A while back, I blogged about vegetarianism and meat-eating which was a part of an interesting exchange I had with a certain spiritual teacher who is a staunch advocate for a vegetarian lifestyle.
Said spiritual teacher believes that vegetarianism is the answer to world peace. I understand that his premise comes from the belief that vegetarians are more peaceful, compassionate, non-violent people because of their diet and non-involvement in violence (the killing of animals for food).
Personally, I agree that vegetarianism can significantly contribute to world peace. However, it is not always the case that vegetarians are more peaceful and less inner-conflicted than meat-eaters.
I gave him two first-hand examples.
I have vegetarian friends who belong to a certain religious persuasion, and there was this incident I heard from some of them:
A group of them entered a restaurant and instructed the food servers that they do not want meat, oil from meat, and MSG in their food. The cook, in his total ignorance and lack of exposure about vegetarian people, put a little MSG on the vegetables as he worried that plain veggies would not satisfy the palate of the diners. Upon discovering that there is MSG in their food, the group of vegetarians stormed out of the restaurant, cursing the cook and the rest of the crew, upsetting other diners.
Where is the peace and the love, brothers?
Another story is the story of my friend who had been a vegetarian for more than a decade. For more than ten years, he did not join his family for meals. If it has meat in it, he refused to eat what his mother lovingly cooked as he was resolute about his vegetarian beliefs. And then, one day, he joined a volunteer group to do some projects in a very remote province. He observed that the indigenous people who welcomed them to their villages made all efforts to make them comfortable, despite that these people lived very simply and that they do not actually have much to offer in terms of tangible things. My friend observed that the little they have, they gave it all. If they have hunted meat, they served it to the guests first, and only after the guests have eaten their fill, the host family ate if there were leftovers. If there is no other ‘presentable’ food available, they catch their chicken (which they would not normally eat by themselves on ordinary days) to have something especial to feed the guests. They sacrifice their chicken so they can serve the best food they know of.
And the best food they know of happens to be meat!
Why is that?
For two reasons:
First, within the indigenous contextual framework, the meat of animals, specifically, wild animals, contain a special life-giving force. And the animal that allowed itself to be hunted down means it was willing to impart this life-giving force to its other relations – the human kind. Within the same contextual framework, the hunters reciprocate through the rituals and offerings they do before the hunt, and in the thanksgiving celebrations they perform after hunts and harvests.
Second, it has to be taken into account the fact that these remote villagers are mostly farmers, hunters and manual workers who work hard with the land and with raw nature. Hence, the best viand they know of is meat, for the reason that they feel it gives them more strength and energy which they specially require for their hard labor.
In addition, compared to people in towns and cities where commercial meat (with much less life-giving force) is readily available, these indigenous people do not have the luxury to eat meat any time they want. This adds to the special value they put on meat. This is also one reason why it is an absolute ‘paniyu’ (taboo) for them to waste animal meat.
Naturally, in a cultural context where hospitality means everything, people feel obliged to give their guests what they themselves consider is the best. And it so happens that for some, the best food to be offered to guests is animal meat.
With that peculiar experience and exposure, my vegetarian friend started eating meat again. He said he was deeply touched by the unsophisticated villagers’ nurturing quality, their authenticity and deep hospitality which he realized are values more important than rigidly adhering to a particular doctrine.
He learned that in a world of rich diversity, there is no absolute right or wrong. There is only what is appropriate at every given moment.
Is vegetarianism the key to world peace?
No, not entirely.
The first step to world peace is inner peace. And a crucial step to inner peace is to be at peace with the external things you cannot change. Again, this does not mean that you are condoning the wrong that you see in society. But maintaining a strong aura of peace is more influential and more transformative than any change that can ever come from militant and agitative action. How do I know? I’ve been there, done that.
A solution to world peace is certainly not found in arguing as to whether vegetarianism or not, is the answer or a path to world peace as this act is obviously not any different from the never-ending ideological and religious battles raging around.
Yes, compassion is definitely the key to world peace, and compassion includes understanding, tolerance, open-mindedness, and non-judgment.