After some discussions on this topic, I felt the need to write an article that takes a nuanced look at eating meat , supported by arguments and not emotions. Both pro and contra are the opinions cast in concrete not out of thin air. As soon as the atmosphere becomes holier than thou , the cross-thinker in me comes up and I have to throw a peppery – but researched – opinion piece at it. For both camps, by the way.
As a complicated case (don’t eat meat or chicken, do eat fish, egg and dairy, but strictly organic and prefer fish to dairy, although a beast has been killed for that – good luck if you want to justify this point of view) I myself am still not quite done with this theme.
For those who want to know: my switch to no longer eating meat came at breakfast one morning. Suddenly I just knew the time had come to stop eating meat. I still had some meat in the house and ate it to my heart’s content and that confirmed my feeling that I was indeed done with it. Since then I have been meat free for about 8 years now. I was against veganism for a while, until an iron and B12 deficiency made it clear to me that that didn’t quite work. I then opted for a meatless diet with fish, egg and dairy.
Below are a few points of view beyond pro and con eating meat. It is possible that your holy houses are being jittered (no hate mail please). I have tried to stay as close to biology and nature as possible, underpinned by what I call ‘the sincere experience’. As far as I’m concerned there is no right or wrong food, only unconscious ways of dealing with food.
Meat is not a non-committal food
Whether or not to eat meat is a hot topic in spiritual circles – is it allowed or not? Hardly any other food but meat is so surrounded with lust and attachment. When I say I don’t eat meat, the answer is often: “I really couldn’t do that!”. There is something about meat that makes it desirable.
In Vedism it is believed that by eating meat you are taking in the animalistic, emotional, drive-driven nature of the animal you are eating. Hence the eating of meat is regarded as binding to the ‘lower’ nature and thus to the Wheel of Rebirth. Other, more modern movements assume that vegetarianism is the only consistent form of compassion. If you feel compassion for all beings, you can’t eat them, can you?
No other food is surrounded by so many do’s and don’ts as meat and dairy products. In earlier times they may have been motivated by hygiene, but there is certainly also a ritual aspect to it. Within Islam and Judaism, ritual slaughter is performed, which means that the animal is killed with a cut in the neck so that all the blood runs out. Consuming blood and blood products is considered ‘not pure’. Is there a parallel here with the Vedic conceptions of eating meat?
In earlier herding cultures, despite the fact that people had a lot of cattle, not much meat was eaten. An animal was only slaughtered on special occasions. In the even older gatherer-hunter cultures, an animal that had been killed to eat was thanked in a ceremony for giving its life so that people could eat.
It is shrouded in mysteries, but there seems to have been a custom among North American Indians, among others, called “calling the animal.” One would make telepathic contact with the animal one wanted to kill and only shot when the animal’s soul gave permission. Even less noncommittal.
In light of all these ancient, respectful practices, it is even more astonishing that we should be so careless with animals, regarding the eating of meat as a right and not a favor. Meat consumption is defended with the view that ‘man is simply a hunter’. As we have seen before, hunters certainly did not casually shoot wildly in order to stuff their own stomachs, as happens so casually in our culture at the all you can eat spare ribs restaurants, just to mention an excrescence .
The role and position of hunting in prehistoric times
To immediately correct a popular misunderstanding: in prehistoric times, people did not eat much meat at all. Most food, about 75 to 90%, consisted of collected plant food. In contemporary hunter-gatherer cultures (or should you say: gatherer-hunter) these proportions are not much different. Meat is considered a luxury and delicacy and has a high status, although it is eaten moderately.
The very first hominids evolved from a herbivorous ancestor that also gave rise to the gorilla and chimpanzee 1. While gorillas and chimpanzees mainly live in rainforests, the ancestors (about 3-5 million years ago) of today’s humans have adapted to life on the savanna. Because food is less readily available there than in the forest, eating meat has probably been added. The common ancestor ate meat, but did not yet have hunting weapons. Lacking teeth and claws, these early hominids, like chimpanzees, captured animals by simply grabbing them, taking young from other species, or clearing nests.
Archaeological butchery sites have been found where early hominids may have cut and removed pieces of meat from perished animals with primitive tools. They did not yet have the ability to kill and slaughter larger animals. Nancy Tanner calls this behavior “predation” rather than hunting. Chimpanzees do this too. Field researchers have observed that while the males acquire prey more often than the females, females do use predation to obtain food. As man’s intelligence and tool-making skills gradually increased, so too will predation have gradually passed into hunting.
Eating meat – in combination with hunting – has always been associated with masculinity and high status. Again, this is more wishful thinking than reality. Hunting has been only a small part of the human food supply for a very long time.
Hunting as a purely male activity is probably relatively recent. The great drives probably only started during the Ice Age, when humans had to survive on tundra steppes and the prey animals grew larger to adapt to the cold. Hunting was done with javelins – a fairly ‘Rambo’ activity – and bows and arrows.
No scientific evidence has ever been found for the popular myth of the man as a tough hunter who drags huge carcasses into camp. Even in current gatherer-hunter societies, large prey is not much hunted.
A small prey can be easily taken and immediately consumed. Large carrion can only be transported slowly and attract predators. Moreover, they can never be eaten immediately and that leads to unsanitary situations. Situations like the one below probably never existed.
Women are known to fish and gather crustaceans, hunt fowl and catch small mammals with nets and traps 2 . It was probably in the past of man – and it is still so common with some native peoples – that the younger women hunted and, as soon as they became mothers, devoted themselves to the safer gathering. There is still a lot of information stored in the collective memory of mankind about female hunters – don’t Greek and Roman cultures have a goddess of the hunt (Artemis/Diana)? Celtic mythology also speaks of a ‘virgin huntress’ ( The Virgin Huntress). I once heard the bold hypothesis – I just don’t remember where – that bow and arrow hunting would be a female invention to keep hunting well into pregnancy by minimizing contact with prey. So, historically and evolutionarily, men definitely don’t have a monopoly on meat.
Although it must be said that in recent human development, hunting has largely come to lie with the men. This identification with a lot of ego does lead to (often) men feeling justified in consuming unhealthy amounts of tortured animals. There are some indigenous whole grains that mainly eat meat (Inuit and Sami), but that has more to do with the climate than with ‘our human predisposition’.
Among vegans you sometimes hear the idea that humans are naturally vegetarian. Our biology contradicts this. Our teeth and the structure of our digestive tract indicate an omnivorous condition with an emphasis on plant-based nutrition. According to archaeological evidence, this has been our diet for a very long time and is also the diet that keeps us the healthiest according to the most recent scientific insights – the large bulk of plant and animal foods as a perk.
It is sometimes suggested that our intelligence could have increased through our consumption of meat (that 10 to 25%? Sounds a bit macho to me). Presumably it has previously been the invention of cooking food that has increased our intelligence. People need quite a lot of calories in proportion to their body weight. This is because our brains use a relatively large amount of energy.
About 20% of all our kilocalories are consumed by our on-board computer. Humans need about 2000-2500 kcal per day (and gatherer-hunters probably more). You have to stash a lot of leaves for that. Unless… you boil them. Then your body can digest it all a bit easier, because the preparatory work has already been done.
Personally, I think that humans have evolved to survive on the food that is available. Our diet has switched quite a few times in the short time we have been here. From almost vegetarian to a lot of meat and from collecting to agriculture. We’re still alive, so it will work.
Everything points to the fact that we cannot escape a little beast. If you really want to live a plant-based life (which I think is a fixe idea , see below), then you have to rely on supplements, because plant-based foods just don’t provide all the essential fatty acids and B vitamins, especially B12.
The Spiritual Aspects of Eating Meat
We wouldn’t be people if we didn’t dig a little deeper into everything, including our food.
That can be done very simply – what is scarce, we want with all our might. Since the end of the feudal era and the emancipation of the working class, ‘the common man’ has wanted exactly what the wealthy used to buy: animal food. The livestock farm was blown up into a national pork chop and steak factory. That’s how we get to the kilo blaster and the broiler chicken. Only to find out after 50 years that that wasn’t so wise after all. This is called progressive insight.
Anyone who no longer eats meat can experience that meatless food does a lot for your mental clarity. That is why monastics often live meatless. Especially within Eastern spirituality a true holier than thou denunciation has arisen of eating meat.
However, there are cultures that have reached a high spiritual level and that did eat meat. In Tibet, for example, meat is eaten because not many crops grow high in the mountains. They simply don’t have much choice. The Q’eros Indians in the Andes also eat meat and I have rarely encountered such bright people. Not eating meat does help to clear your head, but it is not a mandatory condition.
Another argument for vegetarianism is compassion for animals. As your compassion grows, you will become more concerned with the suffering of the animals you eat. For many people who follow a spiritual path, it is therefore a logical choice to stop eating meat.
Because of the moral consequences of eating dairy products and eggs – a cow can only give milk if she has a calf and that calf is slaughtered, laying hens also die and the roosters are killed – they often choose for a vegan diet. Now everyone should do what they feel most comfortable with and if you really don’t feel comfortable using dairy, leather, eggs or honey, then you should leave it alone.
The agricultural side of the business
To keep it earthy: the most valuable contribution that animals can make from an ecological perspective is not wool, meat, milk or egg. It’s poop . Yes. Shit, manure, faeces, manure. Whatever names you make up for it, what comes out of the animal’s rear end keeps the soil fertile. It is not possible to maintain the fertility of a piece of agricultural land or even a vegetable garden if it is exclusively fertilized with vegetable compost 3,4.
In biodynamic agriculture, the view is held that manure is just as important a farm yield as other animal products. Furthermore, it is believed that meat should be a by-product of (mixed) farming and not the target. A biodynamic pig farm is therefore a contradiction in terms .
I once heard of a vegan commune who wanted to set up a subsistence farming business. It ended with them going to get manure from their neighbor who kept cattle. Aren’t you kidding yourself with your plant-based lifestyle? This is how the biology of this planet works: it is a cycle of soil, plants and animals (including humans).
Now you may be thinking, and that’s not such a strange idea, can’t you use people’s droppings to fertilize your soil? After all, we also produce quite a bit ourselves. Yes, and in large parts of the world this is happening.
However, there is a risk of infection and for this reason it is recommended that ‘human manure’ should only be used for fields where fodder is grown or orchards. As long as people don’t eat directly from soil that has been fertilized with their own composted feces, there is nothing to worry about. So to all vegetable gardeners who feel inspired: please don’t grow a head of lettuce from your own composted large groceries! So again those beasts.
The cycle feeling
Now things get really annoying for vegetarians: for many people, hunting or fishing is a way to experience their appreciation for nature’s beauty and gifts.
Nowhere does the cycle of nature, its ruthless beauty, the raw reality of life and death that gave us, and many peoples before us, the feeling of being a Child of Mother Earth, becomes more tangible than hunting deer in the Rocky Mountains. 5 .
We once got a wild goose that was shot by an acquaintance. Besides not killing the beast ourselves, this way we got an intimate glimpse into what it really means to eat meat. It started with the fact that one day there was a garbage bag with a dead goose in it by the back door.
The beast still had to be completely cleaned and you can’t wait too long with that. Google offered a solution. Cleaning a killed animal was one of the most sobering things I’ve ever done. I will never forget the stench that came from that beast’s abdomen. It tasted… special. In this regard I quote Alma Huisken , who has a semi-subsistence farm with vegetable garden and animals:
Although I personally firmly believe that there is a hunter-gatherer in all of us, it is inconceivable to many people that hunting and slaughter by no means provide the bloodthirsty excitement they suspect. On the contrary, in my case it evokes a remarkable, serene primal feeling, accompanied by satisfaction with the richness of this very special ‘harvest’.
It makes me never just grab a pack of meat from the freezer, as if it were the most natural thing in the world…After I have cleaned up the very last feather, I thank the animals in the old Indian way for their lives and for the fact that I will feed on their fantastic flesh. I will look after, preserve, prepare and eat that meat as best I can, with great gratitude.`
Jamie Oliver comes to the same conclusion while visiting a Native Navajo community in Arizona:
…a traditional, simple process full of respect and peace for the animal. When we had selected a lamb for our meal, the animal’s legs were tied together with a woolen cord and it was removed from the [bead]. The animal was first blessed with a prayer, after which one of the women – who traditionally take care of the slaughter – slit its throat and let the blood drain. It all went very efficiently and the lamb didn’t seem panicked at all—the ideal scenario for both sides.
(Jamie Oliver is referring to the usual process of slaughtering animals where the welfare of the animals is abominable and the working conditions for the staff are such that the staff turnover in abattoirs is extremely high)
In the children’s book ‘ Juniper ‘ 6 , a girl is trained as a witch. One of her trials is to slaughter a pig to survive the winter. A dialogue from the scene has particularly stayed with me:
I do not understand. I thought [witches] loved all the creatures in the world and wanted to take care of them.”
“What could be more love for an animal than to eat it?” replied Euny.
‘But you’re taking his life away from him. Everything it has’.
‘So it can become a part of you. What you will discover is that all life feeds on other life’.
It’s a curious paradox: on the one hand, spiritual development drives us toward leaving flesh because it makes us feel more comfortable physically and mentally. At the same time, spiritual clarity leads to a more acute experience of the cycle and mystery of Life – including the inevitable death that goes with it.
The challenge sometimes seems to be in accepting the fact that indeed all life feeds on other life and that there is a curious, raw beauty in it. That perhaps it is precisely in death that unity lurks. Relief from eating meat?
Eating the meat of killed animals sometimes seems to become something sacred from the basic necessities of life and survival strategy, the ultimate realization of ‘all life feeds on other life’ and perhaps we originally eat meat at heydays to reconcile ourselves with that truth.
A sacrifice of life, which you accept reverently and eat with respect, in the knowledge that you are a child of Mother Earth and that you are therefore allowed to eat other Children of Mother Earth, as long as you do it in great gratitude is doing. I even considered frying and eating a chicken ‘old-fashioned’. It is remarkable that those who see the animal die do feel emotions about it, but can be at peace with the knowledge that this is the way of nature.
We have lost this lived, sacred side of eating meat. We only see images of miserable broiler chickens, overturned trucks full of pigs, mega stables cleared after even the suspicion of an infection and MRSA infections in hospitals as a result of irresponsible antibiotic use.
We no longer know that things can be different and that things have been different for a very long time. This is a piece of human collective memory that I think it’s good we’re going to remember. It is in no way my intention to persuade people to eat meat, but I want to broaden the picture.
From sacred, taboo foods to status foods to popular foods to new food taboos, eating meat keeps people busy.
The more I learn about this topic, the more complex it becomes and the less easy it is to take a stand. Am I against eating meat? No, definitely not. I voluntarily refrain from it because it is the most pleasant choice for me.
But ever since I’ve become aware of ‘that other side’ of eating meat, I sometimes wonder if I’m not the one who is being hypocritical with my hip urbanlifestyle (you see it significantly less in the countryside) with rice ‘milk’, tofu ‘bacon’ and vegetarian ‘sausage’. Because who am I to turn my nose up at the ultimate truth of Mother Earth: We are all united in an endless cycle of man, animal, plant and mineral.
From dust we came into being and to dust we shall return. And that unconditional connection is the greatest joy in the cosmos. Maybe that’s why I can’t bring myself to get a piece of biodynamic meat from the organic store: I feel like I’m not worthy to eat an animal if I haven’t experienced for myself that grand realization of ‘all life lives on other life’. If I don’t know what it really means when an animal dies to feed me.
I can’t think of anything good about breeding defenseless animals, rearing them with planet-destroying soy at insane speed and then industrially killing them so the consumer can eat unlimited chicken bones for next to nothing without ever seeing a drop of blood.
But is it bad to participate so deeply in the cycle of life? Should we judge each other for that? First of all, let’s start by reconciling ourselves, really reconciling with the fact that life lives on other life and that one person’s death is another’s bread.
Because if we rainbow-farting and butterfly burpingkeep up a make-believe world with our raw spinach smoothies and chia granola and think we’re more enlightened than our hamburger-eating neighbor, that enlightenment could be a long time coming.