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For those of us dedicated to embodying and advocating the vegan message of compassion for all life, it’s always heartening when we witness someone “getting it” and going vegan. Considering the pervasive indoctrination in the opposite direction, this is no small feat, and a cause for rejoicing on behalf of the animals, people, ecosystems, and future generations who are profoundly benefitted every time someone goes vegan.
However, given the internal and external pressures on vegans, the opposite can happen. Considering the urgency of our global situation, it seems equally tragic when someone, for whatever reason, moves from vegan living back to the mainstream. This was the case recently with Alex Jamieson, somewhat well known as the author of Vegan Cooking for Dummies, and Living Vegan for Dummies, and as the vegan significant other of Morgan Spurlock, creator of Supersize Me. We can learn a lot from Alex’s example it seems to me.
In her recent and controversial blog “I’m Not Vegan Anymore,” one of the first sentences is, “13 years ago, when I decided to eat a vegan diet and live a vegan lifestyle, I did it for my health.” This seems similar to someone proclaiming they’re no longer in love and saying, “When I decided to marry you, I did it for financial security.” Vegan living, like love, is not about getting something for myself; it’s about giving: giving mercy and kindness to others who are vulnerable in our hands. Going vegan to get health is like getting married to get wealth: it’s typically not a lasting motivation and it corrodes the integrity of our commitment. If we don’t deepen our motivation beyond personal health, it’s easy to fall prey to the “cravings” for an adverse affair of some kind—the bacon smells so enticing; the neighbor is so attractive. Motivation is at the heart of both love and veganism, as well as of our spiritual evolution.
Please don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against being healthy, or being wealthy either. But we are taught from birth in our culture to get what we want at the expense of others, and as a culture, this practice pervades our lives. We use animals, ecosystems, and other people as mere means to our ends, and chief among these ends are health and wealth. A steady supply of pharmaceuticals, surgical procedures, meat, cheese, eggs, wool, leather, and other consumer goods all require inflicting suffering and death on countless animals and often other people as well. We are injected with a cultural program that instills in us the certainty that we are entitled to all this, and that the suffering we cause others is trivial. We have created vast industrialized systems that vainly attempt to assure our health, wealth, and comfort at all costs as they devastate our planet and our fellow passengers. The irony of course is that there is less genuine wellness and abundance than ever because we fail to realize that we reap what we sow. To the degree we question the cultural programming of exclusivity and privilege instilled in us through our meals, we’ll see that the bricks in the road to health and wealth for all of us are made of loving-kindness and inclusiveness. We are all interconnected.
Veganism is love for all. It is essentially about giving, not getting. The irony again is that as we do our best to bless others and assure their health and happiness, we find our own health and happiness improving. As we love fully and openly, we find our generosity increasing, and our wealth naturally grows, and not just our financial wealth, but also the genuine wealth of inner peace, joy, freedom, fulfilling relationships, and living a life of creativity, service, and meaning. Our Earth is enormously abundant, and there’s plenty for everyone here to be healthy and wealthy far beyond what we can imagine in our present disease-ridden and impoverished culturally-imposed ignorance. Ironically, the seemingly richest among us are often the sickest and most impoverished.
In his wisdom, Donald Watson, when he coined the word vegan back in 1944, addressed only the underlying motivation of veganism, which is loving-kindness, and said not a word about fulfilling personal desires for health, purity, or anything else. “Veganism is a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as possible and practical, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals, for food, clothing, or any other purpose…” Thirty-eight years ago, when I visited The Farm in Tennessee and learned about the violence inherent in meat, I immediately stopped buying or eating it, and have never desired it for a moment since then, and in 33 years since learning about the cruelty inherent in dairy products and eggs, and going vegan, I’ve similarly never desired or craved any animal-sourced foods. In fact, they inspire revulsion, a sense of disgust and sadness, and reinforce the joyful gratitude I feel for my vegan life. There is nothing at all in this to take credit for, because it has taken zero will power, and this is also true for most of the vegans I’ve talked to over the years. As a side benefit, my health has been absolutely fabulous these past 35 years—as has the health of my vegan spouse Madeleine as well, and we see this is the norm, with vegans enjoying longer lives and suffering far less from the chronic diseases that plague our population.
When we understand the consequences of our actions—the violence required to obtain animal foods, from both factory farms and family farms, and also the bigger picture in terms of the environmental, social, and psycho-spiritual ramifications of participating in the consensus food trance—we find our “temptations” and cravings quickly dissolve. With greater understanding, they never arise to begin with. When we understand our true nature and that of nonhuman animals, there is no inner battle, and our life is congruent with our values. Animal-sourced “foods” are not foods at all, actually. I remember many years ago an acquaintance asked me, “Don’t you sometimes get the craving for a burger?” “I crave a burger about as much as I crave to take a bite out of your arm, Russ,” I said. “A burger isn’t food.” And of course neither is any flesh or cheese or egg, when we see it and understand it for what it actually is, and how others are harmed. If we were to see the freshly-killed corpse of an animal, we would not be attracted, but repelled, and the farthest thing from our mind would be to go over and actually eat it. Given the enormous abundance of appealing, nutritious, flavorful fruits, vegetables, grains, and other plant-based foods, there is something essentially perverse and even satanic about eating cadavers.
So what are we to do when cravings like Alex wrestled with arise in us? There are four essential understandings we can explore, cultivate and apply.
The first is what I’ve already been discussing: to make an effort to remember what we are all pressured to forget and ignore—the suffering our actions cause others: the imprisoned animals screaming and bellowing in pain, terror, and grief; the cold misery endured by heart-hardened farm and slaughterplant workers; the despair of millions of people hungry and malnourished because nutritious grains and beans are essentially stolen from them to fatten our livestock and farmed fish; the devastated oceans, rainforests, rivers, landscapes, and free-living animals who are also slaughtered and forced into extinction as their habitats are converted to livestock range and feedstock farmland.
The second understanding is that if our body is yearning for nutrients, plant-based sources can supply them. We do not need to imprison and kill animals to get the nutrients that these animals get from plants! The more we understand about nutrition, the more we understand that animals don’t create any nutrients. Plants create all the essential amino acids that make up the proteins we need. Through photosynthesis, plants also create all the healthy carbohydrates that our bodies are designed to burn for fuel, as well as the lipids that become the various fats (omega 3, 6, and 9, etc.). Plants are the source of the seemingly limitless symphonies of phytonutrients that researchers realize are so complex and beneficial that we will never, through science, be able to understand them all. Plants are also the source of all the minerals as well, pulling them from the soil, and of all the vitamins with the exception of two: vitamin D, which is actually a hormone we make by exposure to sunlight, and vitamin B-12, which is synthesized by bacteria and destroyed unfortunately by modern industrialized methods of water chlorination and industrialized produce washing. Both are available in plant-based forms if needed. Thus, if we feel our body is craving a nutrient, it’s important to understand that all nutrients are available from plants in forms that are far less toxic and more easily assimilable than getting them second-hand from animals. Also, it’s well understood that meat and dairy have physically addictive components, like casomorphins, as well as emotionally and socially addictive components, and simply “trusting” cravings for these substances is like a person who wishes to heal their life and be free of their addiction to alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs trusting their body’s cravings for these substances.
The third understanding has to do with the energy of foods. At the surface level there is the yin/yang energy of food and of all life, as understood through macrobiotics and other systems. The principle in nature is called enantiodromia, derived from the Greek enantio (“opposite”) and dromia (“run”), meaning “running to the opposite.” We see this everywhere. If any being or system becomes extreme in one direction, it will naturally tend to return and move in the opposite direction. When it comes to food, if we eat excessively contracting-energy (yang) foods, our body becomes tight, and we naturally yearn for more expansive foods, and vice-versa. Our culture indoctrinates all of us in a way of eating and living that has us typically gyrating between the two poles of extreme yang (meat, cheese, and salt) and thus craving extreme yin (sugar and sweets, fats, alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, drugs), and then craving extreme yang again. The steak calls for the cigarette, cocktail, or cake, the cheese for the wine and sweets, and so it goes. Whole grains, vegetables, and legumes are much more balanced and neutral, and tend to naturally eliminate the cravings that people who eat processed foods and animal foods typically struggle with.
Besides the food cravings that come from being excessively contracted and/or expanded (and these conditions can come not just though our food diets, but also from the climate/environment we live in, as well as our thoughts, feelings, and activities), there are other causes of craving. We have sensors in our body that detect when we are satiated, having eaten sufficient volume, and these sensors are designed for plant-based foods that are naturally high in fiber. Eating animal foods that have no fiber, it is easy to overeat fat, calories, and protein because the volume of these dense foods is smaller, leading to obesity, constipation, acidification, inflammation, and disease. We also have a second type of sensors in our body that detect whether or not we are getting the nutrients we need. We can eat large amounts of processed, nutrient-poor junk foods till we’re stuffed, and still have cravings because nutrients are lacking. This is why it’s important to eat a whole foods, plant-based, organic diet with a large percentage of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, and other nutrient dense foods. Junk food vegans whose hearts are in the right place for animals unfortunately fall prey to this and end up hurting both themselves and the cause of compassion by not understanding this, eating poorly, and experiencing cravings. And vegan raw foodists can be plagued by food cravings because their diet may make it difficult for them to get enough calories to function optimally, so they find themselves hungry a lot. Eating the complex carbohydrates provided by grains, legumes, squashes, and beans, as well as vegetables and fruits, assures that we’ll have plenty of energy and vitality.
At a deeper level, the fourth understanding that we can cultivate has to do with the psycho-spiritual dimension of food and of our lives as manifestations of eternal consciousness. Our relationship with food will ultimately mirror our relationship with ourselves. How mindful and peaceful we are around food reflects how aware we are in our lives, and how harmoniously we are fulfilling our purpose in this lifetime. Looking deeply into our relationship with food, and with food cravings, is the adventure of looking deeply into ourselves. Do we just eat what we’ve been told to eat, or what we think our body is telling us to eat, or do we make our own choices?
J. Krishnamurti summed up the situation well when he said, “It is not a good idea to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” We have been continually bombarded with noxious messages from our culture since infancy, forcing us to participate in meal rituals that are devastating to our spiritual integrity as well as our psychological and physical health, and the health of our society and our Earth. After injecting this toxic message of cruelty, domination, and denial into our cells with every meal and advertising message, we’re told to “trust our bodies” by this same culture!
The key to inner peace, joy, health, and freedom, not just for ourselves, but for our culture, is questioning the indoctrinated food program we see both around us and also arising within us, and making an effort to quiet our minds so that we connect with the transpersonal dimension of our consciousness.
By going vegan, we create a solid foundation for authentic spiritual progress so that our mind can relax and open to its source, and we can directly experience the truth that what we are is not a mere physical body with a mind and personal history. We are not limited to this accumulation that we self-identify with. We are life itself: eternal, infinite, free, and of the nature of love, joy, creativity, and understanding. Our purpose is to awaken directly to the truth that we are, and to discover and contribute our unique gifts to our world in the brief and precious time that we are here on this planet. When this awakening unfolds in us, we grow to love our life, and to love all manifestations of life, and we see beyond the mere outer forms to the radiant splendor shining within all expressions: people, animals, communities—all are celebrations of one life, completely interconnected and interdependent.
A deeper compassion arises that forever frees us from the delusion that we can ever benefit from harming or using others. Our veganism is no long “veganism.” It is our true nature spontaneously expressing as inclusiveness and kindness for all living beings. We are simply living naturally, and our greatest joy is contributing to the happiness of others. As vegans, we can then say, “I’m not vegan anymore.”
My heart-felt best wishes go to Alex and all who call themselves former vegans, because they are, in fact, pre-vegans, and we are all, certainly, on the same path that leads to the unfoldment of the greater wisdom and compassion that vegan living calls us to manifest in our lives both here and beyond. And in a sense we are all post-vegans as well, because when we look deeply into our pristine roots and the source of what we are, we see that vegan living is actually remembering something we’ve been forced to forget, but that we’ve known deep down all along. It’s an awakening from an imposed delusion, and this awakening is ultimately inevitable for everyone. It is returning home to our heart, to our real nature, to freedom, and to compassion for all.