Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Ethics of the Animal Industry

As I'd mentioned in an earlier post a couple weeks ago, I was going back into my "vegetarian phase". I have these on-again, off-again vegetarian phases, and these have always stemmed from a health/ detox perspective. I've just always felt lighter and with more energy whenever I've gone veggie.

A friend and I had gone on a 7-day fast & detox at a health spa in Koh Samui a few years ago, and I'd remained vegetarian for about 6 months after that. Early last year, I'd gone vegetarian again also for about another 6 months... that is, lacto-ovo vegetarian. No meat at all, with no seafood either. The only animal products I would touch were dairy (hence the term: lacto) and eggs (hence the term: ovo). However, my immune system crashed on me in a massive way - I fell ill about 3 times in those 6 months, and each time it would wipe me out for about a week at a time. I don't usually fall sick, and even if I do it wouldn't last more than a few days so something was definitely up with my diet at the time.

I'd put it down to pure vegetarianism not working with my body. After all, I had gone to a Kinesiologist who put me on a candida detox to clear out my intestines (no wheat, no sugar, no yeast) and she did mention that there was something to be said about the "eat right for your blood type" theory... and since I'm O+, I'm technically supposed to be a meat-eater.

Since then, I've kept to a largely veggie diet, but would eat some meat or fish a few times a week to "supplement" my diet. Having said this, every time I ate any meat, I would feel the effects - I'd feel a bit more sluggish and heavy, and chicken definitely got my sinuses going too.

A few weeks ago, I decided to go back to being vegetarian again as the more I thought about it, the more I reckon the reason why my immune system shut down on me the last time was probably coz I wasn't supplementing with vitamins. Oh. Duh. Yeah, seriously... I wasn't even taking a multi-vitamin or B12 or essential fatty acids supplements. DOH! Of course I was gonna get sick if I wasn't getting these anywhere else in my diet. (This time around, I'm supplementing and stocking up on those vitamins!)

Around about the same time I went back to vegetarianism, someone from my online yoga book club, Namaste Book Club (yes, I'm that much of a yoga nerd. I'm part of a yoga book club. An online one at that!) suggested I also read Sharon Gannon's "Yoga & Vegetarianism", which looks at it from a yogic point-of-view (based on the Yamas).


Now if you didn't already know, Sharon Gannon's the co-founder of a style of yoga known as Jivamukti Yoga. I have a copy of her book of the same name, written with the other co-founder, David Life. It's a beautifully written book on their yogic philosophy which their school is based on, and part of this philosophy is keeping to a vegan diet. There is a chapter in the book on "ahimsa", which translates as "non-harming" (especially to other beings). Hence their insistence on a completely vegan diet, free from any animal products and by-products.

When I first read the book, I pretty much skimmed this chapter. I found it to be a very polarizing, politicized view (yes, I'd conjured up images of PETA supporters splashing paint on people wearing fur, Sea Shepherd supporters strapping themselves to the front of whaling boats... and every conceivable extreme behaviour from animal rights activists). Perhaps I wasn't ready to listen to their message yet. Besides, my personal view of Ahimsa is also applicable to the self: if I'm harming myself by not eating what my body needs, and if I'm O+ and *need* to eat meat according to "Eat Right 4 Your Type"... then I'm not practising Ahimsa on myself! (exactly like what happened when the Dalai Lama's doctor ordered him to start eating meat!) ...well, yeah. It all made sense to me, since I'd always approached it from a health/ nutritional perspective.

For some reason, I was very intrigued by Gannon's ENTIRE book on "Yoga & Vegetarianism" (even though I couldn't get through ONE chapter on it from her previous book.) She tackles the subject based on the 5 Yamas - One of the Eight limbs of Yoga, taken from Patanjali's Yoga Sutras. (The Yamas are basically guidelines to how you should interact with the world around you.) She summarizes the points in her book here, a link I'd seen on Elephant Journal. It's probably what got me intrigued.


I'm still halfway through the book, but she's already presented very clear and compelling arguments not only from an ethical perspective of how the meat & livestock industries treat the animals, but also from nutritional and environmental pollution points of view how we're just screwing everything up, ourselves included. It's making me think about it from a much larger perspective, beyond just ME.

And since I've felt the stirrings of shying away from meat from an ethical point-of-view, I've now come across yet another piece which has made me realize just how ignorant and how in denial I've been about how that juicy piece of "grain-fed steak" landed on the table in front of me (or even that grilled "free-range chicken breast", "naturally raised" smoked salmon... heck, while we're at it... that pair of Ugg boots, or that leather jacket came to be).

I guess eating meat and using animal products has been so much a part of my life, ingrained since childhood, that you just take it for granted - never questioning where it came from, assuming that every animal has its part to play in life and well... they're raised for food so it must be OK. And since those eggs I'm boiling are cage-free, free-range eggs, I'm doing my part to keep those animals "happy"... and since I buy mostly organic, I'm ingesting stuff that's got more "positive energy" surrounding it. And I was kept in my little bubble of denial - never-questioning, never-probing a little deeper than I have... until now.

Enter the documentary, Earthlings. Here's the trailer, narrated by Joaquin Phoenix:

WARNING: It is violent, brutal and very real.

You can watch the full documentary online here.

It is also deeply moving and a powerful kick up your butt to boot you out of your ignorance. For me, at least that's what it was. I'm still processing what it all means to me and how far I'll draw the line. I guess if you can still rest easy eating meat knowing where its come from and what's happened in the process of getting it neatly packed on your grocery shelf, then by all means, go ahead and continue eating it.

I can't.

In fact, I'm considering going vegan. As much as I love cheese, I'd blindly assumed dairy was fine since y'know... the cows don't get slaughtered or anything yucky like that... How bad could it be, right? But seeing them chained all day with a super-short lifespan, dying from exhaustion from producing milk... like ?!?!??? Yikes, do I really want to be contributing to THAT?

I think it's important to know where your food comes from - you are what you eat, after all. Which is why you should watch that documentary and make up your own mind about it. I am not preaching at all, I can only tell you what MY opinion is on the subject as it pertains to MY life and MY eating habits. I really believe that you consume things on an energetic level as well, which is why knowing what I know now, how can I continue supporting the meat & animal products industries?

It's probably going to be a pain in the ass and quite a mission to shift my dietary habits (oh dairy, how I love thee), but it's less of a pain in the ass than some of the things that go on in those slaughterhouses. Still processing where that line is for me. Watch this space for more mental farts on the subject.

5 comments:

  1. Great thoughts. I really would encourage you to continue down the vegan route, especially now that you've seen and you know the truth about every animal industry.

    It's great that you're starting the vitamins, that will help a great deal. Going vegan is actually really easy! If you do it in stages, it won't feel so overwhelming. There are so many great resources and books out there, I'll be happy to suggest if you'd like some.

    I have eaten so much delicious food since I went vegan it's been amazing. I also had some health issues, problems digesting, that veganism cured and now I have a happy belly and a lighter heart! The best part about being vegan is knowing that the way I live my life causes harm to no person- human or non-human.

    And as for that cheese-- did you know they make vegan cheese? And also it's delicious? And soy or rice "ice cream" is about the most delicious thing you've ever tasted without all that pesky lactose-intolerance-induced-gross-feeling afterward.

    Keep us posted on this journey! I'll be looking forward to reading more!
    Jenny (evvashtangi)

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  2. Hey Jenny!
    Thanks for your comments & encouragement. I was given 'Skinny Bitch in the Kitch' in my Christmas stocking last year (vegan cook book from the same girls who wrote Skinny Bitch), and that's a good start for me. I've just realised from there too that vegan cheese exists... so I'm looking into where it may be available in Sydney. :)

    You're right about taking it one step at a time - turning veggie initially was a bit of a mindf*#k in terms of what you'd substitute meat for, but it's no biggie now. So I think taking that next step to veganism may be easier (there's still some resistance mentally though, I can feel it!)

    Any books or cookbooks you'd recommend would be appreciated! Thanks luv.x

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  3. Nice posting. Do you know about these yoga books?

    http://www.yogavidya.com/freepdfs.html

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  4. Hey SFauthor, thanks for the link, I've bookmarked it. But with texts like those, I'd like to actually learn from a teacher or get a version with interpretration & commentary. And I'd be happy to pay too!

    Check the Namaste Book Club link in my post - we're a bunch of yogis who get together once a week to discuss yoga books. We're currently on Desikachar's Heart of Yoga, about to tackle the Yoga Sutras. :)

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  5. Skippetty-

    The cookbooks I've liked a lot are Vegan Express, Veganomicon and The Garden of Vegan.

    The book that single handedly got me through the transition was Vegan Freak: Being Vegan in a Non-Vegan World. If you find yourself interested in reading more about animal rights, try Gary L. Francione's Introduction to Animal Rights. I'm also currently reading a book suggested by @veganyogini called The World Peace Diet and it's by Will Tuttle. It approaches the vegan lifestyle from a very yogic p.o.v.: interconnectedness, life force, etc.

    Enjoy this new adventure. :) Namaste!

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