Saturday, February 07, 2009

A quick note on going veg, three years in...

In response to a couple of questions from a couple of friends recently, I’ve been reflecting on my experience as a vegetarian. I went back over the posts I’ve written here, and as I looked at them, I realized that my experience has been different than I anticipated. The reasons I stopped eating meat are not the reasons I do not eat meat today. The practice has, to borrow a phrase from pgk, “opened up possibilities” that I didn’t expect.

As I wrote here, I stopped because once I learned the details, on a visceral level I couldn’t participate, even indirectly, in industrial agriculture practices. At the same time, I realized on an intellectual level that I’d be treading more lightly on the earth if I ate the plants, rather than the plant-eaters. As I wrote here, about a year after I stopped, I began to consider the similarities of consciousness in animals and humans.

Since then, I’ve found something else – more about myself than about animals.

When I was eating animals, I did not allow myself (quite literally, albeit subconsciously) to consider them as beings.

There is something about the way my mind works when it is in acquisition mode – I’m easily prone to unconsciously pursuing my wants, and as I do, I tend to objectify whatever it is I’m seeking. Placing animals outside of the category of “object to fulfill hunger” didn’t exactly turn off the basic grasping impulse, but over time, I think it has diminished it a lot. I no longer think of pigs as pork, cows as beef, deer as venison, chickens as Popeye’s ingredients. That’s not to say that I necessarily feel particularly warm and fuzzy toward them – I tend to think of chickens as small, feathered reptiles and domestic cattle as genetically mutilated deer. I allow that I feel a fondness for pigs, but those who know me well would insist that’s because of a basic affinity for mud.

But even without any particular attachment to them, I find myself recognizing in them and their lives, a fellow-feeling, one that simultaneously blurs the definitions of consciousness, identity, and self, as it expands the universe of “you”s available for relationship.

Might it be possible to open to that possibility while eating meat? I don’t know. To my knowledge, there isn’t an official rule book that says “no awareness of animals as beings without vegetarianism.” But for me, it would be hard to get from where I was then to where I am now without the vegetarian boat to get me across the river.

So the reasons I stopped: to decrease, if only by one person’s diet, the appalling suffering caused by industrial agriculture and to lighten earth’s load a little bit.

What I didn’t expect, or even reasonably expect to expect: that I’d find my understanding of self and other, me and you, changing so deeply as a result.

Yeah – there’s other stuff, too: I have more energy, I get better nutrition, I found weight loss and management a lot easier than before. Those things were nice discoveries, particularly once I figured out how to get the protein I needed to stay active. But the life-changing part is seeing consciousness –seeing god – through the eyes of a German shepherd in the back of a pickup, in the ear-twitches of a doe and fawn shuffling through leaf litter beneath live oaks in search of acorns, in the jittery reptilian stare of a lizard pausing between zigs and zags on sun-hot rocks.