I was raised vegetarian and my family has been vegetarian for generations. When I was thirteen or fourteen, my parents told me that since I will be travelling when I get older, I could start getting used to meat if I wanted to. I remember thinking of trying it not long later when I was at a friend’s birthday party. I put a pea on my plate which was from a meat dish and pushed it around with my fork for several minutes in hesitation. It had been fried or cooked with chicken and all I could think of was a dead chicken body. I felt disgusted and couldn’t eat the pea.
My disgust is a reaction to the images, as well as the smells that I have not been used to in my younger days. It is very possible it is part of some complex conditioning in very early life. It is also possible it is perfectly normal for some people to feel this way. After all, I was the same girl who when in third grade tried to protect ants from a boy in my class after reading a book called Protector’s Club. Maybe I just like nature a lot, or my empathy level is very high, or both. But the idea of dead anything never appealed to me.
Ok then, what about plants? I feel a great sorrow when a tree is killed or even dies of natural causes. It is a great being which doesn’t harm a soul in all it’s life and provides all other life with oxygen, shade, fruits and flowers, not to mention sheer beauty. I know they don’t have nervous systems like us in the animal kingdom, so they don’t experience pain like we do, but I do believe plants can sense things and have just as much instinct to live, or else they wouldn’t have evolved at all. Everything that is alive wants to live, but everything alive must also eat. When we realise from within and truly understand how just being alive causes damage or pain to something else, it is a terrible feeling to come to terms with. I think those who take not hurting other things to the letter would only eat fruits that fall off trees and grains that grow naturally without tilling the soil. We are human, however, and we’ve evolved culturally and technologically to the level we have because we have wanted more than that basic level of living. We have learnt to use tools, grow things, and manipulate our environments to make our lives easier and to grow beyond mere survival. This is natural human behaviour and we can give ourselves a pat on the back except, look where it’s gotten us. The kind of pollution we generate, the kinds of lifestyles we now lead, the destruction we bring to our environment and ourselves is not very healthy. Somehow in the process of growing in knowledge and tools, we have not grown enough in our wisdom to create any harmony or balance. I don’t claim to know this balance and can’t even claim there is one balance for everyone. But I strive to find mine.
I drew a line that day, when I didn’t eat that pea, at what level of damage I would be ok with causing, and didn’t think much about it since. Over the years that followed I was exposed to one video presentation in school about the way animals were treated before they were killed for meat. In environmental science I learnt of the 10% rule of energy transfer within an ecosystem and the efficiency of having fewer layers between producers (plants) and the level of consumers we were. In other words, a field of corn could feed many more people if directly used to feed humans than if used to raise chicken that were then used to feed humans. I also learnt of the health benefits of a vegetarian diet. These inputs only affirmed my opinion.
Yesterday though, I watched a pretty informative talk about veganism in which the speaker raised facts about milk and eggs that I previously didn’t know.
He pointed out that the only milk we really need is that which our mother feeds us as babies and that is the only time we have lactase in our bloods to break down the lactose present in it. He said it is normal to be lactose intolerant if one is not a baby and even said that the calcium benefits that we think we get from milk is a myth because the acidity of milk breaks down the calcium in our bones hence weakening them; quite the contrary to what I’ve been told all my life about milk. But what struck me the most was what is being done to the cows. They are artificially inseminated (which he equated to rape) and pumped with antibiotics and steroids. When the cow gives birth, it’s new-born calf is dragged away even as the mother tries to go to it and lick it. That calf gets none of the mother’s milk. Mother and new-born are not even allowed to lick and show affection. To me this was the point where I decided to quit milk. What is done repeatedly to a cow is in some ways worse than the animals killed for meat. They are hooked onto milking machines, metal squeezing their udders for every drop. They don’t have any freedom, they are forced to have offspring but not allowed to love or feed them. That’s so cruel. That is what runs in my mind when I look at my milk now. Those two litres sitting in the fridge came from that process.
So today my head is still spinning because being vegan doesn’t just mean giving up milk and eggs. It means all animal products and that which comes from hurting animals. I’m looking at everything I use and wondering; Where did this come from? How was it made? What did I kill for it? So maybe I didn’t hold the knife but as a consumer, I am what feeds the system to continue doing what it does. What political and social systems thrive on this is another story altogether.
Then I tell myself to take it slow and not drive myself crazy. I’ve only taken the first step of the journey by deciding to become a vegan. I need to explore soy and rice milk, learn some vegan recipes, make sure that my diet consists of enough alternate sources of protein and calcium. Once that stage is completed and I have some stability I can pay more attention when I shop about what I use, what I need, where it comes from. It will need me to think more than I do now but ignorance is so easy, so convenient, that most likely, I will not do everything right. Hopefully somewhere along the way I will feel like I’ve found my balance; some peace with the way I live.
As I write this, I feel wound up and other thoughts arise. Buddhists aren’t vegetarian, despite compassion and non-violence being the core of their religion because they interpret those values on a less materialistic level, on a larger scale. This is a big difference between Jainism and Buddhism. And Krishnamurthi said when what you want is in contradiction to what is, you are in conflict. Conflict being the opposite of peace. So am I, in my search for balance and peace, making myself less peaceful? Am I stuck in my own conditioning? Am I so literal and materialistic in my interpretation of compassion that I can’t see a bigger picture?
The cosmic scale of things, when we zoom out in space and time, makes my actions and opinions feel insignificant. Yet, while in human form, what I do here feels quite relevant to me. Either way, I am interested in watching this thought process.