While the South Easter raged around our ears last night, our property was broken into. The pesky skirt-lifter pushed over an old tree, which then broke down a section of the fence around our property and enabled thieves to enter and then crow bar their way though wooden doors and security gates into the restaurant building and help themselves to a fair amount of equipment. Whilst chatting to my friend Andrea this morning (as we do every morning), I realised how relaxed I was about the incident. It’s almost expected now that if you drop your guard (or your security) for even a minute in South Africa, you are likely to be broken into. And we had no one to blame for last night but Mother Nature, right? We have the mandatory electric fence, the security company, the alarm and the cameras, but as luck would have it, they were no match for the howling weather last night. I also simply can’t bring myself to get angry about thievery and stealing in a country where the gap between rich and poor is so wide that you could land seventy eleven and one very big jumbo jets in it. I’m not excusing petty crime; I’m just trying to understand it better. It kinda is what it is and it is by our very own doing that the world and society finds itself in this position.
Last night Andrew and I attended a lecture by World Peace Diet author, Dr Will Tuttle, at the Ubuntu Wellness Centre on Kloof Street. I did not not know much about this book, to be honest; I just recognised Will’s face from Cowspiracy and had watched a couple of his videos on YouTube before. Dr Tuttle was born in 1953 and has been vegan since 1980. He has a masters degree in Humanities and a PhD in Philosophy of Education from Berkeley, is an accomplished musician, as well as a Zen Buddhist Master and man, can the guy string a perfect sentence together! His lecture was lighthearted and serious in all the right places and I left feeling a greater connection to myself and the choices I make every day. It was also wonderful to be in a lecture room surrounded by people who share a similar mindset! There are two points from last night’s lecture (and his brilliant book) that really hit home for me regarding the situation above and the world we currently live in. I’d like to ponder about them here… to both remember and reiterate their importance to me and why I have chosen to be vegan.
Before there was animal agriculture, there was no war or strife.
The ownership of animals bodies and the consumption of them on larger and larger scales is the sole cause for the violence and strife we are experiencing worldwide today. Before humans domesticated wild cows, pigs, sheep, goats and chickens, they were a largely small and peaceful lot. They hunted wild animals and foraged for food and shared that food with each other and their daily life revolved largely around the rearing of children and the collection and eating of plants, nuts and berries. Animals were revered and honoured and one hunt’s kill could feed a community for weeks. The capture and herding of animals led to both the concept of wealth, as well as the reduction of animals from revered beings to mere possessions. Some individuals or groups would have more animals than others and this created strife between the haves and the have-nots. Stock theft was one of the first crimes as people became greedy and, of course, wanted easy access to more and more animals. Breeding and farming livestock meant less time spent foraging for plant foods (as you could quickly and easily get all your needs from the nutrient-concentrated flesh of farm animals) and more time for creating, exploring, and, unfortunately, plundering your neighbours. As the concept of material possessions emerged, so did the act of conquering land (and people) and the separation of classes. We were no longer equals. We no longer shared. The first word for “war” was the ancient Sanskrit word “gavisti” which literally means to “fight for cattle”. Of course, as we have become more and more sophisticated, war is no longer, on the surface, about cattle. But scratch beneath it and pull apart the seams of every major war, and we can see it comes down to the mistreatment of people in the quest for access to land, food, and ultimately, farm animals. We all need to eat – every day, three times a day; in our eyes, a strong nation is one with access to large amounts of food, which unfortunately today, includes the bodies of animals. In ensuring this happens, we’re destroying rainforests and wild habitat for cattle ranching and factory farms and stealing food from the mouths of the starving to feed to farm animals. As the gap widens between rich and poor day by day, we can only expect more strife. The rich are gorging themselves on the flesh and secretions of animals and the poor are starving and stealing just to survive and as long as we keep our eyes shut to the damage animal agriculture is causing ourselves and the environment, so shall it continue.
Before animal agriculture, the sacred feminine energy was revered and not disregarded.
The wealth and possessions accumulated by men through the ownership of farmed animals brought about the objectification of human women and the introduction of a patriarchal society. Women, who had previously been honoured because of their ability to birth and nourish and bring forth new life into the world, became mere possessions. Men were encouraged to adopt the more tough and macho “masculine energy”, which enabled them to de-sensitize themselves in order to breed and kill animals, as well as become more brutal in their dealings with other human beings. The correlation between breeding female animals and breeding human women brought about this reduction of human women to objects, just as animals had been. Marriage was not the result of love – it was about ownership and property. Women were traded between fathers and husbands and their previously esteemed position of mother and protector was diminished to a role of weakness, not strength. We still feel the ramifications of this change in society today as men continue to earn more than their female counterparts, and women are made to feel guilty about choosing between their career and their children. Another interesting thing to think about is our treatment of our mother earth, whose energy is often described as being “feminine”. I don’t think any one of us can deny that the treatment of our earth has been nothing but hateful and war-like, as we continue to destroy her forests, rivers and oceans in our quest to possess more and more. Our rejection of the scared feminine energy, which Dr Tuttle refers to as Sophia, has led to our abandonment of values such as love, kindness, gentleness and compassion in our interactions with other people, animals, the earth, and most importantly, ourselves. If we cannot love ourselves and nourish ourselves every day, three times a day, with food that does not carry within it the the shadows of violence and strife, how can we expect to love ourselves? And if we cannot love ourselves, how do we love others? How do we love people of different races, religion and creed? How do we love non-human animals? How do we love the earth that we’re supposed to be keeping safe for our future generations if we cannot first love ourselves?
It all comes down to love. And as Dr Tuttle affirmed for me last night, another word for “vegan” is simply… LOVE.
I love myself and I treasure my health. I love my fellow beings – both human and animal. I love my earth… I treasure her health. The simplest way to love myself is to take special care of the way I nourish and look after my body and soul. And this is exactly why food and nutrition is so important. This is why we are what we eat. I end with this lovely extract; I couldn’t better explain the importance of what we put into our bodies.
Partaking of food is thus a comprehensive metaphor for healing, spiritual transformation, forgiveness and transcendent love. At a deep level, we all know this. Food preparation is the only art that allows us literally to incorporate what we create, and it is the only art that involves all five senses. It also relies heavily on what is referred to in Buddhist teachings as the sixth sense: mentation, the mental activity that contextualises what we perceive through our senses. We have incredibly intricate and complex layers of thinking and feeling attached to food that are an important part of our experience of eating. Our family and culture contribute enormously to these thoughts and feelings, and these memories and identifications give meaning to our meals.
Eating is thus the most intimate of all activities in which we actually accomplish the complex and longed-for union of self and other, subject and world. And so it has always been, cross-culturally, as the most sacred human activity, and the most culturally binding as well. We cannot become more intimate with someone or something by eating it. They then literally become us. Such an intimate act must certainly be attended to with the greatest awareness, love, discrimination and reverence. If it is not, then it is a clear indication that something is seriously awry.
Once we realise that preparing and eating food is humanity’s fundamental symbol of intimacy and spiritual transformation, we can begin to understand why sacred feasts are essential to every culture’s religious and social life. The metaphor of eating is central to spiritual communion with the divine presence. It is universally recognised that eating food is both a literally and symbolically sacred action: it is directly partaking of the infinite order that transcends out finite lives.
I can’t wait to get really stuck into Dr Tuttle’s The World Peace Diet, as well as his new offering, Circles of Compassion. If you’d like to catch him while he’s in South Africa, he will lecturing in Durban on the 9th of January at the Innovation Centre Auditorium and on the 13th of January at the Rosebank Scout Hall.