|International Vegetarian Union (IVU)|
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Eating Our Way
This is a summary of a talk given during the European Vegetarian Congress in Bratislava, Slovakia July, 1995.
We generally have a very limited concept of the meaning of food and how it affects and shapes our lives. Food is not just what we eat, but everything that can influence and condition our behaviour and the way we feel and think; all that we assimilate through touch, sight and hearing. For example, if we were truly aware of the cruelty involved in food production we would be utterly incapable of biting into a piece of flesh cut from an animal that has been abused and then slaughtered, because only ignorant people could regard as pleasant something that is intrinsically abhorrent to our human nature. Everything we consume becomes a part of our identity and beliefs, conditioning our behaviour as it becomes part of us. Therefore, consuming products obtained through cruelty - or, alternatively, adopting a non-violent diet - can determine, for good or ill, not only the nature of our actions but our whole personality.
Likewise, we must broaden and redefine our concept of food and the role that it plays in our lives. If we agree that no one can live in total isolation, socially or environmentally, then in the broadest sense food is not just what the stomach can digest, but that which exerts an influence on us, making us behave in a particular way towards everything around us, and which can be assimilated through our senses until it becomes a part of our own identity. But if we are what we eat, we are also the way that we eat, and in order to be well-fed mentally, physically and spiritually we need to re-establish a specific relationship or affinity with all that we need and are capable of assimilating, and to do so in the best possible way.
The violence that leads to so much suffering for humans and non-humans alike stems from behavioural problems caused by an improper assimilation of ideas and of food. It is hard to understand why humans behave as they do, destroying other forms of life and the beautiful natural areas that make up our essential habitat. Why are wars seemingly inevitable when our wish is to stay alive and enjoy peace? Why are there dictatorships? What causes racist and supremacist ideas? The answer lies in our own personal attitudes: if we truly believe that we are more important than other animals, then, in certain circumstances, we are likely to believe that our own selfish individual or ethnic interest should prevail over those of others and it is thus that humans legitimize ethnic cleansing and the destruction of the so-called enemy.
Nor should we forget that all wars - in which animals as well as humans die - are organized by people who believe that human beings are more important than all other animals. When we alienate ourselves from all that surrounds us and become isolated entities, the physical, mental and spiritual harmony of health breaks down, as well as the necessary interrelationship with our surroundings which alone can make us whole, leaving us free only to pursue our own selfish goals without regard to the welfare of others: it is for this reason that all dictators are ruthless megalomaniacs. We must strive to be more open-minded and to reject all rigid and judgmental attitudes. To refuse to talk to those who have not changed their ways as we believe they should is to deny all evolutionary progress. Believing that one has a monopoly of universal truth can be a very negative factor in ones relationship with others. The more we learn about ourselves and everything that surrounds us, and the simpler our social interaction with others, the greater the harmony and progress we shall enjoy.
Each individual is a complex mixture of physical and spiritual needs. If we do not feed our bodies and minds properly, we shall not be able to enjoy optimum health. whilst one cannot claim that any individual who consumes natural foods must necessarily be healthier than anyone consuming cooked or processed foods; the essential property of raw natural products is their simplicity as wholesome foods. They should therefore be regarded as complete and not as complementary foods, being pleasant enough to eat in their natural state and providing a healthy liberation from dreary cooking chores.
The less our food is processed, the greater the benefit to our health. Just as the consumption of the flesh of other creatures can influence our attitudes and mislead us into thinking that we have a predatory nature, and just as the consumption of products obtained by cruelty can make us selfish and violent, dependence on artificial foods may distance us from nature because instead of associating the produce that we consume with the countryside, as other animals do, we may come to identify our food with the factories in which it is produced. Moreover, if we choose simple non-processed natural foods, obtained without violence, and if we accept that we have no right to exploit or harm other beings whether animal or human, we shall achieve a more peaceful co-existence and be in a better position to appreciate and protect our planet and those with whom we share it.
If we want a better world, we must act positively to achieve it. History has taught us that human evolution is a slow and painful process with little change in the myths passed down from one generation to another over long periods of time. If we could overcome the myths - the wrong attitudes or concepts that we generally accept without question - inherited from our parents or from society as a whole, progress could be achieved much faster.One thinks, for instance, of how long it took for the United States to accept the new basic food groups - fruit, vegetables, grains and legumes - replacing the old mythology based on the consumption of meat and milk. On the other hand, although vegetarianism is becoming more popular every day in the western world, the idea that we have no right to eat our fellow beings is still far from being generally accepted.
In seeking to change the world, we must have a clear picture of who we are and what we want to achieve. We need to spend more time showing our concern for the world around us than pondering over our relationship with God, because only when we know who we really are and how we should be acting, will God be able to communicate with us. Since I became aware that there is no justification whatever for giving tacit support to the widespread myths which only a predatory society is unable to question - for instance, the idea that being Spanish implies condoning atrocities such as bullfighting - I have realized that pain, cruelty and injustice continue to exist only because we are not sufficiently affected or interested to identify and eradicate them.
Our relationship with others and with our environment is determined by the personal affinities that we have or believe that we have towards everything which becomes part of our lives, but only those who survive the strong conditioning process which begins in infancy can maintain an ethical, compassionate and caring attitude towards other living beings. However, if we can manage to re-educate all our senses - our moral sense as well as our taste buds - we can attain the clear mind and the simple heart necessary to distinguish between right and wrong and to act positively to make the world a better place.