“Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty” – Albert Einstein
Namaste. There is no doubt I am currently under the influence of something. A certain kind of philosophy. A few months ago I had a realisation. We can be consumed by negative thoughts and worry about the future and regret the past but that only leads to more negativity. Being happy is a choice. Living in the present moment is a choice. Even if it requires practise. I guess I have found I can really relate to a lot of Buddhist ideas. Everything they say and practise makes sense to me and as I follow their words I find I am becoming more peaceful and happier than I ever could without it. I am pretty much ready to continue down this path to see where it leads me. However many of the people who follow these Buddhist ideas seem to have a certain thing in common that was proving to be a bit of a stumbling block for me. They are so mindful of all beings at all times that they are vegetarian. Some go as far as being vegan. Hhmmm.
I bloody love bacon. And gammon. And chicken. And beef. And pork. And lamb. And meat feast pizzas. And juicy steak. Every meal I ever eat contains meat. I don’t really do breakfast but by lunch I’m craving a meaty sandwich and I back this up with shitloads more meat later on. How could I give this up? What would I even eat? For a few months it wasn’t on the cards for me. There was just no way. I told myself it wasn’t necessary anyway. I’ve always believed vegetarians are stupid because the animals are already dead and they’re never going to change anything. So if you like meat you may as well chow down on whatever you want. But I watch videos of people who are inspiring with their views and their wisdom. And they all have this in common. And it wasn’t easy for any of them either. I made the choice to one day give it a go and see how I got on. But before I could even try it I needed more motivation. It wouldn’t be enough for me to become vegetarian solely based on the fact it is common amongst other people who share similar views to me. As Buddha himself said you should never believe something just because somebody tells you or because you read it somewhere. We’re all walking the path ourselves and we have to figure everything out by experience. So I read some more. And I watched a few documentaries. I came to realise a few things and this gave me the motivation to give it a try. I have three main motivations for omitting meat from my diet:
1) Being mindful leads to happiness. If you’re kind to others it will make you feel better too. And it will make them feel good. The positive feeling snowballs and grows exponentially. It is beneficial to you and everybody around you to be as mindful as you can. And this should be extended to all of your actions to every being on the planet you come into contact with. You will have a more enjoyable and peaceful experience on this planet. However, to be this way and then to eat meat is a contradiction and hugely hypocritical. By eating meat you are endorsing the slaughter of other beings. Even though you did not kill the animal you are complicit. And I know as a meat eater we don’t give the slaughter of animals much thought and when in a shop looking at a pack of bacon all we see is some food and we mean no harm. But how is this mindful? It is literally the opposite. So my first motivation is to try to be mindful with conviction rather than doing it in a half hearted way.
2) Though I have never before given it much thought I’m not cool with what goes on in the meat industry. We rose to the top of the food chain and we’ve been so successful as a species that meat is plentiful. We don’t need to go out and hunt for meat. It’s everywhere at all times. My mind boggles at the amount we have. At my current place of work we order in 75 gammon steaks every week and also 75 rump steaks. Not to mention the rib-eye and mixed grills. And the 100 or so chicken breasts. As well as many other kinds of meat. This is just one restaurant. There are thousands in our country. Fast food chains and supermarkets are being supplied daily. And this is the same all over the world. The meat is so staggeringly mass produced it is both impressive and horrible. Where are all these animals kept and in what conditions? It definitely will not be a pleasant experience. Some say that they have been born for that very purpose. But still once they are in the here and now they are very capable of feeling pain and suffering. What gives us the right to do this? Just so we can eat something that we may not need to eat anyway since we are natural omnivores? As Sir Paul McCartney said “If slaughterhouses had glass walls everyone would be vegetarian”. We’re top of the food chain. But I think we could maybe have a re-think about what this means. Rather than seeing animals as a commodity we could maybe just use our position of power to just be nice to them. Not to mention that the meat industry leads to a hell of a lot of pollution via greenhouse gases and waste of resources. I read somewhere that the grain required to feed the animals that America eats could pretty much (in theory) cure world hunger if instead distributed amongst people. Impossible to do maybe but that gives an idea of the waste involved in the mass production of meat. And again this is not being mindful and not the best use of resources for the world.
3) As a meat eater I find it very easy to eat total crap. So many takeaways that are quick, easy and delicious. Either that or I’m buying processed crap from Tesco. Low nutritional value to all of this stuff and yet it’s so easy and also a bit of an addiction. I really think that we crave whatever chemicals companies are putting into our food and it gets difficult to break away and eat a healthy meal. For me if I take meat away I find I think more about what I eat. I’m more likely to eat a lot of fruit. And over the years I’ve eaten so much meat and potatoes that it’s probably a great idea to stick to veg and potatoes instead for a while lol. Nah, it’s all about balance. This third motivation really became apparent to me as I tried out being a vegetarian. A by-product of giving up meat lead me to thinking more about nutrition. We are what we eat they say. We’re lucky we can get nutrition from meat and plants. The meat we eat comes from animals that are fed mostly a plant based diet anyway. Isn’t it simply easier to skip straight to the source of all this nutrition? Do we really need the Sun’s energy that gets absorbed by plants to go through the bodies of animals before we obtain this energy for ourselves? If we believe it is beneficial to other beings, the environment and our state of mind then why not just cut out meat and be vegetarian? Plus according to some studies animal based proteins are a huge factor in causing cancer. At first it seems like another scare story. And also a lot of it is down to fast food and a vegetarian can also be guilty of this. But think for a second. Since fast food and processed meat became the diet of many people in the western world the number of cancer cases has risen dramatically. Is cancer such a killer in rural China where many eat a plant based diet? I doubt it. There’s evidence to suggest that eating well means you’re less likely to get cancer and though you can eat meat and still be healthy for me it just doesn’t seem likely. If I eat meat I eat crap meat. Vegetarians live longer on average and the main reason for this is probably because vegetarians also eat better and have a healthier lifestyle. If cutting out meat leads me to eating better foods and being healthy then so be it. From what I have read it is another version of the snowball effect of being mindful. Omitting meat leads to a more peaceful state of mind due to not being complicit in animal suffering and environmental damage. It leads to eating healthy foods which leads to more energy and better well being which also leads back to a better state of mind. All of this leads to being happy. It’s not the answer to everything. But it is a step on the path which is potentially so simple. So with that being said and my three motivations realised…just how simple did I find my two week trial as a vegetarian?
Well it went like this…
I had been toying with the idea of trying this out for a few weeks. Until I had the proper motivation it wasn’t going to happen but even so I began looking at menus in restaurants differently. I started looking at the vegetarian options to see just what in the hell I would be able to eat if I made the plunge. Options seemed limited. But the choices on offer didn’t seem too bad. And when I think about it I only ever choose from the same handful of items on a menu anyway. I kept these thoughts in my head until one sunny afternoon in August (the 5th to be exact). I woke up to a lovely day off work and decided to attack the day with a beautiful He-Man sandwich from a local sandwich shop. This consists of a baguette filled with bacon, sausage, egg and cooked tomato. It fills you right up and is so goddamn tasty. I smacked it down with an energy drink. I read a few chapters of the current Buddhist book I was reading at the time and just randomly I thought now was the time to try this veggie lark even though about one hour previously I’d had a lovely baguette filled with meat. Two weeks I decided. I put a facebook status up and so felt compelled to actually do it. And then the fun began.
I had nothing in the freezer to suit a vegetarian lifestyle so had to go to Tesco. I bought some fruit and some carrots to munch on raw. After a bit of searching I located the vegetarian meals and bought some Mexican bean burgers, vegetarian Linda McCartney sausages and a cheese and onion quiche. I had the quiche for dinner and then some fruit. Everything was cool. Until the next day when I woke up so hungry that I almost gave up right there. This is where I think meat is addictive. I crave it. I wasn’t hungry for cereal or cheese or vegetables or fruit. Just meat. But I was determined so I told myself to f*ck off. I munched on a few carrots and some cheese and onion rolls. Then ate a cheese and tomato pizza later on. For the next few days I kept eating and eating. More than I ever was before but I could not cure this hunger I felt. It was painful at times. Such a craving for meat. And though I did well with the fruit I realised I had substituted all that meat for mostly cheese. This is not healthy either. And with dairy products comes added problems when being mindful. Milk, cheese and eggs are part of the same problem as meat production. Poor conditions for animals. Bad for the environment. And full of the same proteins that according to some studies promote cancerous cell growth. The correct stance is to become a vegan. However, I don’t think this is possible for me. Shopping would be a nightmare. I really don’t know what I would eat. I can rule out eating actual eggs since I only eat eggs when complimenting meat. But cheese? I had to sort this problem out and decided that I wouldn’t be a vegan but I would do my best to cut down on dairy also (there’s only so much a dude can do to save the world). To do this I would need to find a lot of alternatives to cheese and came up with hummus, tofu, peanut butter, veggie burgers and all kinds of Quorn products. Plus I added plenty of nuts to my shopping list. I haven’t tried the tofu yet but it is supposed to absorb the flavours of whatever you cook it with. I’ve had it years ago in Thailand and I liked it. The hummus was disgusting. I remember eating hummus a while ago and liking it but the one I bought recently was not good so it went in the bin. I’ll try again with some differently flavoured hummus in future. Quorn is very interesting. You can get this fake meat in many varieties and a lot of it looks very similar to the real thing. It’s high in protein and low in fat. Though something tells me it is not all that healthy. It is synthesised and most healthy foods are natural and whole. But still, it’s a mindful alternative to meat that is not cheese. The steaks were ok. The sliced chicken and beef flavours for sandwiches were really nice. And the bacon is weird. Doesn’t look like bacon or taste like bacon but has a similar texture and tastes alright.
As time went on I started to gain confidence in my vegetable eating abilities. There are quite a few vegetarian options available these days and it must be much easier to do than 10 or so years ago. I made some mistakes along the way – for example I bought some poptarts that contain gelatin that vegetarians can’t eat. I haven’t ate them, they’re still in the cupboard. But as the days went on the cravings for meat subsided a little and I started to feel actually full from vegetarian meals. And I suppose at times I feel like I have more energy although whether this is a mental thing or not is hard to tell at the moment. I have been putting in some kilometres on my exercise bike though. People have taken the piss a bit in a nice way and it has been a talking point. Some people enjoy turning vegetarian for the “trendiness” of it all but that’s not me. I am a bit embarrassed at times looking at the Quorn stuff in the shops. Part of me is laughing at myself and telling me to man up and smack some steaks down me. But I had to ignore my own ridicule and carry on. At least for the two weeks so I could make an informed decision and see if it were viable. In the first week it seemed impossible. The hunger was too bad. I felt spaced out and dizzy. Thought I may faint a few times. But those worries seem to have passed. And to further cut down on dairy I bought Vitalite instead of butter and soya milk instead of cow milk. Soya milk is more expensive but is healthier and has a longer shelf life. I tasted it with trepidation but found surprisingly it tastes better than normal milk. It has enhanced the flavour of coffee too. I can easily stick to soya milk and still have almond milk amongst others to try too.
Other tests have been successfully negotiated also. I went out and got drunk as hell with a pal (one day this alcohol situation will be taken care of – it doesn’t help with having clarity of mind at all). Then got a takeaway. Somehow even whilst drunk and craving kebab meat or a filthy burger I managed to get a basic cheese and tomato pizza. I got another takeaway from the Chinese on a different day. Saw they had quite a few veggie options and in the end opted for pineapple and cashew nut fried rice. It was lovely. I’ve found that at the very least this experiment has lead to me trying and embracing new foods. And life is all about constantly gaining new knowledge. So that is a good thing for me. It has been hard at work. I’m constantly surrounded by meat and have to cook steaks, gammon, chicken and bacon as well as Sunday roasts. I can smell it and touch it. It still seems normal to me to just eat some. The other day I almost screwed everything up without even having a conscious thought about it. Picked up a pig in blanket to pop into my mouth like it’s the most normal thing in the world because it was so normal for me. Managed in time to stop and put it down. Ate a chip instead.
The thing I find hard is standing out. I like to at least try to blend in as I don’t like attention on me and I don’t like to appear to be weird (though I guess I probably am lol). And being a vegetarian can naturally pull you into the centre of a conversation about food. I have to not let this bother me and just be me. Another thing I am learning to do is to try and not worry about other people’s perceptions of me as I do this far too much. Just have to let it all go. And it is rather strange for me to be standing on the opposite side of this debate for a change. I used to find vegetarians annoying and stupid. I just didn’t understand them and everything every meat eater has been saying to me over the last two weeks has been exactly what I have been saying to vegetarians for the last 12 – 15 years (ever since I gave a shit when my sister became one). I couldn’t ever see myself doing this. But I have given it a go and right now I feel like I want to carry on with my vegetarian education. And so I will. The two weeks are up and now there is no time limit. I’m just going to refrain from eating meat. It might be for another two weeks. It might be forever. We will have to see. As time goes on I imagine I will miss it less and less. I’ll be doing my bit to help the planet and this should help me with my efforts to be forever mindful of my thoughts and actions. I want to be better for myself and for others. I also feel like the health benefits are something I really need. If I can eat better and exercise more I will feel better and that is what it is all about.
The thing about Buddhism when it comes to this topic is that nothing is absolute. You don’t have to be a vegetarian to be a Buddhist. The philosophy just doesn’t work like that. There are no real rules. Only guidelines for a better life. Each to their own. An interesting point to raise is that certain Buddhist teachings show us to not be attached to anything. Not to jobs, money or material things. Anything. This also means we should also not be attached to vegetarianism as a philosophy. An example of where this would matter would be in this scenario: imagine if you were vegetarian and were invited to a friend’s birthday meal round their house. Imagine they forgot you were vegetarian and cooked for you and the other guests a lovely beef dinner. In this instance would you be being mindful by turning the food away? No you would not. By doing so you are attached to vegetarianism and thinking more about yourself and your perception to others than actually thinking about your friend and not making them feel bad about their meal on their birthday. So in this scenario the mindful thing to do would be to say nothing and eat the food and have a good time. It is best for all involved. Some may see this as a loophole. I worry that I need a certain amount of discipline to be a vegetarian and if I were faced with this very scenario I would be guaranteed to fail no matter what I did. If I say no to the food then I’m getting on my high horse and maybe making them feel guilty. If I eat the beef once then what harm in doing it again? And then what harm in just eating meat again? And therefore I’m back to where I was before. I realise I’m worrying about a dilemma I may never be faced with. So I’ll stop worrying. Just an interesting point to share I thought. Being mindful is not about ourselves. It’s about the whole universe and everything in it.
So there it is. Two weeks with no meat. And I feel fine. No real craving for the stuff. Nothing but love for them animals now. I feel good for giving this a go and if anybody reading this has ever had similar thoughts about this but feared they couldn’t do it then know if I can then you can. And if you just love them steaks just too much to give it up then good for you. Enjoy it. Be at peace with whatever you do. I’m going to grab a banana and a beer as some things never change haha. Until next time 🙂