this essay was submitted to the contest run by the Ethicist column of the NYTimes magazine, about this question… Why it’s Ethical to Eat Meat
I’m always vocal when other yogis and meditators claim it’s unethical to eat meat. Such declarations of how eating meat is wrong include: Lower life forms damage a person’s optimum health; It’s murderous to eat food with faces: Eating another creature is immoral and selfish, and Meat lowers the mind’s and body’s vibration. Every instance leaves me, after many self-experiments, unimpressed. Simply put, I was raised on my grandparents’ farm where we revered the lives of all animals who were raised to offer their milk, their eggs, their very lives to us—the humans who conscientiously cared for them.
The magic word here is: conscience.
After finding vegetarianism didn’t suit my body’s needs, nor eating meat adversely affect my mind’s more lofty pursuits, I ignore people who argue against the ethicality of eating natural, untainted meat. To them I offer:
Who are we to think that a carrot has less consciousness than say, a cow, a pig or a chicken? Why would we presume a corn plant doesn’t feel violated every time its ears are torn from its body? Is it murder, I wonder, when someone slices into a lettuce head? How can we be so sure the feelings, or consciousness, of plants are less than those of animals?
As an avid gardener I could make a case for having heard silent screams of onions and beets (I’m exaggerating here!) when I yank them from the ground, I am that sensitive. I ask my vegan friends how can they think it’s more ethical to eat non-meat life forms? The veggie-only types laugh at me, of course, quoting ancient Vedic scripture or the latest book on plant-based diets. I honor their choice of food, but rarely do vegetarians respect an omnivore’s.
Experience-and-knowledge is my only ethical-and-philosophical barometer. As long as I eat naturally raised food, prepare it with mindful-caring, and use its nutrition to further good things and oppose bad in the world—eating small quantities of meat alongside abundant veggies is as ethical, as nutritious, and as spiritually satisfying as eating solely plant-based foods.
The difference between its being ethical or not is the attitude in which either type of food is eaten. I have seen pure vegans die from virulent cancers. And I observe my healthy, fisher-woman 93-year-old mother, Eve the farm girl, still throwing 100-foot casts using a heavy rod-and-reel, every day on the ocean pier here in St. Augustine, Florida, cooking for herself a bargain steak, fatty pork chop, or cheap Walmart chicken whenever she can’t snag a fresh fish. Who’s to say whose eating is more ethical? Hers, the omnivore, or the vegan who casts askew glances at those who dare eat flesh?
On my grandparent’s farm I was taught to bless all food before it went into my mouth. This, I was told, brings Grace, or sanctity, to the act of eating. As a grownup I thank both plants and critters I’m about to imbibe. I’ve even visited a young bull and thanked him personally for his gift of life before the butcher’s gunshot. I’m grateful for all plants and animals that share their life force with me. I mentally dedicate their life-force food to better focus my own life’s pursuits.
I choose to eat animals because I see their life force as equal to that of plants, as well as my own.
Of course if veggies choose to eat me one day I will, however, make a mad run for it!