first do no harm


Kamalamani writes about her gradual shift from lacto-vegetarianism towards veganism.

‘I never much liked eating animals. They were my best friends growing up, so it felt wrong to eat them. Unfortunately, I was quite a compliant little girl, so I did. Seeing animals rammed into multi-level lorries, tearing along motorways, and caged mammals in busy markets reduced me to embarrassing tears. I stopped meat-eating when I was 14, the last straw being a documentary about the factory farming of animals which we watched during a Personal and Social Education lesson at school. So I just stopped.

‘I have tasted meat a few times since. Sometimes accidentally in France, biting into a quiche having done my best to ascertain it was vegetarian, and very occasionally eating a slice of ham, perversely, proving to myself that I don’t want to eat animals – I don’t. Once, having travelled for hours across the Kenyan Highlands at work, I was presented with a slab of roast goat for lunch, under the heat of the blazing equatorial sun. I didn’t have the heart to say I was vegetarian, so happy was my host to tell me that he had roasted one of his scarce family goats. I prayed to the goat as I reluctantly gnawed and chewed its meat – it had lived a long life, it seemed.

‘A couple of years ago I had glandular fever and had a yearning for fish during the long, slow recovery. I ate some fishes, to my surprise, for I had barely eaten fish when I was young. My body loved it, whilst my mind wasn’t at all sure. I found myself praying to the fish, too. Honesty around eating, particularly around the eating of previously breathing beings, is important to me. Maybe I’d feel happier if I could say that I stopped eating meat when I was 14 and a morsel never passed my lips again, but it wouldn’t be true. Eating and consumption in broader terms are a complex thing, particularly, it seems, for those of us in the current zeitgeist.

‘In the same phase that I was eating the occasional fish, I was, paradoxically, becoming increasingly vegan in the ethics of my cooking and eating habits. The silver lining of glandular fever was that my body told me, quite unequivocally, what it did and what it didn’t want to eat. No more caffeinated tea, not too much dairy, very little sugar, and being much fussier about where my food came from.

‘For many years I’ve had an ‘ought’ about being vegan, too. I have had phases of being more or less vegan, knowing about the suffering of the diary industry. That ought has changed this new year. More than ever I have been drawn to cooking and eating seasonally – my partner and I are keen allotmenteers, so that’s not too taxing for much of the year. I’ve also been cooking to match the season and the mood, which has meant lots of mid-winter slow cooking. In this mood, eating dairy makes far less sense, logically and intuitively, for my body or the planet.

‘I haven’t, yet, found myself becoming vegan in the same way as my immediate decision to become vegetarian all those years ago. It could happen one day. I wouldn’t be surprised, but not for now, although I have decided this year that the main meals I cook at home will be vegan, which is proving fairly effortless. I have a broader awareness of how we humans cause harm now, compared to when I was 14. I stopped flying 12 years ago, another overnight decision. It just made no sense to me anymore – not that I was flying loads – to pollute the air, our breath and biosphere, with flying being one of the most pleasurable and harmful of our carbon addictions. I wanted to take action in changing an aspect of my life which I knew would have an impact upon me, really, I suppose, in preparation for the lifestyle changes we are all going to have to make in the decades ahead. Why not get started?

‘Limiting the harm I cause has become an even more important practice in the past 21 years, since starting to practise the Dharma, the teachings of the Buddha. Inviting acting from the loving-kindness within me, over and over again, rather than from the more ‘autopilot’ greed, hatred, and ignorance has been transformative – not that I’ve completely sussed it! Yet, we can’t live without causing some harm in what we eat, how we eat, how we travel around, our work, even how we dig and plant potatoes at the allotment.

‘I can feel a bit fatigued about being the odd one out. When I became a veggie back in 1985 I got a lot of stick from some of the other kids, even though I kept quite quiet about it. I’m also a Buddhist, not married, no kids – weirder still, I’ve written ‘Other than mother’, a book about not having kids, in part, for ecological and environmental reasons. I’ve had many awkward conversations over the years about being veggie, and been ridiculed for being vegetarian in different cultures.

‘And in writing that, I hear the immense privilege of my human status. I don’t want to inconvenience myself by being completely vegan, whilst knowing that this ‘inconvenience’ would be so minor compared to the abject suffering caused to animals by the diary industry. How relatively easy it would be for me to be vegan. That wrestling with internal voices ‘well I don’t fly and I’m veggie, therefore I’ve done my bit’ sort of attitude. In parallel, I think of the animals I haven’t eaten in the past 31 years. The online ‘animal calculator’* estimates that that is around 6,228 animals; 6, 013lbs of meat and 49,603lbs of carbon dioxide not released into the atmosphere.

‘The final words of the Buddha come to mind: “all conditioned things are impermanent, with mindfulness, strive on.”‘

Kamalamani is a Bristol-based Body psychotherapist, facilitator, supervisor, and author.


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