Unless you are a former vegan or vegetarian, you probably never have been asked the question: when did you decide to become a meat eater? For most of us, eating meat is the norm—the way we were raised. We never actually made a conscious, intentional decision to eat meat.
In “The World Peace Diet,” Will Tuttle, PhD purports that because we did not freely choose them for ourselves, we tend to be very resistant to contemplate or question indoctrinated beliefs, such as our belief that it is natural, normal, and necessary to consume animals and their secretions.
Unlike carnivorous animals, we don’t come into the world with an intrinsic instinct to kill and consume animals. Our natural impulse toward animals is much more likely to be compassion and curiosity rather than a hungry desire to kill.
I remember when I was very young and I found out that it wasn't just a coincidence that the food we were eating for dinner and our pets in our aquarium had the same name. I was astounded that we were eating fish that had once been alive like the fish we kept as pets. This kindheartedness, common among children, tends to be seen as sweet but unrealistic and immature, and we are soon taught “how things really are.”
The desensitization and quashing of our natural compassion for animals that occur as we begin to accept the reality that we “need” to eat animals for food is unfortunate. The denial we display in not wanting to know how animals are treated and where our food comes from also is unfortunate and may translate into a willingness to stay uninformed about other injustices, as well as a failure to make other important connections (such as the connection between animal agriculture and environmental destruction).
Melanie Joy, PhD, author of “Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows,” calls this desensitization “psychic numbing…a process by which we disconnect, mentally and emotionally, from our experience; we 'numb' ourselves.” She goes on to explain how this psychic numbing is adaptive when it helps us cope with violence, but maladaptive when it helps us enable violence, as we do when we choose to consume animal products. As Dr. Joy states, ten billion animals, not including marine animals, are killed each year in the United States as a result of this choice.
Although disconnection and desensitization can lead to a false sense of comfort, they do not lead to true inner peace. Real inner peace comes from awareness and from living in alignment with the values and understanding that come from this awareness.
Our food distribution system facilitates the disconnection between the violence and abhorrent conditions inflicted on animals and the animal foods that end up on our plates. We mostly don’t see the animals that are in the factory farms and slaughterhouses, and the industry takes great efforts to ensure this (such as through “ag gag” laws). The cellophane-wrapped packages of food we buy in the store bear little resemblance to the living beings they once were, and even the names of the foods create distance between the living beings and the foods. For example, we say “bacon” not “pig belly,” and “steak” rather than “cow hindquarters."
Dr. Tuttle asserts that largely because of our need to disconnect and desensitize from the violence that is inherent in the eating of animals, “we have become a culture that craves noise, distraction, busyness, and entertainment at all costs. This allows our eaten violence to remain buried, blocked, denied, and righteously projected.”
Dr. Tuttle also describes how our spiritual growth is hindered by blindly accepting inherited beliefs:
“By uncritically accepting culturally transmitted beliefs and blindly being their agents, we remain children, ethically and spiritually. Because our mind is conditioned and we are unable to question the conditioning, we find it difficult to mature or contribute our unique gifts.”
Based on both medical studies (such as the work of Dr. Dean Ornish and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn) and plentiful examples of extraordinarily healthy vegans (such as ultra endurance athlete Rich Roll, bodybuilder Robert Cheeke, and pro cyclist Christine Vardaros), it seems clear that eating animal products is unnecessary, and in many ways harmful, to our health.
Questioning the status quo and embracing a whole foods, plant-based diet has the potential to enhance our personal and spiritual growth, as well as our health. As Dr. Tuttle writes:
“The essential action is to stop turning away and disconnecting from the suffering we impose on others by our food choices…As we do this, we become more mindful of the ripples our actions cause in the world. Our spiritual transformation deepens, and as our sensitivity increases we yearn to bless others more and to be a voice for the voiceless. Once a vegan, we are always so, because our motivation is not personal and self-oriented, but is based on concern for others and on our undeniable interconnectedness with other living beings.”
These teachings have been transformative for me, and I offer them for your contemplation. My decision to become vegan has greatly enriched my life; however, I don’t mean to imply that I have everything figured out or that I have nothing left to learn. Please share your own thoughts, ideas, or point of view in the comments. Thanks for reading.
Photos by Dezign Horizon, Panama