Peace On Our Plates
Mindful eating for personal and planetary growth
This article appeared in The Edge: Exploring the Evolution of Consciousness, July, 2004 edition.
As we seek to raise consciousness in the world and within ourselves, we find that we are continually questioning the cultural programs that surround us. This questioning leads us all on the journey of creating a new, more compassionate and peaceful culture—one that operates out of love instead of fear.
As we travel along this path, it seems that almost daily we stumble across yet another assumption that we must shed if we are to grow in love. One of the most powerful assumptions that human beings have been conditioned to believe, the one that creates the most violence, bloodshed, and fear in terms of sheer numbers, both on the material and spiritual planes, is the belief that we must eat our fellow creatures in order to survive.
The immeasurable violence against animals brings death to people and the environment as well as to the animals themselves. This violence is also far reaching in its effects on our spiritual lives and the spirit of life itself. We know that the thoughts and feelings of all beings are powerful forces. All life is sacred and interconnected, and so the suffering of one becomes the suffering of all.
Factory farm employees, slaughterhouse workers, and fishermen pay a huge spiritual price to bring death to so many tables. They live covered in blood and excrement and daily carry the heavy burden of weapons of torture and death. To endure this agony, they must deny their natural sense of the sacredness of life. It is a great loss of spirit, and many lose themselves in domestic violence, drugs, and crime.
I often show videos on public sidewalks of animal suffering. Many people are shocked to learn of the hellish lives and deaths of today’s farmed animals. One night a man stopped and began watching undercover footage of slaughterhouses, a video entitled “Meet Your Meat,” narrated by Alec Baldwin. The gentleman spoke to the other people watching the video: “It’s worse than that,” he said, “way worse.” “How do you know that?” someone asked. He proceeded to explain that he had worked at the IBP slaughterhouse in Emporia, Kansas, for 4 years. During that time, he said that he and the others tortured the animals for fun and laughed at their agony as they were conveyed hanging upside down by one leg, fully conscious, being cut, jabbed, electrically prodded, dismembered, and worse. However, he explained with much emotion, one day he had a revelation. It dawned on him that these cows that they were torturing and killing were God’s creatures. He suddenly saw clearly that each cow was a special individual who was suffering terribly. He realized in that moment that he did not have the right to take their lives. He saw who they really were, and with that realization, he quit his job and stopped eating all foods made from animals. Now he, like so many others, can look into the eyes of animals and acknowledge our kinship and our spiritual bond.
When we eat the dead bodies of our animal relatives, on both a biological and spiritual level::
- We eat their terror and consequent adrenaline:
- We eat their physical illnesses from being fed chemicals, growth hormones, and feed containing dead animals;
- We eat their mental anguish from being incarcerated and separated from their families and their natural state of being;
- We eat the spiritual and mental numbing of the workers who torture and kill them;
- We eat the terrible loss to the animals of never having been able to praise and celebrate life, to see the sun, to nurture their children, and to run and play with their friends. .
Thich Nhat Hanh says that, without compassion, we cannot relate to all living beings, and that mindful eating brings compassion into our hearts. He adds, “And eating the flesh of our own son is what is going on in the world, because we do not
practice mindful eating.” A pure vegetarian, i.e., vegan diet is the very essence of mindful eating.
When we stop eating our kin (“our own son”), we reverse these sufferings and transform our lives into expressions of gentleness and compassion. When we stop eating their death and suffering, we stop devouring the future of our grandchildren and their grandchildren. When we stop eating these innocents who cannot defend themselves from humanity’s greed, we stop devouring the earth and the starving children. When we perform the sacred ritual of mindful vegan consumption, we take communion with God, the One Source.
Once we stay the hands of the slaughterers covered in blood and say, “Do not kill for me,” then it becomes possible to truly see with our sacred eyes the truth of our kinship with all life. We can look all beings in the eyes ourselves and say: “You are my friends,” and as George Bernard Shaw said, “I don’t eat my friends.”
Sitting at a lunch table at a conference one day, I met a man who told me he had adopted a pure vegetarian diet, not to help animals, but rather to lose weight. He had lost over 100 pounds and regained his health, but he told me that the most amazing benefit he had received was something else. Over the months of this new diet, he began to notice that he was feeling sentiments of compassion, sympathy, and love that he had never consciously felt before. Emotions, that he had considered undignified for the tough guy he thought himself to be, began to well up and bring tears to his eyes. Eventually, he made the connection and realized that it was his compassionate diet that was transforming his spiritual life without him even intending for that to happen. Tears welled up in my own eyes as I listened to his story, for I was seeing before me the hope of the world, the newly born Homo Ahimsa, (”Ahimsa” is a Sanskrit word for harmlessness) his heart broken open and love pouring in.
We have a step in faith to take, perhaps the biggest step yet. It is to move completely out from under the cloud of the anthropocentric mindset that declares that all that is not human is “property” or “resources.” This is the same mindset that considered women and children and people of color the property of certain men less than 100 years ago in some areas and continues to do so in other areas of the world. This is the same mindset that today justifies war, sweat shops, ecocide, genocide, and the killing of billions of defenseless animals for the benefit of a few groups of human beings.
All the various cosmic visions of the peaceable kingdom contain the wisdom that our actions and our spirituality must be guided by their effect on all sacred life, not just human life. We cannot objectify and commodify the animals any longer if we are to complete our transition out of the anthropocentric, globally destructive world-view that has dominated earth for so long, and enter into the new era of peace.
It is a beautiful and wondrous grace to be living in an era when so many people understand this. As we bear witness to some of the worst atrocities ever perpetrated by human beings on the planet, we are also witnessing the magnificent transformation of many human creatures into beings of transcendent compassion, mercy, gratitude and love.
May we all sit in grace at the table of peace and rejoice at every opening of every heart to the new era of Homo Ahimsa and the peaceable kingdom.
In the tradition of mystical activism, I ask you to bear witness with me to these facts and consider the suffering that the paradigm of domination is now causing both in the physical and in the spiritual lives of human beings, the earth, and the animals.
- Forty eight billion farmed land animals—eight times the human population of the world–are killed for food each year worldwide. That enormous figure does not include the horses, dogs, cats, and wild animals killed for food, nor the uncounted millions of male chicks ground up while still alive because they have no monetary value. Eighty nine million tons of fish, which would represent billions of uncounted individuals, are also killed each year. Fully one third of those residents of the sea are killed and tossed away as trash.
- U.S. factory farms produce 2.7 trillion pounds of manure per year which causes more water pollution than any other industry in the U.S.
- It takes 2,500 gallons of water to produce one pound of meat, whereas a pound of wheat only requires 25 gallons.
- One acre of land can grow 20,000 pounds of potatoes or 165 pounds of cow meat.
- 125,000 square miles of rainforest are destroyed each year to raise cows.
- Dairy cows are cruelly confined in factory dairies. They cry and mourn when their babies are taken from them at birth. The male babes are chained in tiny stalls, and slaughtered for veal at 6 to 8 weeks of age.
- Pigs and chickens on factory farms are confined in dark, poorly ventilated buildings, many in cages so small they cannot move or lie down comfortably. Many of them are ill with untreated tumors and diseases at slaughter due to the abominable living conditions.
- Slaughterhouses are notorious for inflicting unbearable torture on the animals they slowly kill and dismember.
- While “developed” countries dine on the flesh of their animal kin and overeat to the point of obesity, 40,000 children die every day for lack of food. Most of the grain they could eat is fed to farmed animals.
- It is estimated that one vegan potentially releases enough grain, water, and land to feed 20 starving people, and that one vegan will save the lives of at least 100 animals each and every year of his or her life.
- The consumption of animal products is a leading cause of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and many other illnesses that plague people who eat them. This is because the human body is not designed to be a predator (e.g. no ripping fangs or claws) or to digest dead animal tissue (e.g. lack of necessary digestive capability).
© Judy Carman, 2004
Judy Carman, M.A. is an activist for animal rights, peace and justice, and environmental protection. She is the author of Born to Be Blessed: Seven Keys to Joyful Living, and her new book Peace to All Beings won the Spirituality and Health award as one of the best spiritual books of 2003. She is co-founder of Animal Outreach of Kansas and of the Universal Prayer Circle for Animals.