Personal choice?

Who am I to judge?
I started practicing Yoga around 2008 and shortly after also started practicing Zen meditation and trying to align with the spirit of the five Buddhist precepts. A lot changed and shifted in my life because of these practices – one of these changes was me going from hardcore carnivore to vegetarian and eventually vegan. I remember being quite confused and disappointed to find out that neither my Yoga nor my meditation teachers were vegetarian.

I also remember feeling guilty about my disappointment – who was I to judge anyway? Plus I was beginning to realise that disappointment is always the result of the arbitrary and subjective expectations we hold – in this case, it was my image of what a Yoga or meditation teacher should be like and the way they should behave.
Six years of practice later I am even more adamant that judging other people is wrong (really, really wrong) and that my disappointment at anything is entirely self-inflicted and entirely my responsibility.

I also very firmly believe that veganism is a moral baseline, and from an aspiring Yoga teacher perspective I feel one should strive to align with some of the fundamental tenets of the Yoga philosophy and with a more general “don’t be a dick” kind of code of conduct.
Yet, almost every time I bring up the subject with fellow yogis, yoginis and teachers I am met with a high degree of resistance, if not outright hostility. So, what’s up with that? Why do all these otherwise lovely, sweet, warm hearted people appear not to care about the enormous amount of suffering that is inflicted on innocent sentient beings for no other reason than their pleasure?
Well, I guess on the same grounds I never did for years… Or rather, I blocked all that suffering out, and whenever some crept in I rationalised the hell out of it to make it acceptable.
I can understand the hostility that veganism encounters, it challenges a lot of our behaviours and can appear as a very inflexible and absolutist set of values – and guess what? It is. As Gary Francione eloquently puts it in a recent blog post:

They are angry that I am what they call an “absolutist” who maintains that we cannot justify *any* animal use.

They are right.
I am an absolutist in this regard–just as I am an “absolutist” with respect to rape, child molestation, and other violations of fundamental human rights. Indeed, I would not have it any other way. Absolutism is the only morally acceptable response to the violation of fundamental rights whether of humans or nonhumans.

Personal Choice
Most people I know care about animals and don’t want them to suffer. Most of them would never even dream of personally slitting a pig’s throat or beheading a chicken; most would likely intervene and try to stop someone else doing it if they were present.. And yet most people eat animals or animal derivatives.
Psychologists suggest that this conflict between beliefs and behavior leads to cognitive dissonance, which, they say, meat-eaters relieve by avoiding consideration of the provenance of animal products, and by attributing reduced sentience, cognitive ability and moral standing to animals they regard as food or food producers.
One of the most often used arguments to defend animal product consumption is to state that what one chooses to eat is a matter of personal choice. I ask you to consider that it isn’t.
Melanie Joy identified a number of mechanisms that allow these abhorrent practices to survive and coined the term carnism. She states:

We don’t see meat eating as we do vegetarianism – as a choice, based on a set of assumptions about animals, our world, and ourselves. Rather, we see it as a given, the “natural” thing to do, the way things have always been and the way things will always be. We eat animals without thinking about what we are doing and why, because the belief system that underlies this behavior is invisible. This invisible belief system is what I call carnism.

These “choices” we make in this area affect an enormous number of people, animals, and the planet as a whole – not only us as individuals, so “personal” doesn’t really apply. The planet is already on its knees, and the one simple most effective step we can take to help save it for us and future generations is to go vegan. It is that simple.

A Plea
Both Yoga and meditation are meant to help with developing a better, more objective, understanding and perception of the reality that surrounds us. Yoga is supposed to help us strengthen our empathy, deepen our compassion and raise our awareness of how interconnected we are with all other beings and the whole of the planet.

So I ask you to consider the many reasons why a vegan lifestyle is more compatible with the practice of Yoga:

Each day, a person who eats a vegan diet saves 1,100 gallons of water, 45 pounds of grain, 30 sq ft of forested land, 20 lbs CO2 equivalent, and one animal’s life.

That is huge no? Think of the difference you can make in a month!

“Water Footprint Assessment.” University of Twente, the Netherlands.
“Measuring the daily destruction of the world’s rainforests.” Scientific American, 2009.
“Dietary greenhouse gas emissions of meat-eaters, fish-eaters, vegetarians and vegans in the UK.” Climactic change, 2014.
“Meat eater’s guide to climate change and health.” The Environmental Working Group.

And look at these numbers, let them sink in:

Farmed animals population in the UK alone in December 2014

Total cattle and calves 9,837,000
Total sheep and lambs 22,916,000
Total pigs 4,815,000
Total poultry 169,684,000

That is a staggering 207 million animals! To put it in perspective, the UK population stand at 64 million.  And they are all destined for a premature and, in most cases, violent and distressing death. The majority of them spending their lives in misery.

Farming statistics – livestock populations at 1 December 2014 – UK


Information is Out There
There are three movies that provide some pretty compelling information, they are, in my mind, the “red pill”, they will show you a reality that is very subtly hidden:
Cowspiracy – about the sustainability of animal agriculture:
Forks Over Knives – about the health impact of animal products consumption:
Earthlings – About the incredible suffering we cause to our fellow earthlings:

Making the change can be a daunting prospect but there are plenty of resources should you chose to give this lifestyle a try, I’m sure you’ll find it extremely empowering.

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