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Ethical Eating - The Path to Starvation

Updated: Feb 18

From Alden Wicker:

They said that fast food executives were turning fat profits by making us fat, so I stopped eating fast food.

They said that killing animals was wrong, so I became a vegetarian.

They said that fertilizer run-off from industrial farming is killing the Gulf of Mexico, the pesticides are killing honeybees, so I started only eating organic.

They said that shipped food is too carbon intensive and not as fresh, so I started eating only local, in-season food.

They said that it was wrong to punish a cow by milking it twice a day, or to steal a chicken’s eggs, so I became a vegan.

They said that the Paleo Diet would restore my body and make my teeth healthy, so I stopped eating anything cultivated.

They said that cooking food destroys its nutrients, so I starting eating only raw food.

They said that following a macrobiotic regimen would prevent cancer, so I followed it.

They said that I should follow a zero-waste diet, so I stopped buying anything with packaging.

And when I showed up at the farmers market in December with my reusable bag looking for local, certified-organic, vegan, unprocessed, uncooked, uncultivated, whole foods, without packaging, that would fit into my macrobiotic diet, I realized that the best thing for the planet, the animals, and my health would be to just stop eating altogether.

Where do we stop striving and keep nourishing ourselves? Truly---where?

What's next: Anorexiansm?

Anorexia and Yoga on the Runway

From Tias Little: Yoga, like anorexia, is driven by an impulse to gain control over physical (and mental) limits. The sadness that spawns from the passing of Isabelle Caro, a French model who died of anorexia December 2010, weighs heavy on those of us who teach and coach body awareness. The starkness of her posing naked for the Italian photographer and billboard graphic is unforgettable.

Isabelle Caro in the "No Anorexia" campaign, by Oliviero Toscani

Toward the end of her short 28 years, she decided to expose the under-belly of the modeling world, the objectification of women, and the cultural fixation on the body-lite. Upon reflection, I feel that the visual pre-occupation we have around the body overwhelms the kinesthetic feel of just being in the body. For instance, in the culture of yoga today, the outer glossing of the pose is all too visible—on the cover of Yoga Journal, the back of the Special K cereal box, or on television adverts marketing everything from mattresses to mood altering over-the-counter pharmaceuticals. Yoga, like fashion, gets reduced to simplistic posing, and the outer form stands significant. That is the warp.

Then there is the infatuation with the weightless body. This is not confined to the runways. The act of being light and the steps necessary to get light are part and parcel of yoga practice and have been for centuries. The impulse to be thin is rampant throughout yoga studios in West Palm Beach, Santa Monica and Scottsdale, Arizona.

Fasting, holding your breath, balancing on your arms, and doing Kapalabhati (a breathing technique where the abdomen is pumped while exhaling forcefully) all suggest attempts to defy gravity. Levitation, being completely weightless, is the quintessential yogic device to demonstrate accomplishment (siddhi) in classical Indian lore. Stories of the levitating yogi abounded in the mid 20th century, as described in the popular Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda. The third chapter of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras suggests that the yogi who has gained mastery can float “as light as a tuft of cotton.” Today, yoga on sweat-drenched sticky mats, juicing fasts, raw food diets and power yoga work-outs are intended to drive the body into obedience and to make it weightless. Yoga, like anorexia, is driven by an impulse to gain control over physical (and mental) limits.

So, when Isabella was told that she was ten kilos over-weight by an agent—she was a mere 100 pounds at the time—the impulse to please, the impulse to be successful and good, drove deep into her soul. Her soul turned out to be great in size, as she demonstrated with the fortitude and deep care for others it took to ‘advertise’ her disease, so that other women may not suffer. The objectification of the female body, from both male and female perspectives, whether in yoga or on the runways, can become all-consuming. [Check YouTube for the video interview with Isabelle on Jessica Simpson’s The Price of Beauty.]

Today, the yogini models. The reams of yoga-esque positions evident in the marketplace have women posing for the camera, all bendy in tangerine leotard or yogi lingerie. She may be a model posing at yoga or a yogini posing as model, but either way the boundaries are blurred.

Tara Stiles, the NYC model turned yogi, was featured in a 3-page spread in the NY Times. Her shtick is a familiar one by now: a pure yoga free of inner reflection, spiritual or textual reference or self-inquiry. Her book is aptly titled “Slim Calm Sexy”.

The infatuation with the slimmed-down body leads to a preoccupation with the outer image. The death of petite Isabelle speaks to the profound suffering that can surface when the body is pushed toward the ideal of ‘fit’ and beautiful. Striking a yoga pose lends itself to the snapshot flash. Yet when image drives yoga, it is a strange fit. When the outer look dominates a yogi’s practice, the feeling within the interior gets overlooked and can drive her to fits of obsession. Denying and defying the flesh is tied into acts of self-punishment and abuse. Self-acceptance is critical. And what is necessary is a critical eye for what the industry—yoga or fashion—displays as slim, sexy or perfect. This is what really needs to be defied.

A Meat-Eating Yoga

As an omnivore (or conscious carnivore), I choose a diet that includes animal protein. As a yogi, it’s important for me to be a role model of balance. Early on, I did the vegetarian route because I thought it was what a “yogi” should do. However, it was not the healthiest choice for me. Not everyone should be a vegetarian. In fact, if you’ve ever read Eat Right For Your Blood Type by Dr. D’Adamo his research suggests that our blood types evolved due in part to the environment we lived in and what type of food sources were available. For example, people with blood type O seem to have migrated from very cold climates (think Alaska) that had little vegetation and more meat food sources; therefore, they tend to do better with more meat and protein in their diet. Those with blood type A do best on a plant-based diet having come from very warm climates that were abundant with fruits and vegetables. Those with blood type B (like me), adapted to their mild climates with its mixture of meat and vegetation and do best on a balanced diet of both. Even Ayurvedic medicine doesn’t “prescribe” vegetarianism for everyone. However, there are certain constitutions that require it to be vital and healthy. Just like yoga, there is no one-size-fits-all. Yoga, food and lifestyle should all be adapted to the individual.

With that being said, I’m not interested in debating veganism, vegetarianism or eating meat. They each have their merits and detriments, and you should do what feels best for you. I don’t live in extremes and I’m certainly not going to tell you to take an all-or-nothing approach to anything in your life. Strict dogma is a drag anyway!

The growing demand for processed meat and cheap, fast foods at many American meals has led us to this though: an extreme imbalance in our bodies, our waistlines, our medical bills, and our environment.

When we moved to CT, we lived on a farm. I was under no illusion about what happens when a favorite cow or chicken or pig went “missing”. Unlike the killing floors of the slaughterhouse, we lived on a family farm where the animals roamed free, were treated far better, and probably for far longer than they would have fared in the wild. When necessary, they were killed quickly, and yes, compassionately with the love only a farmer can have for the livestock they raised and bottle-fed from infants. If you’re not from the country, you can’t imagine how different this environment is from the killing factories.

These are the people I want to support, and the animals I’m honored to take in as part of me to help fuel the life I lead teaching other people principles of inner strength and centering. I believe every effort should be made to stop the wanton, cruel slaughter of animals. On a regular basis, I require meat for my constitution and my sanity. For some people, meat is not a deadening energy, but a grounding one. Some of us do very well with the inclusion of different types of meat, and very poorly on an all-vegetarian or vegan diet. I know, because I never felt worse while a vegetarian. What does the Dalai Lama say about his consumption of meat? He says he would be harming himself not to eat it once in a while. Unfortunately, there is a hardcore vegan community out there and yogi fanaticism over vegetarianism. I was in a very famous yogi’s class who was talking about a raw food diet and reincarnation. His position was that if you ate chicken (or any meat), you were likely to come back as a chicken in your next life as karmic payment for your lack of ahimsa (non-harming). Without it being said, it was clear that the meat eaters are not as enlightened as this particular yogi master. Somewhere along the way, veganism stopped being synonymous with ethical treatment of animals and people. Conscientious consumption means eating and living ethically, not religiously. In another class at a purist Jivamukti studio, the instructor approached a student, paused and sniffed. “I can tell by the smell of your sweat that you’re not a vegetarian” she announced for the whole class to hear. Jivamukti incorporates hard-core vegan and vegetarian education into its teacher training program. Eating ethically should not be a purity pissing contest!

So, withholding information on how to live in consciousness should one choose to eat meat, and simply dismissing them, judging them or comparing them to “Nazis”, as one leader in the vegan movement says in her book, isn’t just unfortunate, it’s just plain irresponsible and un-yogic in my opinion. Yoga in its purest philosophical form (Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras) does not tell us what to eat. It says for each of us to choose the path that creates the least suffering based on what we feel that should be.

The pain an oyster experiences when farmed from the sea may seem indistinguishable from that of a potato when removed from the soil. Unfortunately, the seabed dredging required to harvest oysters, clams and mussels, ruins underwater ecosystems. The primary tenet of veganism is minimizing suffering. If it’s really about eating ethically, soy-based ice cream, frozen, faux-cheese pizza, and meatless buffalo wings don’t cut it. Sure, cows and chickens aren’t directly harmed in the process but what about the farm workers who are exposed to pesticides, herbicides, genetically modified crops, and exploited on a daily basis?

But where do we draw the line for “ethical eating”? Which creatures have consciousness and which do not? A fly, a spider, and all of the billions of insects killed daily to harvest the fruits and vegetables for salads and vegan meals, run away from pain and death. Enough studies have been done to prove that plants have been shown to feel pain when you cut them…or chew them to death in your salad. Just because they can’t talk doesn’t mean they don’t have consciousness or awareness. That leaves us one solution…stop eating. But then you run the risk of killing the bacteria in your gut, you heartless monster!

This is a subject that we don't like to face. That life is cruel. Any action has a reaction and what is good for one is bad for another. When a lion makes a kill it is cruel to the victim but it is healthy for the greater system. Likewise, in our diets, we run into the paradox that at some level we cannot avoid the cruelty. For myself to exist I must accept that something else cannot because there is a finite amount of organic material.

I believe that we are intimately interconnected and should be reverent towards everything that comes from the earth and goes into our bodies. My father-in-law learned to hunt from a Native American. He taught my husband this same respect which has been passed down to our son. They hunt for food, not for sport, and they only take what they need. They pray for a painless death and do their best to make that happen. They work side-by-side from start to finish with a sense of gratitude and asking forgiveness from the animal for taking its life. And when we finally sit down, we too are grateful. I believe that this gratitude and intention plays a key part of eating.

I have a Native American Blessing that I keep near our kitchen table: Thank you for the world so sweet. Thank you for the food we eat. Bless our meat and guide our ways. Great Spirit give us grace to please. Thank you for the birds that sing. Thanks Great Spirit for everything. Thank you O Great Spirit… for food in a world where many walk in hunger; for faith in a world where many walk in fear; for friends in a world where many walk alone, we give you humble thanks.

Just as there is no yoga pose that is perfect for every body, there is no one-size-fits-all way of eating. It’s the intention and quality with which we eat that makes us yogis, not that we always or never eat this or that. In fact, I’ve seen plenty of unhealthy vegetarians…living mainly on white, sugary, processed foods. It’s up to each of us to claim what our body is asking for, and in addition, aim to be as aware of the consequences on others that ripple outward from the way we procure that food.

Our family has a vegetable garden as well as trees and bushes that provide an abundance of apples, pears, grapes and raspberries. We are lucky that we have a local farmer’s market and access to fresh food to subsidize what we cannot grow or raise. We choose good, quality meat (free range or farm raised) and other mindfully produced goodies.

This is not about eating organic as much as it is about not eating the feedlot-produced animals, or the mass-produced vegetables, fruits and grains that can be destructive to our well-being and the health of the earth. If you do buy organic, make sure you look for certification from anyone other than the USDA! I hope this leads you to re-examine the orthodoxy’s most illogical presuppositions, then strike your own balance around this issue. In this way, you will forge a personal path only you can walk towards with more clarity and personal choice…not less.


This story comes from Ana Forrest’s autobiography, Fierce Medicine, and is truly yogic: Josquin, then a fanatical vegetarian, told a hilarious story about being in my home for the first time and finding a turkey leg, stripped surgically clean, in the trash. (He didn’t know I’d given it to Wicca, my parrot, a meticulous bone nibbler and polisher.) He’d shuddered; for him, it was like stumbling across a crime scene. Did he really want to keep company with such a rampant, committed carnivore? “I swallowed hard,” he told all of us who’d gathered in the circle, “and decided to love Ana anyway.”


Food for (After) Thought...

Many vegetarians/vegans follow what their yoga teacher/guru tells them they SHOULD do rather than reflect upon what their true core beliefs are. When asked, many of these people insist that their decision is based on ahimsa (commonly translated to mean non-harming) without really understanding what the word truly means. My friend Baba (an Ayurvedic practitioner) writes, “Ahimsa is a very unique and interesting word used in the [yoga] sutras. Himsa…as we all know is violence and putting the A before is a negation of that violence. Why the use of the word violence? Why not just use love, peace, gently, etc. There are many words that can mean non-violence. Why ahimsa? The word himsa or violence is used for a simple and unique reason. Unfortunately, violence is an innate part of our true nature. The human being is naturally violent. So, ahimsa is telling us to bear this in mind when we practice. Control the violence that we human beings carry within us!!! Ahimsa has little to do with being vegetarian. It is simply a state of mind that we have when we eat, think, love, work, drive, teach, etc. Over a period of time, your body will tell you what to eat and what does not suit you. Til then…eat for health.” So, in the end it is not so much whether you eat meat or not…rather no matter what you eat, you eat with the attitude of love and gratitude.

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