The Joy Of Eating

The Joy Of Eating

Going beyond pleasure

When my wife and I decided to have a vegetarian wedding, the reactions to this decision were quite interesting. As an answer to our announcement, we experienced the full range of human emotions - everything from complete disapproval all the way to joyful congratulations about what a great idea this would be. By now, I think I can understand every position, including complete disapproval. Especially in a country like Germany where the consumption of meat is a deeply engrained habit, it is understandable that not everyone would agree with such a decision. Maybe some guests felt as if someone (me) was restricting their freedom of choice.

Until a year ago, I was still consuming meat myself. Now that I changed this aspect of my life, I don't consider myself to be a better person neither did I stop respecting people who eat meat. The important aspect about my decision to stop eating the flesh of other sentient beings is that it did not arise from the belief in a certain kind of ideology or religion. Rather, it was a result of turning my attention inwards, having a closer look at what's happening in my own mind. Holding still for a while led to a simple but deep reflection on the suffering which is created through the way we eat.

What surprises me, is that the majority of discussions I have with others about diet, are led from the viewpoint of "What's best for me?" I don't think there's anything particularly wrong with asking this question, as taking good care of our health is important. But can we really reduce health to physical health? What about our mental and emotional health? Can it really be best for us, if through the way we eat, we directly support an industry which greatly contributes to the suffering and inequality (not only for animals) in our global society? If we are convinced that meat is good for us, did we honestly come to this conclusion or did we simply not really think about the consequences of our actions? How comes we are kind and loving to some animals, like our pets - and on the other hand we support unimaginable cruelty to others? At present, we live in a society which considers it to be normal to kill another living being who experiences fear and pain just as much as we do.

However, it is possible that our grandchildren will compare the slaughtering of animals in modern factory farming to the holocaust in the Third Reich. If you find this comparison exaggerated, consider looking at the issue from the victim's perspective. In the dairy industry, it is a common practice to take away the baby calves from their mothers right after birth. They are seen as a kind of waste product and are only needed so the mother cow keeps producing milk. The animal rights activist Gary Yourofsky describes the crying of a mother cow during this procedure, as one of the worst screams he has ever witnessed.

As long as there are slaughter houses, there will always be battlefields.
- Leo Tolstoy

Part of our vegetarian wedding was the idea of donating some of the money we received to raise awareness for animal suffering. A few weeks after our celebration, we went to the animal sanctuary Tierhof am Hardtbach and handed over the results of our fundraising. Thank you again to everyone who supported our idea! A feeling of being connected came up as I saw Karin (the owner of the sanctuary) and her helpers wholeheartedly taking care of the rescued animals. These animals are probably treated by humans with respect and compassion for the first time in their lives. Luisa is the name of the pig on the image of this article and she made a lasting impression on me. As we approached her, the fear in her eyes was quite obvious to see. I ask Karin whether she's always that fearful and her answer is delivered with a rather dry undertone:
 "Only with humans."

Now, whenever the desire for the taste of meat comes up, it dies off with the awareness of the suffering which is created through the production and consumption of meat. Of course, this takes practice and changing a diet is no small thing, neither does it happen overnight - but step by step there will be lasting change if we keep making a conscious effort. If we really want to make a change, there are great resources available about how to eat healthy without relying on the exploitation of animals (and humans). A few sources of information, which I find helpful are the ProVegan Foundation by Dr. med. Henrich, the simple but delicious vegan recipes by Attila Hildmann or the information provided by the already mentioned Gary Yourofsky. I'm sure, there's much more out there.

Although I sometimes have to use these words due to a lack of alternative, labels like "vegetarian" or "vegan" don't mean much to me. I don't like thinking in these categories as they often lead to fruitless discussions. To me, eating consciously simply means freedom - the freedom of not being driven by the desire for a taste adventure, but rather by the intention to contribute to the well-being of other living beings. It's not about "getting it right" immediately, but rather about walking in the right direction. It's a process and I fail at times - but I don't stop making an effort. Having a wholesome intention can be a powerful source of inspiration. Eating more consciously contributes both to my physical as well as my emotional health. Going beyond pleasure, we can feel joy when we eat in such a way that compassion is nourished in our hearts.

May we keep our compassion alive by eating in such a way that reduces the suffering of living beings, stops contributing to climate change, and heals and preserves our precious planet.
- Thich Nhat Hanh, Contemplations Before Eating

Through curiosity and investigation into the nature of our direct experience as a human being, we can find a deeper meaning of freedom. Real freedom doesn't need a complex philosophy to be discovered and it is directly accessible to anyone who honestly aspires to reveal it. The key to this kind of understanding is our awareness. The decision for a conscious life is a decision for a free life.

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