When people find out I no longer eat animals or their secretions*, they often ask if I feel better. I usually respond with something like this: "I didn't really feel bad before, because I have a hearty pitta digestive system and no significant health issues — but my soul sure feels a lot better."
The Head-in-Sand Approach (AKA Living in Denial)
This might sound a little trite, but it's accurate. For years, my consumption of animals had steadily and quietly gnawed at me. I'd flirt with vegetarianism, pescatarianism, etc., but after a period of time, I'd always lapse into my old ways. I was so stubbornly fixed in the belief that animal-based foods enriched my life in a way that I just wasn't willing to give up. Cheese of all kinds, gooey pizza, Jeni's ice cream, a cold glass of 2% milk, and brownies were some of my greatest joys. And I was a huge fan of hotdogs, bacon, hamburgers, and "seafood" (a term that now makes me nauseous as it completely invalidates that they were living animals first).
My spurts of vegetarianism were short-lived, or when they lasted a little longer, they were accompanied by plenty of self-pity and feelings of deprivation. (Woe is me, right? I know, now I am playing a tiny violin for past me.) And even when I was able to give up meat for a while, the idea of giving up dairy was never a thought in my mind. If you had told me a year ago that I would soon be living joyfully without dairy, I would have probably laughed at you and joked about how awful dairy substitutes taste (psst, they don't — you just have to find the good ones).
On top of all that, as I discuss on my About page, I am over a decade into my own eating disorder recovery, and work with therapy clients in recovery from eating disorders. I know first-hand that vegetarianism/veganism is sometimes a thinly veiled excuse to restrict (or a slippery slope into disordered eating if a person is truly not healthy enough to discern and be honest about their motivation), which gave me one more reason to justify my continued consumption of animals.
Waking Up with Metta
Then one day about five months ago, I sat down to do a loving-kindness meditation practice on the Insight Timer app. I wish I could remember which exact recording I did that day, though it's not hugely relevant since most loving-kindness meditations are pretty similar. Toward the end of the practice when the instructor guides you to visualize sending compassion to ALL beings, I'm not sure why, but I thought about all the animals. I thought about all the cows I see often on the cattle ranch next to my office. I thought about the adolescent pig I had seen a few months back, running through a field joyfully. I thought about how that pig didn't deserve to be the bacon on my breakfast sandwich.
The next day, I went to the used bookstore and bought a handful of vegetarian cookbooks, and the book Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. Shortly thereafter, I found the Our Hen House podcast and started binge-listening. I started watching documentaries with my husband (the ones I have listed on my Resources page). Though I had vaguely known before that factory farming was pretty awful, I conveniently ignored that when ordering at restaurants, or would try to buy more "humane meat" (oxymoron much?) when that was an option.**
I immediately stopped eating animals, and it was only a matter of a week or two before I stopped eating dairy and eggs, too.*** I haven't looked back, and because of all the information I am now armed with, and a great group of vegan/animal activist friends, my life actually feels richer rather than feeling deprived as I did in the past when I preferred to keep my head in the sand about the facts.
I hope this story can serve as evidence that meditation can be truly life-changing, and that sometimes, seeds planted along the way will come to fruition when we least expect it.
Do a metta/loving-kindness guided meditation practice today and see how opening your heart to give and receive love may help you better serve and connect. You can find a 5-minute version, 60-minute version, and anything in between!
- Description of loving-kindness meditation
- Insight Timer meditation app (iPhone, Android)
- 15-minute metta meditation by dadidji (YouTube)
- 40-minute loving-kindness meditation by Michael Sealy (YouTube; bonus - nice accent) :)
*I picked up the phrase "animals and their secretions" from goddess of compassion & vegan culinary genius Colleen Patrick-Goudreau. I like it a lot, because "animal products" subtly normalizes the concept of animals as products/objects rather than individuals, though I admit sometimes I may use "animal products" to be succinct.
**I do want to add here that, much like Safran Foer eloquently describes in his book, I believe that eating animals who are treated as humanely as possible (during both life and death) is obviously preferable to our insane factory farming system, both ethically and environmentally. Still, my personal belief is that eating animals is not humane regardless of how "well" it is done. Also, both this book and some of the documentaries out there clearly state that this is still not a viable solution for most people unless everyone were to drastically limit meat consumption — in addition to higher cost, the use of land, water, and other resources is still much less efficient than just using land to grow food crops.
***My husband and I have a small flock of chickens, and those are the only eggs we eat. We care for them, keep them safe, let them explore, love on them, and will continue to do so until they pass away. Though some "vegan police" may disagree, we feel comfortable with it, but we don't eat other "family farm" eggs because we cannot see/know directly how the chickens are treated.