Spirituality & Veganism

Guest blog by Piers Warren


Veganism (as defined by The Vegan Society) is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.

But is there any connection between veganism and spirituality? At the start of this magazine, amongst the aims of GreenSpirit, you will see that GreenSpirit challenges us to ‘replace the anthropocentric worldview with an ecocentric one’ and to ‘walk ever more lightly on the Earth’. These challenges in particular tie in very clearly with vegan ideals.

To explore the advantages of veganism let me give you a run through of my own journey. As a young child I was drawn to animals and being outside in Nature. My earliest memories include the joy of finding slow worms under logs and building little ponds for tadpoles. From around the age of seven, I began growing my own veg (just radishes and lettuce to start with), which has grown into a passion that will stay with me my whole life.

Early on I also realised there was a lot of cruelty and exploitation in the world – elephants being massacred for their ivory, for example – and this realisation led to my later work in conservation. However, like most people in the UK, I was brought up eating meat and drinking milk and didn’t really make the connection between this and cruelty; it was just the way things were. Plus of course we were victims of marketing hype telling us how healthy milk was, for example, despite the incongruity that no other animal drinks another species’ milk, and none beyond weaning.

As my interest in animal welfare grew I became vegetarian as a young adult, and this decision was reinforced by a period living just down the lane from a large modern abattoir (the day-long screaming from the pigs stays with me to this day). I was also interested in self-sufficiency, yet my attempts at running a smallholding met the dilemmas of what to do with surplus male chicks, and the distress of removing young goat kids from their mother so that she could be milked for our own consumption.

The idea that veganism was the way to go to relieve my troubled conscience came to me, but it was years until I made the effort to embrace it fully. Like many vegetarians I struggled with doing without milk, cheese and eggs and managed to keep putting it to the back of my mind despite knowing that I would take the plunge one day.

Four things pushed me closer to the inevitable. Firstly, through organisations like VIVA! (see resources below), I learnt more about the cruelty involved in the dairy and egg industries: young calves torn away from their mothers at birth to be shot or sent to veal crates overseas; millions of day-old male chicks (useless for egg production) tossed live into a grinder, not to mention the awful conditions most laying birds are kept in, free-range or not, and so on. It is said that there is more cruelty in a glass of milk than a pound of steak. The animals we eat, from cattle to chickens to fish, are sentient beings with complex relationships with each other. Above all they want to avoid pain and not die. Research shows that even lobsters and crabs feel pain – being out of water for many hours before being boiled alive is not a good way to go.

Secondly, I learnt more about the personal health benefits of a cruelty-free diet. Vegans are less likely to suffer from all the major diseases: cancer, heart problems, diabetes, obesity etc. Increasingly the major health and dietetic organisations worldwide are encouraging people to eat less meat and more fruit and veg.

Thirdly, it became clear that the meat and dairy industries were major contributors to climate change (more than all the world’s transport systems put together). With my work in conservation, my horror at the dire projections as CO2 emissions continue to increase and my own desire to reduce my carbon footprint, it seemed hypocritical to put off turning vegan myself. It may feel easier to switch to a green energy supplier or use public transport more, but the greatest thing you can personally do to reduce climate change is to become vegan. The effects of the meat and dairy industries on the climate, and why they are covered up, are explored in the excellent film Cowspiracy* (see resources). There are many other ecological disasters associated with the drive for animal protein: for example, current projections are that by 2050 there will be no viable stocks of fish left in the oceans – worldwide.

And finally, as my own explorations into spirituality developed I kept coming back to the three words ‘respect for life’. I’ve never been anthropocentric, have never considered man above all other animals – we’ve just evolved differently. I’ve always loved all animals, been fascinated by them and the wonder of evolution, found great peace in Nature, and been awe-inspired by the beauty of wild places and creatures. I could not be a part of the wheel of destruction and cruelty purely through a liking for the taste of meat or cheese or milk. We are all connected. How can we feel spiritually at peace when we are causing so much death and cruelty every day (more than a billion animals are slaughtered for food every year in the UK alone)? There is nothing humane or ethical about slaughterhouses, no matter how modern they are. If you’re not sure what goes on then I urge you to watch the documentary Earthlings (see resources). It’s a harrowing experience, but then if just watching a film is traumatising, imagine what the reality is like. Not caring about the lives of sentient beings does not fit in with my idea of spirituality at all. There is nothing less valuable about the lives of pigs (which are more intelligent than dogs) than the pets we love and care for. I want to continue to explore and embrace compassion, empathy and reverence for all living beings.

It’s been interesting to meet other vegans who had never previously thought of spiritual aspects of their life, but since becoming vegan have explored and embraced spirituality, taken up other activities such as meditation and yoga and gained deeper personal peace.

Respect for life extends to other humans too, of course. A billion people worldwide do not have enough to eat, yet the amount of grain fed to cattle to provide the rich west with burgers could alleviate all hunger in the world. The plant food needed to produce just one pound of meat could feed 10 people for an entire day. It is unjust in the extreme.

There are already millions of vegans in the world, living healthy, cruelty-free lives, and more people are joining them all the time as the horrors of the meat and dairy industries are more exposed. It’s easier than ever to eat out as a vegan, and more alternatives (such as plant-based milks and cheeses) make it easy to cook at home without feeling like you’re missing out on anything. Veganism has boosted my enjoyment of food and cooking, and with the right variety of plant-based wholefoods it’s easy to get enough of the right nutrition, protein, vitamins and minerals in a more healthy form than you would get from animal products. Increasingly top athletes are turning to a vegan diet as its benefits for health and fitness are discovered.

Our digestive systems and metabolism have evolved to thrive on plant-based diets as increasing amounts of scientific research prove – such as The China Study (see resources). The reason people eat so much meat and dairy worldwide is simply because they like the taste – a shallow reason to fund cruelty and climate change at the expense of your own health.

The more I’ve learnt about veganism, and the longer I’ve practised it, the happier I’ve been with the decision to exclude cruelty to animals, as far as possible, from my life, reduce my carbon footprint and improve my health. Like many other vegans I have spoken to I only wish I’d started many years ago, and I know I will never turn back.

Here are some resources I’ve found really useful and supportive:

Organisations: The Vegan Society (www.vegansociety.com).

VIVA! (www.viva.org.uk) very active in campaigning against cruelty, plus excellent nutritional advice.

Magazine: Vegan Life (veganlifemag.com) lots of interesting articles and news items about vegan topics plus yummy recipes.

Books: World Peace Diet by Dr Will Tuttle (www.worldpeacediet.com) a best-selling, in-depth study of our food and culture with a spiritual thread throughout.

The China Study by Dr T. Colin Campbell which details the connection between nutrition and heart disease, diabetes and cancer. The report also examines the source of nutritional confusion produced by powerful lobbies, government entities and opportunistic scientists.

Films: Earthlings (www.nationearth.com/earthlings) a documentary about humankind’s total dependence on animals for economic purposes.

Cowspiracy (www.cowspiracy.com) a groundbreaking feature-length environmental documentary following filmmaker Kip Andersen as he uncovers the most destructive industry facing the planet today – and investigates why the world’s leading environmental organisations are too afraid to talk about it. *NB We have since heard that this film has had accusations of miscalculation levelled at it. I don’t think it undermines the subject matter, however.

Piers Warren is a conservationist, wildlife film-maker and author living in Norfolk. Website: www.wildeye.co.uk/piers-warren Email: piers@wildeye.co.uk

This article first appeared in Green Spirit magazine winter 2016. Thanks to Piers Warren and Ian Mowll, GS editor, for permission to reproduce it here.

Monbiot on veganism

That great iconoclast and environmental activist George Monbiot has flirted with veganism before. Then he went away from it.

Now he’s back and committed, with the strong environmental arguments to do with land use and over-population, in addition to the views we know he espouses of the effect of meat-eating on deforestation and climate change.

This is worth reading in its entirety, so I won’t paraphrase it here.


‘No apologies’ (reblog)

FROM All-creatures http://www.all-creatures.org/


‘No apologies: Why ARA writers should not fear accusations of ‘Anthropomorphism!’ ‘Sentimentality!’

By Heidi Stephenson
June 2016

Man is not the pedestalled individual pictured by his imagination – a being glittering with prerogatives, and towering apart from and above all other beings. He is a pain-shunning, pleasure-seeking, death-dreading organism, differing in particulars, but not in kind, from the pain-shunning, pleasure-seeking, death-dreading organisms below and around him.
– (J. Howard Moore, The Universal Kinship)

First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.
– (Mahatma Gandhi)

Animals have no voice in our wilfully deaf and conveniently anthropocentric, speciesist culture. Despite their clearly having consciousness (for those with eyes to see and ears to hear) and high levels of sapiency as well as sentiency, (which any of us who have had any sort of genuine relationship with a non-human being cannot fail to recognize,) their many languages are not understood by the majority of our fellow humans.

The failure is not on the animals’ part; it is on ours. Not even familiar canine, feline and equine languages, or methods of communication, are comprehended by the vast majority, after all these many aeons of loyal, devoted companionship, friendship and service. And this despite the fact that our fellow beings, (and especially those who are in close relationship with us) have more than managed to learn our own languages. They understand and interpret not only our many, different verbal requests, whether in French, Russian, Japanese, Arabic or Spanish, (all too frequently delivered as arrogant, dominionist commands, unfortunately) but also our physical body languages and our energetic, non-verbal (if you like, telepathic) communications. They read our emotions.

But, tragically, our determined, utilitarianist habits of exploitative thinking and living, deny them any right of response or recognition. We have reduced our highly evolved, non-human kin to mere “things,” to “live stock”, to “experimental subjects,” to “specimens,” – to commodities, to so many “its.” Our blatantly self-serving reductionism has deliberately negated their individuality, their conscious existence and experience, their personalities and their souls. We have disingenuously dismissed all their emotional, psychological and spiritual complexities (which we have barely even begun to fathom, having not wanted to look for so long,) to a simplistic, mechanized “instinct.”

Ours is the herd mentality.

How guilty and remorseful we would all feel if they spoke back to us in a language we couldn’t fail to understand, and we were actually forced to listen! (The Bible’s story about Balaam’s ass makes just this point. And the Divine is clearly on the poor ass’s side.)

It is here that the enlightened writer needs to come in. Our moral and our creative duty is to convey their point of view; to translate it for those who seem unable (or unwilling) to comprehend it otherwise.

The writer is by nature and disposition an empath. The writer is sensitive, observant and importantly able to engage with the experience of another. The writer’s heart is mostly wide open. (Very few respond to the writings of a closed heart. Clever, clever, mind-only writings simply don’t touch us. They pass through our own minds as just another load of ego-centric baloney; ‘intelligent’ perhaps, but abstract, cold. The world is not transformed by them in any way at all.) A good writer feels, sees fully, hears everything, actually dares to bear witness to what is, on all levels – and thus, thankfully, has a different, more developed lens of perception to share.

Writers who write about animals, about their fellow beings, care. We care very deeply. Our compassion and understanding, our capacity to connect, are highly developed. That is why we write. Because we cannot just remain silent. Having uncovered, having discovered, having born witness to the living hell that is most animals’ experience at our hands, we have to make use of so often inadequate, man-made words to pierce through the cold walls of human indifference.

We have to touch. We have to bring viscerally to life. We have to use the power of truthfully observed detail, noticing everything (inside and out) feeling everything, to rekindle the embers of better being in us all, to remind us of our tragically long-forgotten inter-species unity, of our sameness, (and not our petty differences). We have to break down centuries of hardened, calloused indifference.

Abstractions and vast statistics simply don’t touch the majority. If they cannot, as readers, imagine themselves inside the experience of the suffering other, if they cannot identify, they will not be motivated to make personal changes, and to fight for change. Reading is a co-creative process – and it requires the writer to have gone there fully first; to powerfully evoke.

Writers who have the conscience, kindness and commitment to actually write about animals, who have the courage to look their suffering directly in the eye (a tough, torturous path, though very necessary) who have the devotion to their animal brothers and sisters to dedicate themselves to ending all the terrible oppression, all the atrocity, abuse and pain – must never be held back by that old, bitter and selfishly motivated accusation of “anthropomorphism!”

To empathise is not to fantasize or to project at all – but rather to recognise fellow suffering when we see, hear, smell, know and touch it. To empathise is to connect to the vivid reality of another. It is to make real, to embody the cosmic Golden Rule to “Do as you would be done by” and the Silver Rule to “Not do as you would not be done by.” It is love in action.

There is nothing sentimental whatsoever about this compulsion at all. It is, in fact, our highest calling. And there should be no apologies for it either.

Where would we be if we had failed to empathize with the many victims of the slave-trade, of vicious, racist and sexist attacks, of war, terrorism and famine? Where would all the children be, all the people with learning difficulties and mental health problems, all the political prisoners who suffered so long at human hands, if we had failed to finally empathize with their plight, to bring it to light so that others could feel it for themselves – and thus demand change?

By contrast, sentimentality is to imagine what is not there. It is to dump idealized longings onto others for our own selfish sakes. It is to bypass reality.

That is not what writers who empathize with their fellow beings do at all. Writers who empathize connect again, (where most have disconnected,) and report back. We do this in order to wake ourselves and others up, to shake us all out of our self-centred reveries, to pour a cold bucket of water over our conveniently slumbering consciences. We cry out with everything we have in us: “Have you seen what’s going on here? Will you please look! How can you bear it? Do something! We each have a moral responsibility! They are just like us – how can you not care?”

Writers who empathize force us all to look at what we each are doing, what we are colluding in, what we are contributing to. We are forced to take responsibility for our negative day-to-day choices that directly correlate, incrementally, to immense, unimaginable, abominable animal suffering. Empathic writing cuts through all those guilt-filled attempts at avoidance and dismissal, the desperate pleas of “don’t tell me, don’t tell me – I don’t want to know!”

I say it again, there must be no apologies. It is our violent culture that is so wrong, not the courageous writers who dare to expose this violence. It is not the writer who should modify his or her approach for fear of upsetting the oppressors, the animal abusers, the exploiters and the colluders, for fear of public ridicule – but rather the oppressors, the animal abusers, the exploiters and the colluders who should hang their heads in shame.

The time will come when we will look back on this longest of struggles, this most devilish of slaveries – the enslavement of our vulnerable, innocent, animal kin, (who should have had our protection,) as we now do on human slavers, on human murderers, on rapists and paedophiles. (Let’s not forget all the ‘licensed’ animal brothels currently open across the world, and the crush video sadists who are making a fortune in this twenty-first century.) It is the unenlightened who need to apologize and repent for their cruel abominations – not the empathic writers who seek to understand and communicate the hidden truth.

I would rather be accused of “anthropomorphism!” and “sentimentality!” any day, than of animal rape or animal murder. I would rather care too deeply (is there such a thing?) than not enough. I would rather be accused of being over-soft, than over-hard. I would rather love, than hate. And I would far rather be defined as a bunny-hugger than a bunny vivisector, a bunny killer, a bunny torturer, an angora wool-puller, a blood-covered, live animal skinner.

Let us never be ashamed. Let us write passionately and movingly on behalf of our suffering, animal kin, in order to shine the most powerful light we possibly can, the Divine light of creativity, on the world’s man-made darkness. Let us break open hearts in the process, so that healing can begin. As Francis of Assisi said, “A single sunbeam is enough to drive away many shadows.”

Let us write without any fear of retribution or of societal reprimand. Let us remember the billions of animal victims instead, and forget our human accusers.

One day they will thank us for it. One day they will try and claim they too were part of the resistance.

Title borrowed in part from Kurt Cobain who turned me from pescetarian to vegan, when I finally heard the painful irony in his lyrics: “It’s OK to eat fish because they don’t have any feelings.”

sowing the vegan garden: guest blog by Amy Dyer


Becoming vegan is like planting the most delicate seed within yourself. You’re not quite sure what to do at first, or what’s going to happen. Everyone will have an opinion on how to care for the seed, or whether you should have even planted it at all!

But just be. Listen to yourself, to your body, question everything, do your own research (nutritionfacts.org for example) and the seed will flourish.

You may have planted this seed for the animals, for your health, or for any number of other reasons, but which does not matter. All roads lead to this place, and as with all things the more you read and experience, the more you realise how interconnected all things are!

When you nourish your body, you feel lighter, for you are not having to carry the burden of suffering within you, and if like me you have low self-esteem then please remember how much you are helping yourself, the world and the animals each and every day just by what you eat.

But, ultimately these choices are your choices and they need to be sustainable.

Be gentle with yourself, you will reap the rewards of your toil, of your mistakes, of your triumphs, your garden will be beautiful but it takes time. It may not look like anybody else’s garden but that’s the beauty: it is yours, your offering to your body and to the whole of creation.

Enter this garden by your own path, let each step be a day of inquiry, of enjoyment, of sustenance.

One step is better than standing still, paralysed by fear and the restraints of the society in which we live.

Science is slowly catching up and we are finding that, for the most part, it is knitting wonderfully with sacred plant medicine.

Please do not feel overwhelmed by the opinions and ways of the world around you. Be strong, tolerant, compassionate. Experiment, enjoy and watch the doors of friendship and opportunity open up to you.




the downturn in animal welfare

So the British Government has stated its intention to scrap animal welfare codes in the farming industry. Instead – get this – the industry will regulate itself. You can see where that will go, can’t you: only downwards. I am despairing.

We have supposedly some of the best animal welfare standards in the world, and it is still appalling. Battery hens still only have a cage the size of a sheet of A4 paper; one-day old male chicks are minced alive, or gassed, or suffocated in plastic bags; breeding sows are still kept in in tiny metal breeding stalls (and it’s said the piglets are dropped through metal bars onto conveyor belts); veal calves are taken from their mothers at a few days of age and raised in the dark, in small areas, for all of their short lives; and mares are kept pregnant, in confined spaces, in order to produce the hormone used to make HRT for menopausal women (it is NOT necessary, folks; go the herbal route; contact me, or better still, search the web, for more info) – hence some of the brand names (eg Premarin). This is our ‘high welfare’.

As John Vidal said in yesterday’s Guardian (March 26, 2016), the plans may knock a penny or two off an already-cheap chicken, but are likely – quite apart from all the welfare issues – to see the continued disruption of health scares.

How can deregulation do anything other than intensify the conditions, ripe for disease, in which already-intensive animal farming rears its victims?

Vidal points out that ‘it was the total failure of the industry ability to regulate itself that led to last year’s chicken bug scandal when [it was found] that nearly 8 out of 10 fresh chickens bought from British supermarkets were contaminated with the potentially lethal food-poisoning bug campylobacter, costing the NHS nearly £900m… more than 240,000 people a year were getting ill and up to 100 were dying… Salmonella in eggs, BSE in cattle, foot-and-mouth disease* and swine flu – all followed cuts in animal welfare standards or inspection services.’

This is environment minister Liz Truss’ drive. Vidal points out that under TTIP, if it happens, there will be a downfall in food and farming standards; the US agribusiness will be exporting to Europe animal products from a farming system with much lower welfare and hygiene standards than our own.

If we exit the EU, then clearly, as he states, our welfare standards are likely to fall, anyway.

Whichever way you look at it, animals will suffer more. Chances are humans who eat them will, too. We cannot let this happen. There are, hooray, greater numbers of people becoming vegetarian for a range of reasons: animal welfare, personal health, budget, awareness of the environmental cost, and the enormous and inefficient demand for land and water to produce such a small amount of food for a burgeoning population. More people, too, are looking at vegan options.

But we have a VERY long way to go before we can be proud of the way we relate to animals. (As my partner said yesterday: many people unthinkingly consider them really to be automata, more or less.)

Meantime, we need to challenge, at the very least, this proposed downgrading of animal welfare and the knock-on effects on humans.

If anyone knows of a petition started up to protest this, please add it to the Comments. If it doesn’t happen, I might just have to start one myself.

And you could also write to your MP?

March 30th: here’s the petition link. It’d be great if you’d sign and share it:



* Foot-and-mouth disease: I documented this as it happened in Devon, and in fictional form but with factual accuracy it forms part of my last novel, The Burning Ground.




‘dominion over the animals’? I don’t think so

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{link url=”http://www.flickr.com/people/carsten_tb/” target=”_blank” rel=”nofollow”}Carsten ten Brink{/link} (Flickr, used under a {link url=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0″ target=”_blank” rel=”nofollow”}CC BY-NC-SA 3.0{/link})

Like many people who are engaged in any kind of campaigning in social or eco-activism, I feel much of the time a mix of hope and utter despair.

I do believe that slowly, slowly there is a movement towards transformation taking place, an evolution of consciousness.

When I look around, though, at the terrible cruelty and suffering we inflict on others – our own species, and the other-than-human – and the way we are trashing the planet, it’s hard to feel much other than despair at the fact that it may all be too little too late. Can we really change so much desperate stuff?

I know that what is happening is rarely intended to be cruel; it’s not deliberate evil. It’s out of ignorance, and a kind of blindness because our desire-bodies, as they say in esoteric teachings, want what they want to the exclusion of the needs of others.

Then there’s our unexamined assumptions, beliefs, values – often things that are sanctioned by our family, our nation, our society as a whole.

And too the fact that we are not always taught the much wider and often invisible consequences of our actions.

Most of all, perhaps, we forget we live in a web of interconnectedness, where everything is essential and has its integral place, and where any rip anywhere in the fabric of things ripples through the whole.

A week or two ago I blew off at a kind, lovely, intelligent and talented friend. His crime? He said: ‘But what about the fact of our dominion over the animals?’

This phrase (belief) really presses all my buttons, and has done for a very long time. Because he is who he is, and because of the circles I move in, he could hardly have shocked me more if he’d turned out to be a climate change denier, or to exhibit Nazi sympathies, for instance.

I’m aware that I didn’t handle it skillfully. A better way to relate to what he said might have been to ask him why he felt what he did: ‘That’s interesting. Why do you feel that we have dominion over the animals?’

Trouble is, I know only too well why people – many people – feel that. Our Western culture espouses a hierarchical view of planetary relations, with us, humans, at the top (as I’ve no doubt said many times on this blog before). Everything else ‘below’ us is there as a – red rag to me – ‘resource’.

I don’t know how long this has operated in at least the Western psyche. (I’m not saying it doesn’t happen elsewhere; I’m simply not qualified to judge that, but historically at least in the Far East the web model of Indra’s Net [a Buddhist model, also occurring in Hindu philosophy] has held more sway for longer; this is a more ‘horizontal’ view of interrelationship.)

My own hobby horse is that our sense that we ‘own’ the earth, and that its fruits and animal species are ours to use as we see fit, as ‘resources’, crept into our ideology with the Neolithic farming revolution, where we moved away from the hunter-gatherer model and started to co-opt land, annex animals for our benefit, and grow crops.

Plato has to shoulder some of the responsibility. And then the entrenched bulk of it comes from Judeo-Christian teachings based on (mis?)translations and (mis?)interpretations of the Bible.

It is THE NORM for (at least Western) humans to view everything else on the planet as being put here for us.

The worst thing is that we dissociate from other species; forget we’re all in this together. The Enlightenment has a lot to answer for, too – underlining this view, stressing the importance of reason and cultivating a suspicioun of feeling. Without feeling, how can we empathise enough as to change our ways?

What happens, in this worldview? Bit by bit everything else is co-opted for our benefit (64 billion land mammals and birds killed for us to eat every year, mostly reared and killed in conditions of terrible suffering, and a trillion aquatic animals), or is simply extinguished (like the many many species lost each week).

And we don’t even want to know, or examine our habits; if we did, we might need to change.

That’s what I’m angry about.

I’ve been thinking a lot the last few weeks of a heartbreaking poem by W S Merwin. Here’s the opening; do read the rest.

For a Coming Extinction

Gray whale
Now that we are sending you to The End
That great god
Tell him 
That we who follow you invented forgiveness
And forgive nothing

it ends like this:

Tell him
It is we who are important.

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. http://www.kamalamani.co.uk


Chestnut millet & tarka dhal

Andie Lewenstein gave me this recipe:

The grains & cabbage
Andie's millet etc recipeI’m always keen to find tasty combos for the ‘anti-inflammatory’ grains: quinoa, buckwheat and millet.

I cooked this batch of millet by ‘toasting’ a cupful first in the pan in sesame oil, then adding more than twice the volume (cups) of water with Marigold bouillon powder.

I steamed sweetheart cabbage with pre-cooked chestnuts (vacuum packed or in tins, excellent though pricey store cupboard items) which I dressed with rosemary and garlic infused olive oil and black pepper.
andie's tarka dhal

The dhal
I like dhal so much I could eat it every other day. For this one, I cooked 8 oz washed red lentils in a pint of water with a teaspoon each of coriander powder and turmeric. When soft, I used a stick blender because I like it smooth. Then I added some clumps of frozen leaf spinach. Add some salt at this point.

The tarka I made with sliced onion and garlic in coconut oil, and when they are soft add fennel seeds, mustard seeds, dried crushed chilli and cumin (either ground or seeds). When ready, add to the dhal.


why I’m vegan

I’m always delighted to receive guest blogs here on an aspect of veganism. Today, Satya Robyn, below, writes on her shift from lacto-vegetarianism to veganism.

Amida Mandala breakfast on the balconyDespite being vegatarian since I was 13, I avoided becoming vegan for more than 25 years because I love food. Eating well has always been an important part of my life, and I just couldn’t bear the idea of feeling denied a full range of delicious meals (and I’ve got quite a sweet tooth as well!).

Myself and my husband went on a trip to rural France where they didn’t really ‘do’ vegetarianism. After a solid week of cheese we came home and felt our bodies might appreciate having a week off dairy. I’d often noticed in the past that lots of dairy made me feel mucousy, and as the week went on I did feel lighter.

As the days ticked on I started to realise something that shocked me. I was still enjoying my food, and not less, but more. This was partly the new effort we put in to trying new recipes, and maybe partly that my body was relieved to have a break. The biggest thing, though, was that I wasn’t having to repress the guilt I’d felt about eating dairy. I felt more ‘clean’ and was more fully able to enjoy the deliciousness of what I was eating.

As time went on I started reading up on how to do veganism – where would I shop? What would I cook? How would I eat out? What would I do when I went round to friends’ houses? What would I tell my parents? All of these difficulties dissolved one by one as it became more ‘normal’ to eat the things I was eating.

It was only then that I could watch those horror videos of suffering animals from a perspective of no longer personally contributing to their pain. I felt terrible regret at leaving my leap-to-veganism for so many years, and for no ‘good’ reason, now I could see from the other side how easy it had been.

But that’s how it is for all of us. And I’m still contributing to suffering in a myriad of ways. There are no simple ‘black and whites’ when it comes to ethics. I still use matches which contain animal products*, and sit on a secondhand leather sofa. I contribute to airmiles and kill worms when I garden.

This doesn’t mean that we can’t move as far as we can in the direction of love. For some people this might be having a day off meat a week. This is great! We start from where we are, and guilting people into changing just doesn’t work. My advice to vegans would be to keep enjoying your food and your life, set a great example, and don’t rub people’s face into their guilt when they’re not ready to look at it. You’ll put them off and maybe even give veganism a bad name. These things take time! Be encouraging, be positive, and trust that we’re moving in the right direction.

I am now a very happy vegan. I enjoy all kinds of foods and sometimes eat healthily and sometimes not. My body feels happy. I wish you the same, however long it takes. Enjoy!

* aargh! I didn’t know that [Ed.]


Satya Robyn is a Buddhist Priest, psychotherapist, writer & artist. She runs a Buddhist temple in Malvern with her husband Kaspa.


why you don’t need meat

I have been working up to posting the heavy-duty stuff on this page: the unbelievable and horrifying details of the meat industry.

Let’s start more gently: a brief summary of why you don’t need meat (or fish, especially given the very high levels of heavy metals in them), in which I’ll include an outline of the meat industry.

Plenty of people will tell you that we do need meat in order to be healthy. This is a myth, and I’ll include more on it later on the ‘Nutrition’ page. Meantime, click here; and you can also find on the links page information on what a healthy vegan diet consists of.

Plenty of others tell me that they’ve tried a vegetarian diet and don’t thrive on it. Often, these are people who have simply omitted the meat part of a meat-and-veg diet, but haven’t the experience and knowledge to combine foods differently. It’s not surprising: until the advent of the internet much of our nutritional knowledge, collectively,  was a bit hit-and-miss if it didn’t revolve around the convention of meat-eating.

And yes, there are of course unhealthy vegans – it is possible to eat a junk-food vegan diet, high in processed foods, refined flour pastries, crisps, sugar, saturated or trans-fats. But it’s equally possible to have top-level health, and many of the links will tell you why it’s healthier than a meat-and-dairy-eating diet. Some world-class athletes are vegan, so it doesn’t have to mean joyless, thin, pale, wan and weedy.

The truth is, almost no one actually needs meat for health (I’m omitting, clearly, peoples such as the Inuit who have no option, vegetable-growing being just about impossible so far north in the Arctic circle. This doesn’t apply to us in the affluent West.)

We have choices
One of the rather crass questions that meat-eaters sometimes pose to vegetarians is ‘Do you think that carnivorous animals are bad, evil, then?’ Well, of course not! They’re eating what their bodies need and are adapted for. They have no choice.

Unlike carnivorous animals, we have the kind of consciousness – quite apart from our physiology – that allows choice.

We’re newcomers to meat-eating…
Physiologically, our digestive systems, and our teeth, have more in common with herbivores than carnivores.

Another thing is that meat-eating, surprisingly perhaps, is a comparatively recent addition to our diets.

In her Huffington Post piece, Kathy Freston quotes Dr. T. Colin Campbell, who is Professor Emeritus at Cornell University, and author of The China Study.

He explains that we only relatively recently (historically speaking) began eating meat.  The inclusion of meat in our diet came well after we became who we are today. ‘…the birth of agriculture only started about 10,000 years ago at a time when it became considerably more convenient to herd animals.’ Our basic biochemical functionality, however, has evolved over at least tens of millions of years; this functionality is adapted to and depends on the nutrient content of plant-based foods.

President of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine Dr. Neal Barnard says in his book, The Power of Your Plate, that early humans had diets very much like other great apes. This would be a  largely plant-based diet, rich in foods we can pick or pick up with our hands. Meat-eating, in fact, probably began by scavenging – eating the leftovers that carnivores had left behind. Barnard adds that our bodies have never completely adapted, and that present-day meat-eaters exhibit a higher incidence of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and other problems. (There is much evidence for this.)

Yet popular belief says that meat is a necessity. It is, after all, the dominant ideology, and the meat industry is very good at promoting its cause; not least with its cute images of happy healthy cows grazing green grass and clucking hens scratching around.

The happy-cow fairy tale
This picture couldn’t be further from the truth. The bulk of animals intended for the meat industry are reared exclusively indoors, usually in extremely crowded, dirty conditions, and generally on concrete; often in small crates or cells, and with no natural light – for the whole of their lives. They’re also routinely fed antibiotics, hormones and growth promoters and other chemicals (which of course we’ll ingest), plus pesticide use on the animal is generally mandatory and herbicide on their feed (often genetically-modified) is the norm, except in organically-reared animals.

If the animals are the inevitable ‘by-products’ of the dairy industry, male calves intended for veal, they are taken from their mothers at a few days of age (they would, if left to themselves, suckle for at least 6 months at their mothers’ udders), and crated, in semi-darkness, until they are killed at a few weeks. There are stories of calves attempting to suckle the fingers of the abattoir staff as they are in line to be killed. ‘Lucky’ calves grow into bullocks, to be killed at a year or so. (Bear in mind that, in order for a cow to be lactating, she needs regularly to produce calves. 50% of these will be male.)

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has done much to raise our awareness of the conditions of battery chickens in England. (More on that another time, but in brief, ‘improved conditions’ mean that they now have a crate-space the size of an A4 sheet of paper to squat on. All their short lives.)

Most people seem unaware of the fact, though, that almost all pigs, that most intelligent of species, are reared in appalling conditions, indoors, on slatted floors in small crated cells. In some large units, the sows are kept farrowing, dropping the piglets through slatted floors into conveyor belts where they, too, can be raised for the meat industry. Yes, really.

But what if it’s organic?
In England, organic meat certified by the Soil Association improves the lives of the animals, at least a little. It means that, at least, in order to satisfy welfare standards, they’re not pumped full of chemicals, and they have to graze outdoors for part of the year. I believe I’m right in saying that chickens have to be free range if they’re to carry Soil Association certification.

However, their lives are still shorter, their conditions of rearing still unnatural, their treatment often very wide of the mark, their transportation to the slaughterhouse still frightening, and within the slaughterhouse itself brutality and abuse is rife (links to come).

Some people have also pointed out that, given that animals also experience emotions, having come to trust the humans who tend them, that trust is betrayed, in the end. Undoubtedly, their distress levels, fear and panic are high (and some say that the levels of toxins produced in their systems by such fear are not good, when ingested, for human health either).

There are many scientific studies that confirm our ability to be healthy and thrive on a plant-based diet, and many posts containing the necessary nutritional information, on the internet. I’ve put links to some here.

More on this to come.

Soon, also: why lacto-vegetarianism doesn’t go far enough.