From Pagan Prompt:
Do pagans have a responsibility to honor all life and thus be vegetarians?
Oh, mercy. I tend to avoid questions like this like the plague. Few things make people as angry and defensive as questioning their meat-eating, and since I don't like to be bitched at and belittled, I don't talk about that sort of thing as much as I probably should. I am a passive activist, you could say. To quote a bumper sticker, "Regime change begins at home." I do enjoy writing about the subject, but you'll notice I still haven't started that secondary blog I mentioned months ago.
The thing is, people who get angry on either side of the issue certainly aren't going to win anyone over, and a depressing percentage of the vegans I've met have been self-righteous, bitter, pedantic jerks. You could also say the same about any marginalized group. Being passionate about one's values can very easily slide into rage and bitterness when one sees that so few others feel the same way about something that you think is not only important, but glaringly self-evident. The world is fucked up, and no two groups agree exactly on how it should be unfucked, and worst of all, it's very easy to give up in the face of one person's seeming inability to contribute to the unfucking of a fuck so vast and pervasive.
Do I think the world would be a better place if we stopped torturing and killing animals for food and pleasure? Yes. But that's not a decision I can make for anyone else. I can only live according to the values I hold dear and hope that one day my example inspires someone else to take a hard look at her own habits, and maybe even change them. Nevertheless, the entire world's transgressions against the sacred are not something I can control, and in the end, I am only responsible for myself. A movement is only as viable as the individuals within it.
So if you ask me, "Do pagans have a responsibility to honor all life and thus be vegetarians?" I'll say, "No. I do." Not because I think that's the only way to be Wiccan, or to honor the Earth, or that any other way of living is inferior--because it's what I believe, and I want to live a life of integrity.
Other people can ignore the cognitive dissonance between environmentalism and the destruction caused by factory farming; other people can draw a divide between the lives and suffering of animals and the lives and suffering of humans; other people can believe that praying over a corpse excuses its torture and death. I can't do those things. So I choose to live another way as much as I can. But it's my choice. You have to make your own.
Now, having said that, I will admit quite freely that my commitment to veganism has not been 100%, or constant. In the last few months I've tumbled clumsily off the wagon (and into a vat of ice cream). I'm not proud of it, but neither am I giving myself grief about it--we all have our seasons of darkness. As everyone knows, this has been a very long and difficult one for me. Therefore, I'm hardly in a position to judge what other people do or don't do. The best I can do is keep trying, and as my mental health has improved, so has my ability to make decisions in keeping with my values.
For me personally, eating animal products ties in with a self-destructive part of myself that I am working to exorcise. Aside from the ethical issues, when I eat vegan my physical health improves, and when I am in a depressive tailspin I sabotage my health at every opportunity. Not only does it hurt my body, it poisons my mind: "Oh, I can't do anything right, I'm such a screwup, I can't even stay vegan, not only am I messing up my own life, I'm hurting animals too. I should just swallow this bottle of Ambien and call shenanigans on this entire wasted incarnation." Also, if I am habitually eating cheese, it's evidence that my spiritual practice has atrophied, because ahimsa, noninjury, is such an important part of that practice. Ahimsa applies both to others and to myself, and if all things are connected, one cannot be separated from the other.
My newest tattoo is part of my effort to reclaim what matters in my life. It's also a commitment to my life in itself: if I claim to adhere to the principle of noninjury, whether according to the Wiccan Rede or to a Sanskrit concept, that principle must include myself, and therefore I have the sacred responsibility to treat myself with the same compassion and love as I would a cow, a pig, or a human. Love and hatred have this much in common: neither can be contained. If one affects part of your life, eventually it will affect everything.
That means, I live. I stay. I keep getting up, and I keep fighting for myself and my beliefs. I refuse to give up on myself or the world.
What I would say to the average Pagan, then, isn't "You shouldn't eat cows/cheese/jam sandwiches/anteaters/whatever," but, "Are you living in a way that supports your deepest and most cherished beliefs?" What you do every day contributes more than what you do once in a while. The least-considered part of your life informs the whole.
Are your actions and values in line? Most Westerners would have to answer that one in the negative. If so, what can you do to bring all parts of your life into consonance? What are you doing, as an individual with your individual gifts and individual challenges, to affirm and deepen your commitment to the sacred?
I have chosen to keep living because I know I can do better than I have...because deep down I believe I can make something beautiful out of what I've been given...because I know I can make a difference...because I want my legacy to be more than "she was a mammal."
I choose to stay, learn, grow, become whatever it is I will become, and hopefully leave this place a little better than I found it.
But that's just me. What are you staying for?
(Post title taken from the title of Margaret Cho's latest book.)