I: Practice Makes...More Practice
If you are alive, you killed something today.
One of the things that veg*ns hear constantly is the worn-out old argument about the "suffering" of plants; one of the things that veg*n Pagans hear ad nauseum is that everything dies and death is just a natural part of the Circle of Life, Simba, so we might as well take all that bacon with us to the grave. Some even accuse us of being afraid of death or in denial of the dark side of life. We kill microorganisms by the million just breathing, we hit bugs with our windshields, and insects and rodents die every day in the course of vegetable farming--even organic farming.
So obviously if you can't be 100% vegan--and you absolutely can't in this world--you shouldn't even try, right?
To me the question is not one of death. Vegetables die for me at every meal. Granted, about thirty pounds of plants are required to raise one pound of beef, so if you're worried about vegetable suffering I'd still say veg is the way to minimize that, but still, being alive and taking up space means that something else can't. Law of physics, you know. Every morsel I eat is one that another being couldn't. Just like me getting a job means someone else didn't. Does that mean I should be unemployed?
Literalism is often used to justify unacceptable behavior. Look at fundamentalist Christians and homosexuality, or Islamic extremists and...everybody. Taken literally, the mere concept of veganism, Ahimsa, or even the Wiccan Rede is utterly ridiculous, impossible, and just plain silly.
Great! Let's all give up and pull the wings off flies!
That's why I view Ahimsa as a practice as well as a virtue. Notice that a lot of worthwhile aims--yoga, Wicca, medicine, tantric sex--are all referrred to as "practices," not "perfects." Just because you can't go all the way doesn't mean you shouldn't try. Don't think you can stop eating meat? Eat one less flesh meal a week. This doesn't just apply to what you eat, either. Just because you can't stop worldwide poverty doesn't mean you can't help one person. It may not seem like much but I guarantee to that one person it was everything.
It may be just a burger to you, but to someone, it was life.
Whether or not it's justifiable to kill and eat animals for food is, to me, unimportant. We could argue about that all day and get nowhere, just like with any fundamental belief. But the fact is that our appetites have created a system that causes immeasurable suffering to living things, all kept carefully out of sight, torture and murder performed for us by hit men who have next to no worker's rights and are barely paid a living wage, only to come home and transfer the violence of their employment to their families. This isn't some kind of out of proportion veggie propaganda. Find any video of a slaughterhouse killing floor or read interviews with workers and you'll see what really goes on behind those faraway walls. If it were only death meted out by the industry, the numbers would still be outrageous, but the abuses and horrors perpetrated against defenseless animals are inexcusable. There's simply no reason for it.
All of this to satisfy our taste--not our needs. Whatever you think about eating flesh, the fact is, nobody needs a Big Mac.
The irony is that this cruelty is also slowly killing us. Broccoli isn't the culprit in the rising cost of healthcare and the swelling cancer statistics. Nobody has a heart attack from eating rice every day. I would take perverse amusement at this, but really it saddens me that people are able to live with blinders on, when the human race is capable of so much more.
I am working to remove myself from the system of innocent blood spilt over willful amnesia. I am not perfect and never will be. I can't guarantee I won't go on a cheese bender one day any more than I can guarantee I won't accidentally hit a butterfly with my car. I have no idea what life has in store for me, but I can make the solemn and earnest declaration that I am committed to the practice of nonviolence and will do the best I can to minimize the suffering of other beings especially in the name of my desires.
(Sounds awfully Buddhist of me, doesn't it? I think Paganism needs a version of the Boddhisattva Vows--of course, that would require a much more organized view of the universe than most Pagans have.)
Next post I'll talk about what it means to commit to nonviolence toward the self.