This year, many people will attempt to explore vegan eating either for reasons of health or out of the stirrings of conscience. Perhaps a doctor has recommended they forego meat and dairy to overcome a serious illness. Perhaps they have read books or seen films that have convinced them that the meat and dairy eating habit is causing an ecological disaster while dooming the world’s poor to hunger. Or perhaps they have encountered the facts about factory farming, looked into the eyes of a loved animal and said, “Not me. No more.”
Each scenario, each choice is rooted in compassion – a force I would consider to be one of the most powerful in the life of man. In this article, I would like to share some thoughts about compassion that have occurred to me in my twenty years of vegan eating, and I welcome your comments on this important topic.
Exploring The Roots Of Compassion
Children raised by loving parents are the recipients of a deep fund of compassion. A child who has been faithfully loved by good parents through all of the small challenges of growing up understands what it is like to be around people who offer help in times of pain or controversy. This invaluable example of kindness and loyalty commutes into an understanding that it is wrong to intentionally cause pain to others. “If I wouldn’t like something bad to happen to me, no one else would like it to happen to them, either,” the compassionately-raised child learns to think.
If your adult life is rooted in a loving and relatively happy early childhood, the decision to respect the lives of others is within easy reach. You understand that you are a person of value, and this enables you to recognize that all others have their own value. You’ve heard it before that you can’t love others until you love yourself, and this is absolutely true. In knowing that your life is important and sacred, you are able to grant that the lives of all others are also imbued with sacredness and intrinsic value.
But what about the people who had tragic childhoods? What if your early experiences were filled with neglect, violence and the opposite of loving compassion? When evil has been done to you, you eventually come to a crossroad in which you have the power to decide whether to pass the pain on or let it end with you. Unloved people can either become the next actors of violence, hatred and war, or they can recognize the wrong of their sufferings and refuse to cause such pain as they’ve experienced to anybody else.
Looking at it this way, those who have been hurt most in life may have the strongest reasons for making intentional, compassionate choices, because they know just how terrible it is when love is absent. In order to make this decision, the person must recognize their own value, recognize that bad things they experienced were utterly wrong and that no one deserves to have such experiences. By reclaiming the understanding of your life as sacred and valuable, regardless of what others may have mistakenly thought of you, you are rooting yourself in the truth about you, instead of in the mistakes and misunderstandings of others. If you have been wounded, your choice not to wound others (including all animals) is a miraculous triumph of compassion.
Either path – through love to compassion, or through pain to compassion, is a solid foundation for making choices about the way we interact with all others in our life. Apart from breathing, eating is probably the most unifying and powerful activity of being alive.
Compassion, Health and The Vegan Diet
When illnesses that stem from unhealthy eating choices come to light, and health outcomes will be dictated by deciding whether or not to change the way we eat, our foundation of compassion is there to support us.
The value that we feel for ourselves and the people that love us will be our greatest strength in turning away from foods that make us sick towards new ones that will improve, reverse or correct our condition.
At VeganReader.com, we have always been adamant about refusing to bill the vegan diet as a cure for all ills. This simply is not true, and any publication that makes these claims is probably trying to sell you something. That being said, there are a number of conditions that study after study have concluded can be healed by abstaining from meat and dairy, and if you are fortunate enough to have this choice for a healthier, longer life open to you, as opposed to those people who are burdened with illnesses with no known cause or cure, then making the transition to better eating is an act of profound love. Believe that you are worth taking care of, and you can make the compassionate choice to care for yourself with better eating habits.
I must say, I am most impressed by elders whom, after a life of enjoying bacon and eggs, are willing to transition to healthier foods so that they can keep exploring the gift of life. They deserve many, many wonderful years!
If you have come to this article, at any age, as a result of a health diagnosis that can be improved or reversed by transitioning to a meat and dairy free diet, I promise you that with education, meals that may be better than any you have ever eaten before await you. For flavor, variety, nutrition and deliciousness, home-cooked vegan dishes that are based on whole, fresh, organic ingredients cannot be beat, and your dinners can pay tribute to the finest meals in the cuisines of the world from Mexican, to Italian, to Indian, Chinese, Eastern European, American Indian, African, Middle Eastern and more!
When you free yourself from the meat-and-dairy sameness of what you eat, there is so much to taste and enjoy. Change is seldom easy, but the good eating that is in store for you can make this one change very pleasant.
Compassion, Ecology and The Vegan Diet
There is a Cree American Indian quote which says:
“Only after the last tree has been cut down, Only after the last river has been poisoned, Only after the last fish has been caught, Only then will you find money cannot be eaten.”
This year, many people will consider veganism because they have realized that the ecological costs of factory farm production of meat and dairy are too high. When you have to breathe air that has been polluted with the methane that is destroying the ozone layer of the planet, can’t take a drink out of any stream anywhere in the country because it is toxic with farm animal wastes, and you see those rivers where fish can no longer live because of the pollution, when you look at films of the giant belt of land that has been given over to the production of genetically modified corn for farm animal feed instead of diverse organic crops to feed hungry people…when you read one too many reports of the damage America’s meat-and-dairy habit is causing, you may go vegan in order to opt out of these terrible choices.
Your love for our beautiful planet, its people, plants and animals, its land features, forests and waters can fuel your refusal to funnel your hard earned money into a money-making system that is threatening and destroying all of these irreplaceable wonders. Man cannot make new water, new air. We’ve got to save what we were given on planet earth, and the actions ecologically-minded vegans are taking to protect Earth’s total environment are profoundly compassionate.
Looking at your fork as it travels to your mouth, you know that the organic pinto beans you have chosen are a choice for life and biodiversity and pollution reduction, whereas a bite of hamburger would have been a choice for global warming, pollution, deforestation and ruined soil. That relationship going on between your fork and you is incredibly powerful, and your love of live and value for the ecological miracle of Planet Earth makes your vegan choices compassionate on a truly global scale.
Compassion, Animals and The Vegan Diet
Anyone who has watched a toddler react to the presence of a friendly animal knows that his sense of wonder has a fantastic spontaneous, joyous quality. The little one’s eyes get big, he bounces up and down, gasps, laughs and practically falls over with joy at the experience of this exciting animal encounter. In this demonstration of wonder lies the truth about how we humans authentically feel about our relationship to non-threatening animals.
Children’s nurseries are filled with pictures of animals, books about animals and stuffed animals. Sensitive small children will literally weep out of fondness for their favorite animals. In childhood, in the Western World, most of us get the message early that animals are a big, important deal. But then we come to our own crossroad, somewhere early in life, when we first understand that the chicken on our plate is an actual…chicken. That cute, fluffy little thing in our book of baby animals is now being served to us for dinner. To say the least, this is a confusing dichotomy to confront.
For most children, this realization will come and go and they will continue to eat however their families teach them to. But for children who grow up to be vegans, that confrontation with the facts of what they are doing has a lasting impact that they cannot forget.
Vegans who become so out of compassion for animals have never lost touch with that initial experience of wonder and love that they felt for them. They have never stopped looking at the baby chick, the little curly-tailed piggy, the soft-eyed calf with a feeling of warmth inside. The thought that these lovely fellow creatures would be tormented, tortured and killed becomes intolerable and the vegan refuses to fund this suffering with their money.
Once again, compassion is at the root of this choice. The little human being who understood Wilbur the pig’s desire not to be killed because he loved his life in Charlotte’s Web had those feelings because she loved herself and her own life. And, as an adult, she carries that with her and grants that all other beings love their lives and don’t want them taken away before their time. Value for the self commutes into value for all, and vegans who become so out of compassion for all living things are making choices that have meaningful impacts for so many beings.
Compassion For All
Don’t ever doubt that the choices of just one person make a difference. It is true that our choice to eat vegan will not save the health of every man, save the quality of all soil, water and and air, or save the life of every animal, but our activities within our own sphere count. And when others, in their own spheres, make autonomous compassionate choices, we begin to approach a sum total of real change.
This being said, I think that every discussion of the aspects of veganism should include mention of free will. If you believe, as I do, that life is a spiritual thing, then you will understand that each person is on his own path. My choices are mine – his belong to him. Many people have commented on a phenomenon of phony self-righteousness attached to veganism, and in response to this, I would suggest that vegans who set out to force change upon others are not living a life founded in compassion. Instead, their energy is stemming from anger or fear, perhaps because they are unhappy in their own lives or terribly upset about animal suffering. I can certainly understand that, but unless you are viewing your fellow human beings with compassion and granting that they have the right to choose lives that seem best to them, then you are looking blindly right past the core of veganism.
Vegans have commented honestly about their own problems with this issue here at VeganReader.com. After reading articles here, they have admitted that they feel anger towards people who don’t recognize the wrongness of animal suffering.
If you sense that this anger has convinced you that it’s up to you to convert others to your way of thinking, you are in danger of becoming a dictator. Stop. Turn inward and recognize how valuable, unique and dignified you are because you are carrying the gift of of life with you. Then, look outward again and recognize that gift shining in the minds and hearts of others – animals and people equally. Loving all beings in all forms, at all stages of thought and life…this is the work that is ahead of each of us. If you approach the work from a foundation of compassion, the work will be good.