To veg or not to veg?

.

‘You are what you eat’, a saying that is more prevalent today than it has ever been. We live in an age obsessed with exactly what we fuel our bodies with; and this is especially evident in women’s magazines that hype the latest diet fads. Food fashions that promise instant weight loss, increased health, glowing skin, youthful radiance and much, much more. But there is one diet option that has been gaining in favour within New Age circles as it offers something more than health benefits – it promises increased psychic abilities and higher spiritual vibrations.

Vegetarianism is not a new fad, and has its roots in many ancient religions and beliefs; from philosophers of ancient antiquity to followers of Jainism and Hinduism (to name but a few). In Europe it almost vanished from existence with the rise of Christianity, only to re-emerge during the Renaissance with Leonardo da Vinci being one of vegetarianisms supporters; and it has since grown from then in the Western world.

Today’s vegetarians cite many reasons for their diet choice, from the ethical dilemma of eating sentient beings such as animals, to the more recent concerns over the environmental impact of cattle farming. Some chose a vegetarian diet for health reasons, and if managed correctly, it can offer many health benefits. However, in New Age circles there is a growing trend that a spiritual leader must be a vegetarian, or else they can not truly be as spiritual as they appear to be.

As the New Age is heavily influenced by the spiritual practices of the East, with belief in chakras, auras and meditation as evidence of this, it is no wonder that the vegetarian lifestyle has been added to the mix. Many New Agers who do follow a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle believe that everything has an energy vibration, and that vibration can be influenced by memories and emotions. By consuming the meat of an animal, you are introducing all the negative feelings that animal felt at slaughter into your body, lowering your spiritual vibration; when the very core of spiritual development is about raising your spiritual vibration. Another ‘side-effect’ of meat consumption being the dampening of psychic abilities; which can not be a good thing as the development of them appears to form a cornerstone of the New Age movement.

But this is just one reason of many in support of a plant-based diet by New Age believers. Another reason commonly given is that obeying your cravings is a sign of our animalistic tendencies, and reaching enlightenment is about rising above our animalistic nature and no longer being a slave to our desires. Thus following a restrictive diet is a lifelong lesson in self-mastery. A meat-free lifestyle also teaches its followers to have compassion for animals, and leads them to see the Divine that is present in every living creature in this world.

Then there is the dilemma of karma, another Eastern concept favoured by New Agers. Karma is basically the concept of ‘you reap what you sow’. And if the slaughter of an animal for food is viewed in the same light as murder, and you eat of that animal’s flesh, well that would make you a murderer. And I think it’s a general view that murderers don’t stack up too much ‘good karma’, whether that karma is returned to them in this life or the next.

Meat and animal products are also often cited to be as a poison to the body, a toxin that hinders spiritual development and the rediscovery of psychic abilities. But, how can meat be a toxin to the body when it contains nutrients essential to the human body?

Granted vegetarians are able to get complete protein by combining certain sources of vegetable protein, and there are supplements for vitamin B12 and other nutrients that are more easily found (and absorbed by the body) in meat and animal products. But we are omnivores by our physiological design. We have canines for tearing, our digestive system has evolved to digest meat and our body is meant to derive a portion of its required nutrients from the flesh of animals. So why are New Age vegans and vegetarians giving evolution the middle finger in favour of spiritual development?

It is understandable that a vegetarian or vegan diet is a personal choice, and it should be exactly that – personal. The instant you start shooting down another’s spiritual teacher, you are stomping on their spiritual path. What should be a personal lifestyle choice becomes a crusade to stuff as much of your tofu quiche beliefs down the throats of ‘nasty, unspiritual meat eaters’, whether they want it or not. And to those who hold to the belief that a true spiritual leader follows a meat-free diet: then is the Dali Lama, a meat eater, not a ‘real’ spiritual leader by your definition?

.

You may also like...

3 Responses

  1. Thanks for the reply Bronwyn.

    With all due respect, while the primary angle of your article is about the correlations between spirituality and diet, the sole argument you supply in response to this strong, perennial connection between numerous spiritual traditions and a plant-based diet is a scientific / dietary one; it thus makes sense that my reply addresses these directly.

    In this regard, don’t think a scientific discussion about the benefits of various diets would necessarily go on forever either – if anything it would conclude very quickly, given that your claims are falsifiable and that there’s a lot of concrete evidence from nutritional science to support the counter-claims I’m making.

    If you remove the scientific claims you make, however, it appears that your sole argument against veganism is an appeal to personal choice. My analogy in this regard is not meant to directly compare non-vegans to rapists or murderers, but to show that rape and murder are, like eating animals, also personal choices. The point I am trying to make in observing this is that personal choice that affects other sentient beings is a personal choice that others have the right to challenge. If it harm none, remember?

    Back to spirituality: the bulk of your article seems to actually support the strong correlations between spirituality and a plant-based diet. You observe that Jains and Hindus are vegetarians, for instance, to which I would add most Buddhists, Taoists, I-tal Rastafarians, many neo-Pagans, a significant number of Baha’i and countless others. You then further strengthen the case for veganism by proceeding to explain why many non-aligned spiritual people might also eschew meat. It seems kind of odd that you then, in your last three paragraphs, choose to dismiss your own arguments about this incredibly prominent tradition via a single appeal to personal choice coupled with some incorrect facts about nutrition and evolutionary biology.

    Finally, you argue that nobody has a right to ‘shoot down’ anyone else’s spiritual teacher. To me this is a strikingly odd position to take. Surely we can accept personal choices but also criticize them? David Koresh was seen as a spiritual teacher by some; does this mean we don’t have a right to criticize his teachings? How about Scientologists? Don’t we have a right to criticize them either? Sure, people choose ‘freely’ to participate in these cults, but that doesn’t mean we can’t share our own perspectives on them, especially when they seem ethically problematic. Indeed, the principle of ‘if it harm none’ would seem to ethically compel us to intervene in this regard.

    Perspectives only evolve when we share them. If we try to shield our perspectives from all criticism, they turn into dogmas. I am glad that my vegan friends shared their views with me all those years back, even if I did employ the same old ‘personal choice’ argument at the time 😉

    Namaste,
    Aragorn

  2. Bronwyn says:

    Aragon, thank you for your comment and your list of facts. You said that you were “not that interested in whether or not veganism can be seen as a measure of ‘spiritualness’”, but that is the primary angle of the article. This article is not meant to be an in-depth analysis of meat free diets from a scientific standpoint. If it were, then we could stand and argue from our respective sides of the fence until the end of time.

    This article is from the viewpoint that it is becoming a growing trend within some New Age circles that following a meat free diet aids in spiritual development and increases psychic abilities. And, that people who do prescribe to such beliefs are in the habit of being somewhat militant in their view of meat eaters who are trying to develop spiritually. As someone who was a vegetarian for many years, I found that my diet made zero difference in my spiritual endeavours.

    At the end of the day, it is down to perspective. You may believe that I, as someone who enjoys a good steak, am on par with a slave owner/rapist/murderer; but that’s your perspective, just as I wrote this article from my perspective.

    Thank you again for giving your perspective on the topic though.

  3. I’m not that interested in whether or not veganism can be seen as a measure of ‘spiritualness’, but I would like to clarify a couple of points which would have become clear to the author if she had researched veganism properly:

    1) Nobody that I know argues that meat as a whole is a toxin; what they do argue (in line with contemporary nutritional science) is that there are strong correlations between meat consumption and various dread illnesses. http://www.pubmed.org has countless scientific publications and metastudies on this. The Cornell-China Study – the largest dietary study ever undertaken – draws similar conclusions.

    2) Meat eaters are as prone to B12 deficiency as vegans. I’d also like to know what these ‘other nutrients’ are that we absorb better from animal sources. Bear in mind, by the way, that we need to consider the health impacts of our diets as a whole: whether or not a small number of nutrients are more easily obtained from any given diet is less relevant than the total health risks and benefits of that diet. In this regard, a plant-based diet wins hands-down.

    3) We are not omnivores. Like our closest evolutionary cousins, we’re biologically best suited for some or other type of frugivorous insectivore diet.

    4) Dentition is not a reliable indicator of diet. Ask a lowland gorilla what it eats and have a look at its teeth 😉

    5) Our digestive system can process meat, but this is correlated with a higher incidence of colon cancer, stomach cancer, etc. Furthermore, just because we can process something it doesn’t follow that we’re meant to eat it. Lactose and wheat-intolerant people can still process milk and bread – they just don’t thrive on them and experience all sorts of negative symptoms. Also, a brief exploration of comparative anatomy shows that our digestive tracts, stomach acidity, saliva, etc., are closest to those of herbivores.

    6) Our body is certainly not ‘meant’ to derive a portion of its required nutrients from the flesh of animals. This is a completely unjustifiable claim. Can you provide scientific evidence?

    7) Veganism is only a personal choice in the same way as not owning a slave or not raping someone is a personal choice: it differents in moral kind from a personal choice that has no effect on other sentient beings. In other words, it is, from the standpoint of ethical philosophy, incoherent to appeal to personal choice given that A) we can choose not to eat meat and B) the choice to eat meat implies complicity in suffering that could thus otherwise be avoided.

    Namaste,
    Aragorn

Leave a Reply