We live today in a world where people seem to yearn increasingly for world peace, but many wonder if it is actually attainable. The media is filled with reports of human violence, and most governments, including our own, are willing to rationalize violence and inequity. How do we build an authentic foundation for peace, justice and sustainability? Is it even possible?
The key to answering these perplexing questions lies in comprehending the far-reaching implications of our food choices and the worldview they both reflect and mandate. At first glance it may seem unlikely that such a potent key could be found in the pedestrian place that food appears to occupy in our culture, but if we look closely, we begin to realize that our shared cultural reality is profoundly affected by the attitudes, beliefs and practices surrounding food. There are amazing unrecognized social, psychological and spiritual consequences to our meals that ripple through all aspects of our lives.
Food is actually our most intimate and telling connection both with the natural order and with our living cultural heritage. Through eating the plants and animals of this earth we literally incorporate them, and it is also through this act of eating that we partake of our culture’s values and paradigms at the most primal and unconscious levels.
By placing humans at the top the planet’s food chain, our culture has historically perpetuated a particular worldview that requires from its members a reduction of essential feelings and awareness – and it is this process of desensitization that we must understand if we are to comprehend the underlying causes of oppression, exploitation and spiritual disconnectedness. When we practice eating for spiritual health and social harmony, we practice making certain essential connections that our culturally induced food rituals normally require us to block from awareness. This practice is an essential prerequisite for evolving to a state of consciousness where peace and freedom are possible.
We are in the midst of a profound cultural transformation. It is becoming increasingly obvious that the old mythos underlying our culture is collapsing. We are realizing that its core assumptions are obsolete and, if followed further, will result not only in the ecological devastation of our planet’s intricate and delicate systems, but in our self-destruction as well. A new mythos, affirming cooperation, freedom, peace, life and unity, is struggling to be born to replace the old mythos based on competition, separateness, war, exclusion, and the idea that might makes right. Food is a critical key to this birth, because our food habits condition our mentality profoundly – and because meals are the primary way our culture replicates and promulgates its value system through us. Whether this birth of a new mythos and more evolved spirituality and consciousness is successful will depend on whether we can transform our understanding and practice of food.
One of the ways we may come to question our culture’s pervading mythos is through the awakening of compassion in our hearts for the suffering of others. This is actually the dawning of veganism within us, which is, as Donald Watson, who coined the word in 1944 said, the urge to live in such a way as to minimize the cruelty we cause others. We begin to realize that our happiness and welfare are interconnected with the welfare of others. As compassion unfolds in us, we let go of the delusion that we can ever ultimately improve our own welfare by harming someone else, and instead begin to yearn to be a force for blessing others and the world. Awakening from the old story that breeds domination, we see that the more we bless and help others, the more joy and meaning we experience, and the more alive and in love we feel.
We see that our choice to eat foods sourced from nonhuman animals causes direct suffering and cruelty in many ways: to the animals who are confined and killed; to the wild animals who are trapped and killed as “pests” and whose habitats are devastated by destroying forests and ecosystems to graze animals and grow the vast amounts of grain necessary to feed them; to the hungry people who starve or suffer malnutrition because available grain is fed to fatten animals bound for the tables of wealthier societies and people; to the slaughterhouse and factory-farm workers who do the terrible work of confining and killing billions of resisting animals; to the ecosystems and wildlife devastated by pollution, global warming and other effects of animal agriculture; to the future generations of all beings who will inherit an Earth that is ecologically devastated and culturally mired in war and oppression; and to the Earth herself. Realizing our interconnectedness with others, we naturally find that our greatest happiness comes from discovering our unique way of blessing others and contributing to their happiness, freedom and healing.
The Practice of Connecting
Our cultural predicament – the array of seemingly intractable problems that beset us, such as chronic war, terrorism, genocide, starvation, the proliferation of disease, environmental degradation, species extinction, animal abuse, consumerism, drug addiction, alienation, stress, racism, oppression of women, child abuse, corporate exploitation, materialism, poverty, injustice and social malaise – is rooted in an essential cause that is so obvious that it has managed to remain almost completely overlooked. In trying to solve the social, environmental and individual problems we face while ignoring the underlying cause that generates them, we are treating symptoms without addressing the root of the disease. Such efforts are ultimately doomed to failure. Instead, we need to build a web of understanding and awareness that helps us see the connections between our food choices, our individual and cultural health, our planetary ecology, our spirituality, our attitudes and beliefs and the quality of our relationships. As we do this and act on this understanding, we contribute to the evolution of a more harmonious and liberated shared experience of life on this beautiful but misunderstood planet.
The Call to Evolve
Though I spent the first 22 years of my life eating the large quantities of animal-based foods typical of our culture, I’ve spent the past 30 years or so exploring the fascinating connections and cause-effect relationships between our individual and cultural practice of using animals for food and the stress and difficulties we create for each other and ourselves. I’ve discovered that the violence we instigate for our plates boomerangs in remarkable ways.
It becomes immediately obvious, though, that our collective sense of guilt about our mistreatment of animals for food makes recognizing this basic connection enormously difficult. Eating animal foods is a fundamental cause of our dilemmas, but we will squirm every which way to avoid confronting this. It is our defining blind spot and is the essential missing piece to the puzzle of human peace and freedom. Because our culturally inherited behavior of exploiting the animals we use for food and ignoring this exploitation, we are exceedingly hesitant to look behind the curtain of our denial, talk with each other about the consequences of our meals and change our behavior to reflect what we see and know. This unwillingness is socially supported and continually reinforced.
Our behavior invariably reflects our understanding, and yet our behavior also determines what level of understanding we are able to attain.
The song of the mythos that yearns to be born through us requires our spirits to be loving and alive enough to hear and recognize the pain we are causing through our obsolete food orientation. We are called to allow our innate mercy and kindness to shine forth and to confront the indoctrinated assumptions that promote cruelty. While we are granted varying degrees of privilege depending our species, race, class and gender, we are all harmed when any is harmed; suffering is ultimately completely interconnected because we are all interconnected, and socially constructed privilege only serves to disconnect us from this truth of our interdependence.
Like the Golden Rule, which articulates a principle that is pronounced by all the world’s religious traditions and is intuitively accepted by people of every culture and persuasion, the principles discussed here are universal and can be understood and practiced by all of us, whatever our religious affiliation or non-affiliation may happen to be. A moderately open mind and a willingness to make connections are all that is needed to apprehend these principles, and to see that they never contradict our deeper religious teachings or our spiritual yearnings, but always fulfill and illumine them.
Imagining a culture of the new story is imagining a completely different culture where peace is rooted in our attitudes and actions, where we free ourselves by freeing others and evolve beyond the trance of consumerism and war. Every effort we make is vital for this grassroots transformation that can replace our obsolete mentality of domination with the joyful mentality of kindness, co-creation and cooperation. Thank you for finding your unique part to play in the benevolent revolution of peace and sustainability, and for plugging in and contributing. We all have an essential part to play if this will actually happen! As Gandhi said, it may not seem that your contribution is important, but it is vitally important that you contribute it. Together, we are changing our world.
– Adapted from The World Peace Diet