Are you a vegetarian? Why or why not?
Towards the beginning of the summer I had decided that I would at least try to be a vegetarian for a week. My thinking was that if I could live a healthy life without eating meat or other animals, then why not? There’s no need to live off of other living things if I don’t have to, right? As the summer progressed though, I found myself seeing things through a different perspective and ended up completely changing my mind on the matter.
When I told my mother that I was going to try out being a vegetarian for a week this summer, she told me I might as well pack up my things, shave my head, and go join a monastery. She was joking of course, for the most part. The implications of that small comment, however, was what got me thinking more carefully about my decision and, more importantly, its significance and context in my own life.
I understand that it is a personal choice and the debate could go on forever on what is right and wrong as the issue seems to be equally grounded in objective and subjective points. I came to realize that this kind of decision is one that a person needs to come to understand on their own terms; reconciling what is important to them through their own values and beliefs.
For me, it came down to a matter of practicality and personal values, both rooted in religion and a sense of my own humanity and beliefs. I do not support the method and economy of factory-raised animals with their poor conditions and inhumane treatment of other living creatures. That point alone has discouraged me from buying specific meat-products already. The conditions of animals raised to be our food should be better regulated and set to a higher standard than what is currently accepted — but that is an entirely different issue.
As I thought about the issue more, the easier it became for me to make my decision. What I believe is more important than the actual eating of meat is the understanding, knowledge, and appreciation of it. It is not so much the action of eating meat that becomes the issue then, but being aware of that action, that you are eating another once-living creature. Instead of becoming a vegetarian and abstaining from all meat products, for me, I believe that I would personally benefit more if I simply appreciate the meat that I am eating rather than not eating it at all. It is the awareness of eating meat and the gratitude you acknowledge for the foods that you eat that is more important to me.
I am, of course, not trying to rationalize my decision to continue eating meat, nor am I trying to diminish the message behind vegetarianism. In fact, I think that their lifestyle choice in not eating meat is, perhaps, ideal and that, in a perfect world, we wouldn’t have to kill to live. But, of course, we do not live in an ideal world.
The thing that struck me most about my mother’s comment on Buddhist monasticism and being a vegetarian is the clear line it draws between culture, religion, and society. Despite being Buddhist, no one in my family is a vegetarian; at most, we give up meat products once or twice a year in observance of certain Buddhist holidays. The other 362-odd days of the year, we are relentless meat eaters.
While it may seem hypocritical for a Buddhist family to eat meat while one of the main tenets of the religion preaches non-violence and love for all forms of life, it actually is not at all. More importantly than not eating meat, I feel, is the appreciation of all forms of life, just as the Buddha preached, and you can certainly do this while still eating meat. This is warranted by the clear distinction between the societal and cultural expectations for Buddhist monks and the laity.
At the core of this issue, I feel, is the message of living a simpler life which comes from understanding ourselves and the implications of our decisions. For me, I will continue to eat meat but I will certainly also be more aware that I am eating meat and appreciate the life that sustains mine. I make one compromise though and will say that I will certainly eat less meat, working more soy products and other sources of protein into my diet when I can.
It all dwindles down to awareness. Awareness of my eating meat, of the origins and life of the meat I am eating, and the awareness that I don’t have to be eating meat. I choose to eat meat, and so I must back up that decision with the respect and gratitude it deserves.