Eating animal foods can be healthy, sustainable and ethical – Part 3 Ethics
This post is part 3 of a 3 part series. If you haven't already done so, please read part 1 (nutritional point of view) and part 2 (sustainability point of view) first. Make sure to also read about the intentions I have with this series in the beginning of part 1.
Ethical Point of View
Apart from health and environmental reasons (that we discussed in part 1 and part 2 of this series), many people choose to reduce their animal food intake out of ethical reasons. They feel that killing an animal is wrong, unethical and not in line with spiritual teachings. This is arguably the most difficult part to discuss, since it is based on belief systems, but I still want to give it a try.
100% cruelty free does not exist
You probably don’t want to be responsible for the torturing and killing of animals. That’s fair enough. I also would prefer to not be responsible for killing anything, and I certainly don’t support UNNECESSARY torturing and the way animals are treated and killed in those industrial feedlots. However, when - after many years of not eating meat - I experimented with reintroducing it (because of health reasons), I had a revelating experience. I felt much better immediately! And I asked myself: "If I am not supposed to eat animal foods, why do they make me feel so much better?" I personally had to conclude that I do need animal foods in order to enjoy good health in the long run and to be in ideal metabolic and personal balance.
Thus I had to accept that to a certain extent I am responsible for killing. Just like all other beings on this planet, including vegans. Vegans might have the impression that they are not killing, but they still kill, even if they prefer to turn their eyes away from that fact. They kill by either supporting companies that kill animals and people (see part 2 of this series), but also by eating plant foods. And I am not talking about "killing" plants here. I am talking about killing animals and even humans. To give an example, the increased demand for quinoa makes producers in poor countries suffer from hunger (and sometimes die). Almonds and also avocados are very water-intensive, yet grown in areas prone to drought. This does lead to water being redirected from rivers which in consequence kill fish and make people go thirsty, get sick, and even die of dehydration. We also already saw that how by not eating individual animals, we could be contributing to the extinction of whole breeds and species. Agricultural systems that do not include animals also lead to decreased soil fertility over time, with all its consequences on biodiversity and life... (the current flood catastrophes are partially due to soil that cannot absorb water anymore because it is all dry). I'd even go as far as to suggest that we might be killing ourselves slowly... Even if not true for everyone, there is a strong link between strictly plant-based diets and long-term health and fertility issues.
The big challenge we all must face is that as living beings, we will be responsible for killing in one way or the other.
Animals kill each other for survival. Certain plants are toxic, and thus "kill". To a certain extent, this is even necessary in order to maintain balance and avoid uncontrolled development of certain species.
We live in a polar world
Life is and has always been about living AND dying. It is a circle and one could never exist without the other. Neither one of the two is “better” than the other. Preferring Life over Death is like preferring light over darkness. Or breathing in over breathing out. Or men over women. Or head over heart. Doesn’t work. They are both equally important and as such neither "good" nor "bad". It is us who judge one as "good" and one as "bad". But if I deny Death, I deny Life. If I deny dark, I deny light. Worse: the more I emphasize "light", the more I attract "dark". Have you ever noticed how often "peaceful" vegans become radical in defending their opinion? How they’d kill people not sharing their opinion in order to prevent animals from being killed (I am sorry if I am generalizing here, of course there are many non-radical vegans as well)? These are the universal laws of polarity and resonance in action. I would argue that we cannot be truly "spiritual" if we exclude one pole from our consciousness.
Of course this doesn’t mean that we should all just go around and kill as we like or treat other living beings without respect. I know I need something of them (doesn’t matter whether plant or animal) for my own survival, so even though that means I eventually have to kill them, I should still make sure to give them a "good" life and to treat them with all the respect and gratitude they deserve for the fact that they are being sacrificed for the sake of my well-being. In fact if I don’t do that, I will only damage myself in the end, since I will ingest all the negative energy and stress that I caused this living being while alive.
A Life is worth living
It is often argued that it would be better to not even "ethically" raise animals, since they still have to die in the end. So because we don't want them to die, we don't grant them Life in the first place. I have difficulties with that concept. Even if a life seems short in our eyes, does that mean it was not worth living? A butterfly only lives 3 weeks before it dies - but it doesn't know that, so it enjoys them, and by the way serves an important purpose as part of the ecosystem. A cow can live 4-10 years on a small farm (about 2 in factory farms). If in that time it is treated with affection and respect, does killing it in the end take any of that away? Nobody of us knows when we are going to die. Yet I would still prefer to live, even if I am going to die young, as opposed to not being granted the chance to live at all.
Having moral concerns is a luxury
We can only discuss whether or not it is moral to eat animal foods because
- Our ancestors ate meat, which helped their brains to develop to an extent that today we can discuss that kind of questions.
- We live in the comfort of a sophisticated food distribution system. Most people on this planet don't have this luxury and are dependent on the use of animal foods to sustain themselves and their children - like all natural tribes were before "civilization". I don't think we can blame them of unethical or even of uncompassionate behavior. If there were no more supermarkets - and thus no more chia seeds, quinoa and almond milk (a scenario not too unlikely to happen in the future due to the depletion of natural resources such as oil), I am quite sure that all of us (including vegans) would eventually kill animals to survive - because berries and greens from the woods would just not be enough (especially in winter).
Eating animals as a spiritual practice
It is often suggested that in order to advance on the spiritual path, one has to be at least a vegetarian. Given that even Buddha ate meat (and Jesus ate fish), this is surprising. Of course the idea behind is one of compassion towards all beings, but as I already pointed out, real compassion includes self-compassion and killing an individual animal can be an act of compassion towards a human being or a whole animal species. It seems contradictory to my eye that the ones who teach equanimaty towards everything would condemn the act of killing as such, even the necessary killing. Personally, I am of the opinion that in order to be able to meditate well and to bring balance into this world, one needs to be in metabolic and personal balance - and that is best achieved if the body's individual needs are respected. For many people that will include (respectfully raised) animal foods - it all depends on the Metabolic Type and also the energetic constitution. A person from India has a completely different metabolism than a Northern European (btw it's a myth that most people in India are traditionally vegetarians - even monks are allowed to eat meat - although only when it is offered to them so someone else gets the "bad" karma...). When it comes to energies, many people need to actually get grounded firmly into the Earth before they should even try to climb up into the sky. Animal foods are very grounding in nature, activating especially the lower chakras. For me having to accept that as a human being I need animal foods - not to survive, but for my and my offspring's long-term optimal health and fertility - is in fact a spiritual practice all by itself. It puts me into touch with humility, gratitude and the interdependence of all beings. Humility, that I depend on another living being for my own survival, even if I prefer it was not so. Gratitude, because this animal allows me to continue life. The interdependence of all beings, because the animal becomes part of me. It is my duty to honor it - not just while it is alive, but also when it is lying dead on my plate. If I eat it with a feeling of guilt and reluctance, because I have to, I am not honoring it. If I eat it in a hurry, while scrolling on my phone, I am not honoring it. For me being spiritual is not about following a specific ritual or routine, but to develop self-knowledge and awareness, which then will allow me to connect to and to trust into a Higher Power and allow it to guide me.
I personally think that the best way to eat is the one that doesn't "hurt" me (in the sense of not providing me with what I need, diminishing my long-term health or fertility), but that maximizes my own metabolic balance while minimizing animal suffering, environmental pollution and the waste of resources. While this might seem "egoistic", in my opinion, in the long run a person enjoying metabolic balance will be more peaceful and bring more balance to this world than a person who is denying him or herself essential elements (nutrients on the physical level, the "dark" side of things on the spiritual level). So being egoistic in this sense is beneficial for everybody in the end.
For me this means eating an omnivorous Real Food diet, featuring local and seasonal vegetables, meat, poultry, eggs and raw dairy (all free-range and pasture-fed and free of hormones and antibiotics) from local farmers, wild fish, real butter, whole grains, legumes, nuts/seeds and fruit.
Obviously, we are all different, so we'd need different quantities of these foods, and for some people being a vegetarian would still be the best option, while others need to have plenty of meat and animal fat... In any case, you would need no supermarket or industry at all, but could get all you need to be healthy at your local farm, thus supporting real and tangible people, biodiversity and local economy. You’d also help to dramatically reduce the carbon footprint, since less resources would be wasted for over-production required by a supermarket-distribution system (which only accepts beautiful produce and needs to have full shelves all the time), for transport, packaging and storing. Since less food would be wasted and you’d also have learned to consume ALL parts of the animal (including fat, organs and bones), less animals would be necessary to provide the nutrients we need, so they could be raised as they are intended to be raised: on grass and pasture and not on grains and soy – saving even more resources and even helping to reverse climate change instead of aggrevating it.
As I said before, veganism is the logical answer to a society that has industrially abused animals for many decades. It is a necessary step to collectively allow us to get back to a new normal, which - according to me - will be basically an "old" normal of a diet of natural, local, seasonal, pure Real Foods of plant AND animal origin, as they could be found on a farm, grown in a respectful, sustainable, ethical, small-scale manner.
I really hope that the information provided in this series was useful for you. It would be so great if all your passion, compassion, determination and consciousness would be channeled into building a world that is truly healthy, sustainable and ethical - for all of us.