People come to vegetarianism for a variety of reasons some people are changing their eating habits as they realize the health advantages of a veg diet, some are conscience driven. It may be their concern over animal cruelty, concern for the impact of raising animals for consumption on the environment and the economy. It may be their belief in nonviolence and their care for others who are hungry. Whatever the motivation maybe, it is important to consider vegetarianism as part of our development as sensitive human beings.
If we question the part food plays in our quality of life we must inevitably consider the relationship that exists between ourselves, our environment, the people and creatures we share this world with.
Yoga believes in the interconnectedness of all beings and things:
Scientists today are more and more discovering the wonder of our connection with everything, everyone on the planet and in this universe. From atoms, particles, quarks and strings we are all made of the same stuff. This interconnection is at all levels of existence whether it is energy or being. Broadening our awareness and hence our compassion is recognizing this relationship.
Perfecting this relationship is yoga. Killing or harming others for our well being separates and disconnects us from this feeling of oneness. It is directly contradictory to the practice of ahimsa, non-violence, part of the character building aspect of Yoga.
Ethical objections to eating animals are generally of two kinds, opposition to the act of killing in general, and opposition to certain agricultural practices surrounding the production of meat.
Killing as intentionally causing the death of a living organism is, within the framework of a yoga practitioner, the ultimate act of violence and diametrically opposed to the goal of reduced suffering.
If you have loved an animal then you will be aware that they have a range of emotions and are capable of love. Vegetarianism honors and respects the rights of animals. Curiously the main animals that are eaten are vegetarians themselves.
Impacts of a non veg diet on the environment:
The deeper we look at the environmental and economic cost of feeding and breeding livestock we realize that common sense dictates that a vegetarian diet is much more sustainable for the world and its population. Consider our resources.
Statistics vary from country to country but most definitely the water we use raising animals for our consumption far exceeds the water we use for domestic purposes. It is common sense really, we need to conserve water and one of the most effective methods is to reduce the amount of water used in feed alone for these animals. We know water tables are dropping and wells are drying up, we know rain has increased and decreased in different parts of the world. Substituting a diet based on plants and fruits are a momentous step in water conservation.
Our Soil and the outcome of deforestation and pollution:
The increasing production of livestock is impacting on our forests as we cut them down to provide grazing land which in turn dries the land. Meanwhile insensitive farming of grain as feed exposes topsoil to erosion by both wind and rain. And we know as our forests are destroyed so are many different species and that the forests are vital to our oxygen supply. And in addition, mismanagement of animal waste has resulted in environmental pollution, contaminating our air, changing the ph of our water and contributing to global warming. By decreasing our consumption of animal products we also decrease these effects. Even without studying the statistics it is plain to see the economic and environmental cost is too high.
Health professionals are advising the reduction of animal products in our diet in an attempt to reduce the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension. A vegetarian diet drastically reduces the absorption of fats from food preventing cholesterol build up that leads to obesity, hypertension, heart ailments, strokes and other diseases. Nutritious and an important sources of vitamins and minerals, a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and grains lower in fat and higher in fibre is good for the heart and body.
The three major vegetarian groups are:
Vegans: Those who only consume fruits, grains, vegetables nuts and seeds. They do not take dairy products.
Lacto-vegetarians: Who consume the same as vegans but with the addition of dairy products including milk, cheese, yogurt, butter, ghee and cream.
Ovo–vegetarian: Those who consume fruits, grains, vegetables, nuts, seeds and eggs but no dairy.
A balanced vegetarian diet is extremely important. This takes some research and understanding. Basically calcium is derived from dark greens like kale and spinach. Green leaves contain all the essential amino acids and nuts and grains provide protein. Attention needs to be paid to vitamin B12 and vitamin D to properly balance the body’s needs. Fortunately as our world of food rapidly expands we have in our hands a vast range and variety of vegetarian dishes to experience and enjoy.
The full effect of a meat based diet on our health is still being investigated however there are some facts that indicate we have evolved from a veg diet. Our bodies are not equipped to assimilate the excess acids meat products produce, our teeth are vego orientated, not pointy and our long intestines designed for vegetarianism not like the short intestine of carnivores. Most flesh foods are highly imbalanced nutritionally; excess protein and lack of calcium leads to health problems and uric acid deposits in the muscle fibres of meat are too much for our system to eliminate. This excess in the system is the seed of disease whereas the fibre rich content of a vegetarian diet improves the overall digestion and elimination process, keeping the system cleaner.
Yogic wisdom informs us that food not only affects our bodies but has a distinct effect on our state of mind
Yoga considers food in three categories, Sattvic, Rajasic and Tamasic. Just by attending to our diet we can affect our state of mind in turn our state of mind affects our perception and our actions. Lack of food appropriate for clear and benevolent thinking supports our less elevated qualities whereas a diet high in light, easily digestible foods lifts our spirits.
How we treat others and our environment reflects our state and quality of mind.
Our choice of food is one of the simplest ways we can affect our state of mind yet the choice of a vegetarian diet has more far reaching effects.
If we can reduce the destructive force on the planet and sustain the life on the planet by changing our diet, why not? Every human being deserves to have a roof over their heads and enough food to eat and we are falling short. Part of the solution to this problem is vegetarianism.
Yoga and vegetarianism go hand in hand. The practice of yoga requires mental balance, developed through careful and compassionate conduct. The foundation of Yoga, Yama and Nyama outline ethical and humane behavior. It naturally follows that coming from a humane and contented state the need to inflict harm to fill our bellies is unnecessary. Avoiding harm and supporting life, extending our care to others less fortunate is to see and experience the interconnectedness of all things.
Our choice becomes not just about vegetarianism but to balance the way we eat and live, to choose the correct amount to eat, to support locally grown chemically free foods and directly and indirectly become a solution to ethical living.
If we want to promote a more peaceful society, have a lighter impact on the planet, uplift our lives and those around us the logical step would be to embrace a compassionate vegetarian diet.