Featured Articles

Daily Connection: Eating Animals - What Would Lisa Simpson Do?

I'm reading Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. It's a pretty compelling and personal look from a highly successful young novelist at the ethical choices he makes with regards to non-human sentient beings. Lisa Simpson, by the way, is perhaps the most famous Buddhist vegetarian in the world (even more so than Thich Nhat Hanh, sorry Thay).



I used to be a vegetarian. As a friend put it when I told him I started eating fish again, "fish is a gateway meat." I thought that was hilarious. I am contemplating swinging the pendulum back toward the vegetable kingdom in my personal diet. Perhaps not all the way, but as much as it can go.

IDPer Sam Hillmer shared his recipe for working with the ethics of meat-eating. "I keep a vegetarian household, but occasionally eat fish when I'm out, and don't reject what I'm offered by others." I thought this was a good middle path, but it could be a slippery slope to ecological disaster and moral degradation. Who am I to say? Check out the below hardcore quote from a 19th century Tibetan master. Tibetan Buddhism is often considered the most meat-friendly of all traditional Buddhist schools of practice. Yet even the Dalai Lama and other bigwigs of Tibetan Buddhism, including His Holiness the Karmapa, are getting more adamant about this these days. Let me know what you think.

Daily Quote:

"When we have acquired an awareness of the fact that all beings have been our mothers, and when this awareness is constant, the result will be that when we see meat, we will be conscious of the fact that it is the flesh of our own mothers. And, far from putting it in our mouths and eating it, we will be unable to even take it into our hands or smell its odor."
- Shabkar Tsogdruk Rangdrol
Food of Bodhisattvas: Buddhist Teachings on Abstaining from Meat

Vote for this article to appear in the Recommended list.


The problem is specieism...

I have never heard that word before, but i like it. And I couldn't agree more. and i also couldn't agree more that if forced to kill either lettuce or a cat or pig on the streets of New York, i'd take the lettuce down. Definitely. But that is exactly BECAUSE of specieism. We don't want to eat animals because they feel close to us as species - they have mothers, & faces, & babies... like us. We anthropomorphize them, and we don't want to hurt them because their pain is like ours, and we imagine that WE wouldn't want to be someone's dinner. We don't want to feel pain. We don't want to die. We are at the top of the food chain, and rarely become dinner ourselves, and it is compassionate to look around and want to share that blessing.

But I do profoundly feel that everything has the same sentience. I know it sounds strange, perhaps... but it comes only from years of watching everything grow at the farm. Even if anthropomorphized sentience were the standard, plants have a remarkably human-like response to stress, freedom, abuse, healthy neglect, overfussing, love. i learned so much about raising my children by watching what happens in the garden.

But if you leave behind the need to see everything from a human standpoint, everything does share the same essential sentience. And what i saw with deepening awe over the years at the farm is that any idea of separateness is an illusion. To say plants, animals, insects is illusion. There is an isness that just flows through all of it equally. It's completely and totally connected. Even the soil is alive, the clouds are alive, both teeming with microorganisms. (scientists have just discovered that certain bacteria evolved to "jump" into the air from the ocean and that they are actually the mechanism by which clouds form, seeding clouds and creating rain in order to return to earth.radical.)

I love this quote from Peter Matthieson:
"The sun is round. I ring with life, and the mountains ring, and when i can hear it, there is a ringing that we share."

Fine. But then do we eat animals or not? If you choose not to, that is awesome, given the disaster that most animal farming out there is. But you are not safe with vegetables and grains either. The horror show that surrounds their life cycle is a similar crime against this beautiful earth. You might avoid eating animals because you do not want to imagine the eyes of a creature so like yourself dying. But in the end, that is specieism, and ultimately wanting to spare creatures like us from pain. But to the big earth and bigger universe, we are all food, and our pain and our deaths are incidental to our burning, tiny, illusory lives, our moment of imagined consciousness. God does not love people more than any other part of Life.

Just, please, everyone find out where your food comes from. Buy from the farmers. Know the impact of your decisions. Try to know the footprint of everything you consume. And if your heart tells you to avoid eating animals, and your body is ok with it, it is a lighter, kinder way to live on this earth, and i'm all for it, regardless of whether it has any roots in Buddhism or not.

love the conversation here

I read Eating Animals when it came out and I distinctly remember emailing my wife from the plane saying in a panic, "oh my god, we have to stop eating meat." After some discussion we decided not to do that, but that to strive to only eat meat treated humanely and raised locally when possible. This isn't always easy at restaurants, and I generally avoid meat at restaurants, but in all honesty I do make exceptions when I feel like it. And truthfully, this really isn't a solution--that a guy with money in his pocket in New York can go to the farmer's market and get a grass-fed steak while millions of people in NYC get their shrink wrapped chuck roast in key food. I don't really know what to say except it feels like a very privileged approach. "I can meat because I can afford the good stuff. Oh, you can't? Well, that's fine, you can just eat these lentils." Seems pretty unfair.

I will share this quote from Brad Warner's new book:

"Bunnies are made to be eaten."

Eating animals is the wrong book

Yes, one can argue that all life is sentient, including plants and therefore you might as well eat meat and consume milk.

However, that doesn't make much sense. We know that sentient animals are equipped with central nervous systems and senses that are similar (and in some cases more heightened) than those possessed by humans. No one can possibly claim the same about plants. Try cutting a head of lettuce in the streets of new york city one day and the next day, try cutting off the head of a pig or a cat in public. See the difference in reaction of the people around you.

Of course there is death behind our life. No one is denying that, but you can't possible equate making a conscious choice to consume an animal that was raised for us to use with the incidental death caused by living on this planet.

Unfortunately, the book "Eating Animals" provides the message that factory farming is the problem and that the solution is humane treatment, "organic" or "happy" meat. That's just not practical from an economical standpoint. Factory farms originated because of the demand for more (and cheaper) animal products. If you don't reduce the demand, you will always need to increase industrialized production of meat and dairy to feed billions of hungry meat eaters.

The problem is speciesism. The problem is that much like speciesism, all social evils emanate from highlighting our differences and not our similarities. The problem is demand. The problem is also the animal welfare moment that promotes the idea that treatment, and not use is the issue.

Choosing a lifestyle free of animal products is the only solution and the only truly compassionate choice one can make on this issue.

it's all life and death

I've gone back and forth on this. though I appreciated people's reason's for being vegetarian, I was a meat-eater until I worked on an exhibit for the Smithsonian called Science in American Life, researching farming methods. When I really understood how the animals (and plants) we eat were raised, I immediately stopped eating meat, and I also started to buy only organic, if i could, despite the cost and my small salary. Most farming in this country is beyond disgusting, and I'm glad that info is out there now with Food, Inc. etc.

I stayed vegetarian through my first pregnancy, but when I was pregnant with child #2, my body just suddenly insisted on having meat. I was one of those ppl who hated the sight of all meat, and suddenly I had to have it. I felt like it was my child asking, so I followed what I felt I had to do. Only organic, and very rarely, but I do have meat now.

Also, I have owned a farm for 17 years, and it taught me a lot. i don't raise animals for meat or milk, but what I have learned is that, as someone else said here, all life is death. and all life is sentient. I am always a little sick to rototill the garden in the spring, and to weed my garden. You have to kill to plant. I would have laughed to hear myself say that, but if you live close to the land, you start to see there is no difference between the plants and the insects and the animals... we flow into each other, one life dies and becomes another. We make choices. And no matter what we think we choose, there is death behind our life, and that is actually ok. It is the way it is. I am always most horrified and impressed watching the insect world on my farm. it's madness, what those creatures do to each other to eek out a living. they aren't immoral. Life just flows, dizzyingly, through death and life. Choose not to harm as much as you can. But know that all of this world is sentient, not just the animals.

and what happened when we

and what happened when we stopped hunting and gethering, at the start of the agricultural revolution?
we go fatter, got cavities in our teeth, we got less fit, we lived shorter and there is also the introduction to all the diseases of modern society: diabetes, cancer, auto-immune diseases, heart and coronary diseases. Remember, these things didn't exist before we started eating grains.
Granted, stress also has it's influences.
The way we have evolved since the stone age certainly isn't ideal, far from it. There's more obesity, disease, suffering and depression than ever. Our world is overcrowded, we mistreat animals and nature. The planet is thoroughly out of balance. And I don't see us recovering, although eating mindfully (whether that's paleo or grain-free vegan/vegatarian) can help delay the inevitable.

there have been a lot of so called 'benefits' and 'technological advancements' but have they really been good for the welfare of us humans?

eating flesh

there are lots of reasons why I'm a vegetarian. but all of the things I "knew" that led me to believe it was the right way to live didn't get me to give up meat. what it comes down to is that it became clearer and clearer to me that meat is flesh, and I became increasingly uncomfortable with it as my buddhist practice deepened. I don't care to argue this one on the merits because there are good arguments to be made either way. what I know is that for me, I couldn't eat the flesh of other beings and feel good about it.

meat eatin'

agree with anonymous above - as much as possible being observant and mindful of the journey the animal went on to get to your plate is the way to go. People have always naturally gravitated towards a diet based on nuts, vegetables, fruits, and meat when available (which was pretty often, usually). Processed products like tofu, bread, cooked grains, meat substitues, etc are very new to the human diet. It's easy to get caught up in meat vs not-meat, but maybe the right answer is finding the compassionate line to walk for yourself and the things you consume and the world they live in.

98% of soy production ...

goes to feed livestock, not to provide vegetarians with cheap soymilk.

I'm just sayin'

I think we don't have to look

I think we don't have to look at the product we are eating per se, but more on the journey it has taken to arrive at our plates and ultimately in our mouths.
The 'diet' I have been following for close to a year now, and with great success, is the Paleo Diet / Caveman Diet.
Meat and fish are really prominent in this way of eating, but it takes into account what kind of meat/fish we eat. Instead of your usual cheap supermarket meat, go for some biological grassfed steak, where you know that the cow has been treated humanely and wasn't stuck inside a little box and fed with antibiotics his whole life.

In this view, eating a quality piece of meat can actually be more beneficial to the environment then say cheap soymilk (which is made by cutting down rainforest and affecting natural habitats of animals).

I'm not against vegetarism of veganism, but when your replacing meat/fish with other products that have an adverse effect on the world we're living in you're basically no better then the people you're trying to distance yourself from.

And from a purely evolutionary view, we've always been eating meat/fish. In fact, it is the reason we got to develop such a large brain capacity.
I actually think Buddhism has got it sort of wrong on this subject. Look at the indigenous Americans (Indians), they see the interdependence between humans and the world, the animals, the plants, the sun, etc. And they eat meat, because it's the natural thing to do. But they do it with respect for the animal.


In response to the evolution argument of humans eating meat; there is strong evidence to suggest that foraging on thousands of different seasonal vegetation, remembering which plants were poisonous or most nutritious generation after generation that led to the increase in brain size. When hunting did occur it was a group activity, male and female, focusing more on the social interaction aspect rather than the protien for encephalisation aspect that lead to the increase of human 'IQ'. There is a great book about the history of vegetarianism, "The Heretic's Feast" by Colin Spencer for a more in depth and better articulated argument for being vegetarian

The moral question

For a moment, let's put aside all the environmental and health benefits of avoiding animal products. The real issue here should be where it is morally justifiable for humans to consume non-human sentient beings. It's easy to buy into labels like "humane", "cage-free" "grass fed" and "organic" as if they are panaceas. However, if you peel back the meaningless labels you have been sold, you will see that they just make us feel better and not the animals.

Ask yourselves -- is it justifiable to inflict unnecessary suffering and death on non-human sentient beings for reasons of pleasure, amusement or convenience? I can guarantee that 99% people who are asked this question (whether Buddhist or not) will respond "No". Yet, 99% of the suffering and death that we inflict on animals can be justified only by our pleasure, amusement, or convenience.
We don't need to consume animal products -- large populations all over the world have lived long healthy lives on vegan or vegetarian diets. Even the USDA says that well-planned plant based diets can meet all the recommendations for nutrients.

So admit it -- we eat animals because they taste good and that's what enables us to come up with justifications for doing so. Further, it also enables us to draw arbitrary distinctions between us and other sentient beings and between species. Eat tuna, but save dolphins and milk cows but cuddle with your cats and dogs.

What exactly is "humane" about slavery, exploitation and murder? That's like saying it is better not to torture someone before killing them or that human slavery would be OK if slave owners hugged their slaves every day. Yes, someone can argue it is "better", but the bottom line is exploitation, slavery and murders are all wrong. All Sentient beings (whether human or non-human) have an interest in their lives, whether they are fed grass or corn; grazing in the meadows or stuck in a little box.

You have a choice -- if you care about compassion and love, you can either continue to consume animal products and accept that you can't think clearly or you can develop some moral clarity on this issue by not eating animals.

I respect your opinion, but

I respect your opinion, but nevertheless I disagree with it.
I really don't think you are reacting to what I'm trying to say here but more so you're just giving a standard reaction because you're dealing with someone who eats meat.
Exploitation, slavery, murder? The old meat is murder argument? Really?

I will quote Mark Sisson on this:

''Life is death. Life springs from death, everywhere and always. You cannot live without something dying to make it all possible. Grain heavy vegan diets require the destruction of ecosystems and all their inhabitants; meat heavy Primal diets require the slaughter of a pig or a cow. If you’re going to exist in this world, you have to accept the fact that things will die. Oh, and things won’t just die; they’ll die to ensure your survival. You, me, all of us have blood on our hands. Your pets have blood on their paws. Those pigs rooting around in the dirt have blood on their hooves. When you have a knee-jerk reaction to the reality of death and try to escape it, either by eating a vegan diet or hurling insults at meat-eaters, you risk throwing off the delicate balance of life on this planet. When you remove death from the equation, life simply doesn’t work. ''

Furthermore the analogy makes no sense at all. We eat animals because we are supposed to, not just because they taste good.
A lion also eats meat. Why? Because it's part of it's natural diet. The same way a cow eats grass, and humans eat everything that's available in their natural environment (which ISN'T grains). This is the way the universe works.
I think this 'moral clarity' is actually an inability to accept the way nature works. Is a bear lacking moral clarity for eating a salmon? It's supposed to do that, you know.

I will leave it at this, no one party is able to persuade the other into thinking differently. I'm firmly rooted in my convictions, and so are you.
Have a nice day!

Think about it

I respect your opinion too.

I know it may not change your mind, but I think a few things need to be clear for whoever reads this.

I used words like exploitation, slavery and murder, because I don't see any other way to describe the activity of breeding sentient beings into existence for us to use them and ultimately kill them for our pleasure or convenience. I am just telling it like it is. You call it "natural" and I call it a moral choice to take a life or exploit an animal.

Thank you for sharing the Mark Sisson quote - based on that line of thinking, all killing is justified because - "Hey, life springs from death!" The point of veganism isn't to escape it all, but to make conscious choices, where practical (something we all do as moral beings anyway). Further, I think the quote “Grain heavy vegan diets require the destruction of ecosystems and all their inhabitants” actually helps my argument. You mean, he's comparing that to the destruction caused by meat heavy diets? Livestock farming is one of the key factors leading to deforestation in several parts of the world and posing a significant threat of the Earth’s biodiversity. Raising animals for food (including land used for grazing and land used to grow feed crops) now uses a staggering 30% of the Earth’s land mass. Further, of all the agricultural land in the U.S., 80% is used to raise animals for food and grow grain to feed them. If we had more vegans, we wouldn’t need to grow so much grain to feed the animals we consume. We could then focus on improving farming methods to minimize the remaining habitat loss that is being caused. Think about it. If you want stats, you can check this site which has some useful information - http://onegreenplanet.org/post/1211447707/facts-on-animal-farming-and-th...

There is no evidence to prove we are supposed to eat animals. What is this statement based on? The fact that we can digest meat and get nutrition from it? Try surviving on animal products only (like a lion) and see what happens to your health. Further, using this reasoning, we are probably supposed to eat cats, dogs and fellow human beings also, right? Do you see a lot of people doing that? NO - In fact Americans cringe at the thought of people in certain Asian countries eating dogs and dolphins. This is because we make moral choices and the choice to eat one species vs. another is not based on any human physiological trait. It's just moral schizophrenia in action.

You compare human beings to bears when it comes to morality? Are you saying bears can make moral choices when it comes to their food? Really?

Lastly, you didn’t bring this up, but I think it bears mentioning -- there is no moral difference between consuming milk and meat. Both involve the same (if not more suffering) for the animals involved and the animals all ultimately end up slaughtered.

Take care


that's kind of funny. you don't think one party is able to persuade the other, but you still get your say in! :)

i'm always struck by the defensive/offensive play that gets bandied about in these types of discussions (if you can call them that). it usually devolves into one side preaching to the other. i think the book is useful if only for the demystification of factory-farming and how some of the labels are meaningless. everyone is free to make their own decisions -- the products certainly aren't going anywhere anytime soon, but not turning a blind eye means we no longer make those decisions in ignorance of what is really going on.

you've obviously bought into the caveman diet as being "natural" but it's really just as culturally contrived as anything else, and may not even be historically/scientifically accurate, especially insofar as being grain-free:



The main reason we are the way we evolved is because we stopped from hunter gather to an agrarian society! Yes, by living we create suffering inherently but, for me personally being vegan, I do not presume I'm going to stop killing all together or that my hands are totally free from it. I just feel this is the most compassionate way to life my life.

Site developed by the IDP and Genalo Designs.