Why Activists & Vegans Scare Me

Note: My sense is that the above meme is one of those “not really from the Buddha” quotes (which is very common), as the phrasing seems off to me personally. But I include it still because I think it is good quote (and, of course, I could also be wrong about it not being from the Buddha, too!).

 

This is me trying to make sense of things for myself in terms of discovering what my own work is here and what’s fueling my own personal discomfort. I reckon this will be a hard post for me to put into words, but here’s to giving it a whirl:

I bristle and inwardly step back from people who self-identity as activists. And I do the same for vegans. Why? It’s not because I’m against what they stand for or the active choices and priorities they’re making in their life. It’s the energy behind the actions I’m not a big fan of. No one enjoys being talked at by someone who is fired up by something – even when that something is important. And really, even talking with someone who doesn’t share your exact standpoint and lifestyle can be incredibly tricky. Even under the best circumstances, well-intentioned people can cause more harm than good. Just because we have good intentions, doesn’t mean we know how to engage with people in such a way that fosters connection, kindness, and understanding. Sometimes, even when we think we’re doing good, the impact we have on others is harmful. Having good intentions doesn’t automatically inoculate us from causing damage (I recently learned this in a 2-month long weekly class series on developing racial literacy that I just finished).

I’ve been recently making my way through the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings one by one, alongside a friend of mine who’s doing the same. We’re spending two weeks on each training – reading it every day and occasionally journaling about what comes up for us in regards to it. Then we meet once a month to talk about what we’ve discovered for ourselves. We’re on #3 right now: Freedom of Thought. The first two are: Openness and Non-attachment to Views. The first three of the fourteen all have to do with our mind – just as the start of the Eightfold Path starts off with Right View. As the Buddha said: With our thoughts we make the world. 

It’s very difficult – if not impossible – to be an activist (and oftentimes a vegan), without being attached to views. So I suppose I could say that I shy away from people who seem to be overly attached to their views in regards to something in particular. Whether it be politics, the environment, lifestyle choices, matters of injustice, etc., I gravitate away from folks who I see as over-identifying themselves with a certain subject. I’m not saying it’s the right way to be or that I don’t have work to do around this, mind you, this is simply me stating a self-observation.

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Vegan vs Vegetarian

vegan-vs-vegetarian

As a point of clarity: a vegetarian is someone who doesn’t eat meat or seafood and a vegan is someone who doesn’t eat meat, seafood, or animal byproducts of any kind: dairy, eggs, honey. I’ve been a vegetarian since I was 12 years old. It was a decision I made one day, after finding out that my cousin had decided to be a vegetarian. It was something I thought sounded cool, so I did it and it stuck – pretty fancy reason, eh?!

I’ve never been personally drawn to going the one step further into vegan territory, but over the past few months it’s been a percolating thought. The sole motivating factor has to do with my teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay), encouraging his ordained students to take up a vegan diet. His teachings and suggestions hold a great deal of sway for me, given my love, respect, and confidence in his practice and what he has to say.

I don’t consume very much dairy naturally. I haven’t been a cow’s milk drinker since I was young and my food tastes ere on the side of quite simple and basic, and what many would consider bland, so cheeses, butter and cream toppings have never been a big draw for me in general. A few years ago I gave up dessert sugars, so ice cream, pastries, cakes, cookies, and other similar foods are out for me as well. But I do really enjoy pizza, which we typically have for dinner once a week in our household. And on occasion I make lasagna or stuffed shells. My biggest form of non-vegan consumption is eggs, which I eat every morning for breakfast, and up until recently came from my own backyard chickens.

In an effort to hear a little more from Thay on the subject of veganism, I found a youtube video of him addressing this very matter: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0gwOzzGibsg&t=252s 

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To Eat Meat or Not to Eat Meat

meatveggie

Lately there has been some discussion (and some elevated emotions) over the OI (Order of Interbeing) listserve about vegetarianism, veganism, and the impacts of eating meat on the environment.  While it’s true that Thay (Thich Nhat Hanh) has asked his students to reduce their meat consumption by half and to consider cutting out meat entirely because of the damaging effects the livestock industry has on global warming and it’s also true that our tradition’s monasteries have switched to a vegan diet I’m not so sure the most pressing question involved here is whether or not to eat meat or to become vegan.  For me, the question here is what can I do to potentially help support an environmentally sustainable food system?

For those of us not who are not familiar with the terms: A vegetarian is someone who does not eat beef, chicken, seafood or fish and a vegan is someone who, in addition to not eating meat, also does not eat dairy, eggs, or other animal byproducts, such as honey.

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