what we do in our house. Hopefully, my children will watch what I am doing, and give some thought themselves as to why I am doing this, and what their own roles are. It may not happen today, but it will hopefully eventually set in.

    It all happens one step at a time, and whatever changes we are able to manage, I believe sets us further ahead on whatever path we are on in each of our practice.

    I, like you, am many, many miles away from anyone who practices, and am really grateful for your comment here. Thanks for sharing your experience, it was really great to ‘meet’ someone in your shoes, and very inspirational!

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