When I’m interested in knowing if I am the only one in the world wrestling with some moral/spiritual/ethical dilemma, I turn to reading. I read in various forms, blogs, quotes on Pinterest, but mostly books. I love the feeling of a book in my hands, the crinkle of the pages turning and the satisfaction I get scribbling notes in the pages.
But ever since I married Boof, and got flak for my CONSTANT need to buy books off Amazon. The bookshelves were filling up and every time we moved I realized that my book boxes outweighed all my others. Seriously, it was becoming a problem. But thankfully smartphones have Kindle included, and I’ve been reading books on my phone ever since. While it’s not as satisfying as holding a real book, it’s much more practical, especially reading in bed, after nursing my kid to sleep.
So last week I ordered The Mindful Carnivore: A Vegetarian’s Hunt for Sustenance on Kindle and happily devoured (no pun intended!) the first few chapters. I had been drawn to this particular book because of my still-meat-eating-status and my interest in mindfulness. What I was surprised was, that the author was a vegan…or former vegan…a former-vegan-turned-deer-hunter.
The story from childhood fishing trips to renouncing meat after beginning meditation, he weaves a story from beginning to end that brought me along for an amazing ride. At each step of the way, he explained where his head and heart was at in relation to eating meat. Between stories of his own life, he shows extensive research on the history of hunting and vegetarianism and veganism in America. I was thoroughly fascinated in both regards.
He starts off here, with:
Though unfamiliar with this history (American vegetarianism) at age twenty-five, I had woven my convictions from many of the same threads. Abstaining from meat was part of a natural, healthy lifestyle. It would make me whole, both physically and morally, cultivating compassion in my heart and alleviating the suffering of animals…Vegetarianism-and, soon thereafter, veganism- became more of a diet. Though secular, it became a way of life, a statement of values and identity, a coat of arms for the struggle to right all that is wrong with the world.”
What began his shift in thinking, was coming across information such as:
Whenever any of us sit down for breafkast, lunch, dinner, or a snack, it’s likely that deer were killed to protect some of the food we eat, and the beverages we drink.
He begins to weave the information into this picture, that even when abstaining from certain things, like meat, we may be alleviating suffering, but in so many ways we are contributing to the overall suffering of the world. I know that right now my thing is diary cows being separated from their calves, but moms and babies are being separated all over the world, not to mention the rest of it all, in factory farms and whatnot. “No matter what I ate, habitat had already been sacrificed. No matter what I ate, animals would be killed.”
His exploration of suffering and eating and compassion led him to try hunting his own game. His mindful eating adventure had led him to the conclusion that,
“If my existence was going to take a toll on other beings, I would rather exact that toll consciously, respectfully, swiftly-and for the specific purpose of eating. I could make a deeper peace with intentional harm.”
This book was eye-opening and helped me put words to many of my thoughts. While I’m not about to go hunt my own meal, I think his point about knowing where animals come from, and really taking a mindful look at the industrial practices overall (even the vegan and vegetarian ways that it contributes to destruction), is a wise one. I’m still feeling good about my decision to be dairy free, for now, I also know that I feel equally as good about my decision to eat the local butchered hamburger.
I guess this goes back to my idea of labels. That vegan is some sort of fundamentalism that I do not yet stick to, and that I can be meat and/or dairy-free and still not be vegan, while also being true to myself and mindfully eating.
I’d recommend this book to anyone interested in learning more about the history of veganism/vegetarianism and hunting in America, while also having a personal and accessible glimpse into the author’s wrestlings with compassionate eating.