Practice of the Week
Category: Might Be Your Thing. The practices here are not for everyone -- but one of them may be just the thing for you! Any of these might also be, for you, in the "Occasional" category, but are listed here because they are good candidates for regular, central practices.
from Helena P. Chapin, "Vegetarianism," in Everyday Spiritual Practice, adapted.
When I was searching for a house four years ago, I found one with a spruce tree in front and a large cherry in back and a bare backyard in which to plan a Native American perennial flower garden. As the nursery workers promised, butterflies and birds are now my companions as I work among the flowers. This type of gardening requires composting, of course, and my vegan diet means I can use all the waste from my eating in an earth-enhancing way.
But this is getting ahead of myself. In 1991, while attending a conference, I came upon John Robbins’ Diet for a New America. Reading that book brought back my sense of closeness to nature and animals and convinced me to begin eating a plant-based – vegan – diet as a daily reminder of this connection. I was horrified by Robbins’s descriptions of the cruel and violent human behavior in our present-day food factories. Today, with few exceptions, chickens, pigs, and cows are considered to be here on earth only for human use and convenience, which often means that they endure terrible torture in the name of efficiency. There is no longer any sense of these animals being fellow creatures of this earth, no sense that the violence toward them is violence toward all life.
There are other compelling reasons to eat a plant-based diet. The raising of livestock contributes to environmental damage and resource depletion. The grain and land devoted to producing beef and other meats are not available for raising plants, which could feed the world’s neediest people. Finally, a low-fat plant-based diet is healthy for the human body, having been shown to prevent or to aid in healing many diseases. I have noticed that my diet is very similar to those prescribed for heart patients.
Eating a plant-based diet may make good sense, but it is not easy. In particular, food is a very emotional issue. People are fiercely protective of their eating habits and sometimes resent those who make different choices. Even organizations like Greenpeace refrain from discussing food choices as important to the protection of the environment because people will not contribute funds to a cause that asks them to change their diets. “EARTHSAVE, Healthy People, Healthy Planet,” founded by John Robbins, is the only environmental organization that links our food choices to the destruction of the earth.
Still, eating a vegan diet has become part of a satisfying spiritual practice for me. Part of this lifestyle is an attempt to live more according to the rhythms of nature. On a good morning, I rise with the sun, walk my dog, and begin to prepare my meals for the day. If I were cooking meals for a family, the additional time spent in meal preparation might not feel so life enhancing, but I live alone and find chopping and cooking healthy plant food to be a quieting experience, connecting me to the life forces of the natural environment. Also, recycling b composting means that my flowers and I share the same nourishment. Especially when I follow the meal preparation with slow dining in a favorite setting, there comes a mood of contemplation, of pondering life’s gifts, of being grateful to be alive. Thomas Moore writes,
“all eating is communion, feeding the soul as well as the body. Our cultural habit of eating ‘fast food’ reflects our current belief that all we need to take into ourselves, both literally and figuratively, is plain food, not food of real substance, and not the imagination of real dining.” (Care of the Soul)In a later work, Moore says,
“it’s no accident that in our disenchanted times we have found hundreds of ways to short-circuit the production, preparation, and eating of food, and so it makes sense that to re-enchant our ordinary lives we could approach the supermarket, the kitchen, and the dining room differently, realizing that the extra time real food demands of us is not wasted but serves the soul.” (The Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life)I have found this to be so.
How does one begin the spiritual practice of eating a vegan diet? It depends on your personality. Once I made the decision, I did it immediately. Others with whom I have talked did it gradually – giving up beef first, then all red meats (pork, mutton), then chicken, then fish, then eggs and dairy – and some stopped after giving up only beef. Any reduction of meat eating will be a plus for your health, the environment, world hunger, and the treatment of animals.
What is important, in the end, is that each of us find some way to live with a depth of appreciation for our gift of life. To better serve the natural world – and therefore, the human world – is my daily effort. Even though it is often unpopular, the spiritual practice of vegetarianism has brought me peace of mind, better health, and a sense of interdependence with our earth and its creatures.
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The Vegetarian Resource Group
No Meat Athlete
Nutrition.gov on Eating Vegetarian
Vegetarian Society: Resources
For list of all weekly practices: "Practices of the Week Index"