2014 Essays

Beyond Herderism

Will Tuttle : December 20, 2014

Dr. Will Tuttle, Dec. 20, 2014



Nonvegans tend to criticize vegans for exuding an air of superiority and for being judgmental in their attitudes and actions toward nonvegan people and toward society in general. We can learn a lot by looking more deeply into this general criticism, and this seeming conflict between vegans and nonvegans.

The underlying problem, though, is that we generally don’t recognize that we are born into a culture that is, at its living core, organized around herding animals. This basic fact is hidden, and in our modern urban society, the animals we herd are also, for the most part, invisible. Instead of herding them with crooks or dogs, we use walls, bars, and fences: animals today are locked away by the hundreds, thousands, and tens of thousands in unseen feedlots and in the nondescript windowless sheds of industrialized confinement operations.

Pastoralism is the term used to describe the long-standing practice of herding and ranching animals, and as I discuss in The World Peace Diet, the herding revolution that occurred about ten thousand years ago changed everything for us humans, as hunters gradually began confining, manipulating, and enslaving certain animals for food. Herding animals transformed human norms and behaviors, giving rise to patriarchy, war, slavery, a wealthy elite class of proto-capitalists, and at the same time steadily suppressing our natural empathy and respect for animals, nature, and each other. In our modern culture of urban pastoralism, we are still indoctrinated with the antiquated pastoralist mentality of human superiority to justify our routine exploitation and eating of animals.

Richard Ryder coined the term speciesism in 1970 for this attitude of human superiority, which is similar to racism and sexism, the corresponding attitudes of racial and sexual superiority. A newer word is Melanie Joy’s term carnism to indicate the mentality of human entitlement to exploit and eat animals. These are both useful words it seems to me, but the key point that they fail to indicate is that this is essentially a pastoralist, or herding/ranching mentality. It is forcefully injected into everyone growing up in our herding culture, primarily through meals, but also through religion, science, education, government, and indeed, every institution in our herder society. We are like the kings of the old herding cultures. We don’t do the actual work of herding and killing animals, but we buy the meat and dairy with our wealth (and subsidies) and thus propel the vast mechanized herding/slaughtering machine that kills 75 million animals for food daily in the U.S. alone.

Young white people growing up in the South in the early 1800s, whose parents and neighbors all owned and exploited black people as slaves, were invariably racist. They knew beyond doubt that black people were inferior and intended by God to be owned and used by white people. Their racism was an inevitable result of their actions and of their upbringing within the institution of slavery, and it was not racism to them; in fact, it was completely invisible. The same is true in cultures where men own women as personal property. The inherent sexism is similarly invisible. Both racism and sexism unfortunately persist in our culture, but they are no longer completely invisible. As we have matured culturally, emotionally, and intellectually, we have grown to recognize racism and sexism as injustices that are morally wrong, that are delusory (whites and males are obviously not inherently superior), and that are devastating to the health of our relationships and society, and devoid of spiritual wisdom as well.



Deeper and more pervasive, and still completely invisible to most people today, is the injustice and violence at the core of our culture: enslaving and routinely raping and killing animals for food and other uses. The fact that we are coining these new words, speciesism and carnism, shows that we are beginning to make progress in awakening from the herding culture’s enforced trance of human superiority and of violently reducing animals to mere objects to be used. We are beginning to be able to see the invisible cultural program that is injected into us from infancy and that we use to justify our abuse of animals, and we are realizing that it is not in our best interest either, in any way, physically, morally, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually. I think an apt word that points directly at the source might be the word “herderism,” which is the opposite of veganism.

Just as we are all raised in a culture organized around herding, killing, and eating animals and animal foods, we have the herderist mentality of superiority and entitlement that goes with that behavior. Neither the behavior (of eating and using animals) nor the accompanying mentality is freely chosen or even visible. Both are enforced by social norms from infancy, both are unconscious, and both wound us all terribly, far more than we imagine or can understand.

The herder ego is tough and opaque. Being forced to suppress our natural capacities for compassion and intelligence (the ability to make connections) at every meal, we have all been ritually trained to disconnect, to reduce beings to objects, to compete, to consume, to rationalize, and to deny. We have been forced to become disconnected and desensitized. Veganism is the ancient spiritual teaching of ahimsa—nonviolence—and is the complete opposite of this: cultivating kindness, respect, cooperation, inclusivity, and sensitivity, and of looking and feeling deeply. The herder ego in both men and women manifests as craving domination and ironically craving submission as well, which is the root of the authoritarianism that characterizes our social institutions and many of our relationships. By contrast, veganism is an expression of Sophia, the inner sacred feminine, that sees beings rather than things, and naturally yearns for connecting with others in a spirit of solidarity, celebration, freedom, equality, and conscious cooperation.

As vegans, we are recovering herders. We are surrounded by herders as well as the long-established herding institutions, all propagating entitlement and the hard-hearted exploitation of animals and of other humans. When we are able to awaken from the herder ego enough to see it and change our behavior to reflect our awakening, and begin living as vegans in a not-yet vegan world, we are profoundly and often unremittingly challenged by nonvegan people and institutions. To make matters more difficult, we have internalized many traits of the herder ego structure, such as the tendency to blame, shame, criticize, compete, judge, deny, and rationalize.

It is therefore imperative that we make a conscious effort to become aware of the herderist tendencies that still live within us, and work to transform them also so that our veganism—the yearning to be a living force for liberation and compassion—can shine through us clearly and effectively.


The Vegan Challenge

Going vegan is the necessary condition for further spiritual, psychological, and cultural evolution and progress. But is it sufficient of itself? As vegans, we are increasingly called to understand and live the vegan teaching of nonviolence in all our actions and relations. Veganism is nothing to be proud of because it is simply returning home to our true nature, and seeing beings, not things, and treating them with the respect and kindness that are natural to us. As our veganism deepens, we become able to practice this not just with nonhuman animals, and refrain from eating, wearing, and causing their oppression, but also with human animals, and refrain from judging, criticizing, and blaming them. We can learn to see our former selves in not-yet-vegans and with understanding for their predicament as abused from infancy by being raised in this herding culture—and being forced to develop a tough and opaque herderist ego—we can lovingly remind them, and exemplify for them, the truth of their inner connection with the kindness, self-confidence, and respect for all life that are their true nature.

Thus, it is clear that vegans are more qualified to be spiritual teachers and cultural leaders in our society today, just as are people who are not racist and sexist are similarly more qualified. As nonvegans, we may be able to point out some basic ethical and spiritual truths, but if we are not exemplifying the vegan ethic of respect and justice for all, our teaching is missing a vital element of authenticity. Having popularity and success in the herder culture as a spiritual or philosophical leader means only that the vast majority of people who are unwilling to question the inherent violence and blindness of the herderist trance approve of our teaching and example. Our popularity is due to our hypocrisy: a Faustian bargain that increases our outer success at the expense of our inner integrity and awareness. Authentic philosophers and teachers live the spiritual truths they are espousing. Ironically, they tend to be invisible to the culture at large because their message and lives resonate at a different frequency than most are capable of appreciating. But all of us making this effort to embody the higher spiritual truths of vegan living are doing what most effectively helps our culture to evolve, and this opportunity is lost if instead we make excuses or attempt to fit in to the status quo.

In sum, the herder ego that is forced on us from infancy and pervades our culture today is devastating not just to our spiritual and ethical health and integrity, but to animals, our Earth, and to our culture and each other. It is oriented around manipulation of others for our own benefit, and is reinforced by and reinforces the competitive capitalist financial systems, and the reductionist science, medical, educational, and religious institutions as well. As we awaken from the inequity and abuse caused by the many permutations of the herder ego, we are drawn to the opposite, which is our innate wisdom of compassion for others, and refusing to participate in the dominant cultural program of harming others for our own benefit. If this process of awakening is happening in us, we are ineluctably drawn toward vegan living.

As our herder ego is reduced through understanding and awareness, we find that we have a new potential for clarity, empathy, joy, gratitude, and inner freedom. A spiritual (as opposed to religious) yearning to be a force for healing and positive change grows in us. We begin to recognize that as the tough and opaque old herder ego softens and allows more light and tenderness to come through, that we have new possibilities for psychological development as vegans that were completely unavailable to us as nonvegans. We can relax and open to the flow of benevolent feelings within us, open our minds and hearts to new confidence and creativity, and allow the spirit of veganism to gently dismantle the ego-clinging, anger, fear, and manipulativeness of our conditioning, so that we realize that deepening our veganism means ultimately the dissolution of the herder ego that is deeply rooted in us.

The practice and mentality of hunting and herding animals is clearly obsolete and counter-productive, and moving to a post-hunting and post-herding vegan mentality and culture of peace and nonviolence is the call of our future and is the fulfillment of our proper destiny as creative celebrators rather than as enslavers and destroyers here. In the brief time that a human life offers us on this Earth, may we support each other in this! And may we do it not merely for ourselves, but for the animals, vulnerable in our hands. May we do it for starving people, future generations, and for our Earth. And may we realize it’s not a choice; it’s who we are.

Plants Feel Pain Too? What’s a Vegan To Do?

Will Tuttle : October 26, 2014

Q & A With Dr. Will Tuttle

Question: I had a chance to attend one of your recent lectures and left inspired to spread awareness about veganism, and began posting messages on my FaceBook page. A lengthy exchange of views followed in which an acquaintance of mine argued that the same ideas of slavery, rape, exploiting of animals apply to plants as well, and by eating plants, I am committing the same crimes against them, and accused me of discriminating different forms of life. Other than saying that I cannot reason with those who use this argument to justify their choice of eating meat, I could not think of any better way to counter it. I want to know what you would have said to this person. — DeepikaIMG_3550

Thanks Deepika for your questions and your efforts to raise awareness with others. If you can avoid actually arguing with pre-vegans, that’s always preferable, though it does take quite a bit of practice. It seems to be a good idea to initially agree or partially agree with whatever objection the person is making. A statement beginning with, “Yes, I understand. I wondered about that for a long time myself,” helps to create a common ground with the person you’re communicating with. You could even reinforce their idea by saying something like, “I read The Secret Life of Plants and have studied the recent literature about plant sentience so I could understand it better, and I understand the reasons people may be concerned about the possible suffering of plants.”

In your response, I’d suggest using primarily “I” statements, just talking about your own adventure of discovery. Here’s an example:

Yes, I understand your question. Like most people, I was raised eating meat, dairy, and eggs, and I believed the official stories, like the protein story, the calcium story, the human superiority story, and the plants feel pain too story. As I did more research, though, and started questioning the stories that had been injected into my consciousness from infancy, I began to realize that animal agriculture is not only hideously abusive to pigs, cows, chickens, turkeys, fishes, and other animals, but that it is also exceedingly inefficient.

Right now, for example, we are destroying about an acre per second of Amazonian rainforest in order to grow soybeans to feed imprisoned animals for meat, dairy products, and eggs that are consumed right here in this country. Cutting down an acre of rainforest is not just killing trees; it is also destroying webs of life that took millions of years to evolve, resulting in loss of habitat for both animals and plants, and driving the largest mass extinction of species in 65 million years. The oceans are similarly being overfished for fish for both human and livestock consumption, similarly driving extinction, climate destabilization, and environmental destruction.

With more research, I began moving toward a vegan lifestyle, and I learned that forests throughout the entire world have been, and continue to be, destroyed in order to grow corn, soy, alfalfa, and other feedstock for enslaved animals. I discovered that people who research the impact of animal agriculture on forests estimate that a person who switches from a standard western diet to a vegan diet saves at least 100 trees every year! It takes a small fraction of land, water, and petroleum to feed someone eating a plant-based diet, compared with someone eating a typical meat- and dairy-based diet. So it became crystal clear to me that anyone who professes to love plants and trees is unequivocally called to practice vegan living.

With further research, I learned, for example in The World Peace Diet, that everyone in our culture is injected with a small repertoire of rationalizations to use whenever the question of meat and dairy eating comes up. This is one of the main ones of course. I realized that it’s not an authentic objection, but merely a cultural device to prevent people from looking more deeply at the effects of their behavior.

With further reflection, I began to realize how flawed this rationalization actually is. For one thing, most of the plant-based foods we eat do not require harming the plants. Eating apples and other fruits, for example, actually benefit apple trees, creating orchards and of course we spread the seeds by eating the fruits of the tree. The same is true of most vegetables as well, which are actually fruits, such as tomatoes, squashes, eggplants, peppers, beans, corn, and so forth.

But what really clicked for me as I thought about it more deeply, is how shameful and absurd this rationalization is. Can you imagine ever using such a rationalization for violence against a human being? That it’s OK to stab another human being because tomatoes don’t want to be stabbed either? Wow! Or if it was used to rationalize stabbing a dog? Yet we use it to rationalize stabbing equally vulnerable sensitive beings with fully developed nervous systems who are the subjects of their lives, as we are. For example, if someone were to be charged with animal cruelty for stabbing his neighbor’s dog, and was testifying in court as to why he did this, if he were to say that to him, stabbing a dog and stabbing a tomato are really the same, I think it’s likely such a person would not just be sent to jail, but probably sent to an institution for the criminally insane.

As I have continued on this journey of vegan living, I’ve learned a lot about how our culture programs all of us to discount the suffering we cause others. I’ve come to realize that nonhuman animals are clearly recognized by researchers today to be profoundly capable of suffering, both physically and psychologically, and that they have complex intelligence and emotions that are devastatingly abused by the confinement, mutilation, and cruelty inherent in animal agriculture.

We animals, being mobile, are, unlike plants, equipped with bodies with pain receptors for our survival, but even if plants are in some way able to feel distress, as vegans, we harm a tiny fraction of the plants that eating the flesh and secretions of animals requires. Eighty to ninety percent of all the corn, soy, alfalfa, wheat, oats, and other grains we grow are fed to animals. So, even though we are growing enough food to feed 12-15 billion people every year, and we only have 7.2 billion people on the planet, at least one billion of our brothers and sisters are chronically hungry and starving because we feed most of our grains and legumes to imprisoned animals to feed those living in countries with higher-powered economies diets rich animal-based foods. Animal agriculture, which is exceedingly wasteful, traumatizes animals, wildlife, ecosystems, hungry people, and slaughterhouse and factory farm workers, who are forced to do work that brings out the worst in them.

As a vegan, I’ve grown to realize that I was programmed by my culture to disconnect from the violence I was inflicting on others in a variety of ways. For example, we are taught to use language, such as “harvesting” animals, which numbs and disconnects us from the realities of killing or murdering them.

Now, as a vegan, I can see that in my earlier days, I was desensitized to our culture’s relentless abuse of animals, and I can see how this numbness is a devastating affliction, because it leads, when widespread as it is today, to a society-wide lack of caring about the things that really matter in our world. I have found that vegan foods are not only delicious, but that vegans have a much lower rate of obesity, heart disease, cancer, autoimmune disease, kidney disease, and the other afflictions that plague people today, as well.

I am deeply grateful to the people who have exemplified vegan living for me. I now realize that the only reason I ever ate meat, dairy, and eggs was because of the community I was raised in, and the examples and stories in my upbringing. It’s now clear to me that compassion and justice for animals brings greater compassion and justice for all others: for plants, for other people, for ecosystems, for future generations, and even for my own bodily organs, my mind, and my spiritual awareness. Discovering people who questioned the dominant culture’s routine violence toward animals has opened my eyes, and inspired me to do my best to live a life of lovingkindness and respect for others, and the benefits of this are incalculable. It’s like waking up from a trance that I didn’t realize I was in, till I woke up! Thanks for this opportunity to reflect and respond to your important question.

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Dr. Will Tuttle, author of the Amazon best-seller, “The World Peace Diet,” is a recipient of the Courage of Conscience Award and the Empty Cages Award. A vegan since 1980 and former Zen monk, he is the creator of several wellness and advocacy training programs.

Is Veganism A Religion?

Will Tuttle : September 24, 2014

WT.sheep.aQ & A With Dr. Will Tuttle

Question: Is veganism a religion? And what can we do about all the divisiveness and infighting that seems to characterize our movement?

For many years I have felt that veganism is not a religion, but my feelings about that have changed in recent years, and I now feel exploring the possibility of veganism being a valid religion is an illuminating exercise. I would say that veganism is the core spiritual teaching and ethical principle of all the world religions. It is a practice, a moral statement, a way of living, an aspiration, and also, in some ways, a religion as well.

Some people may deny that veganism is a religion, because a religion must, as defined for example by Merriam-Webster, “relate to or manifest faithful devotion to an acknowledged ultimate reality or deity,” and we don’t see this typically as part of being vegan, at least in the beginning stages. However, as our veganism deepens, we begin to realize that it is an authentic, demanding, and rewarding spiritual path that not only positively transforms ourselves, but also positively transforms our society, as a religion should.

Looking deeply, we see that veganism does in fact relate to an ultimate reality, and that ultimate reality is the profound truth of the interconnectedness of all living beings. Veganism manifests as faithful devotion to the acknowledged truth that all life is sacred and interconnected, and that all living beings are deserving of kindness and respect.

A religion certainly doesn’t have to have a deity to be a religion. Buddhism, Taoism, Jainism, and Confucianism are all examples of large-scale, long-established, respected, and spiritually vital religions that have hundreds of millions of adherents. Why not add veganism to this list? If we do, I suspect some will like to begin capitalizing it: Veganism. Personally, I prefer to capitalize none of them, but this is something that we’ll have to work out with time. What do you think? Perhaps we can have veganism (uncapitalized) as the philosophy and lifestyle, and Veganity as the religion (adding “ity” as in Christianity).

The non-theistic religions require no faith, blind or otherwise, in any deity or doctrine. Rather they are concerned primarily with ethical living, and with spiritual awakening. Veganism is obviously primarily concerned with ethical living, but I would also say that it is ultimately concerned with spiritual awakening as well, because you can’t have one without the other. Ethical living, to be authentic, arises from an awakened sense of compassion and lovingkindness for others that is not policed by inner or outer rules, but is joyfully self-fulfilling. When we awaken from the delusion of separateness, and see that there is one life living through all of us, we understand clearly that harming others is harming ourselves, and kindness to others is kindness to ourselves. Out of this, the proper foundation for ethical behavior and social justice is established.

Like veganism, many of the world religions are not exclusivist. There are many Buddhists, for example, who also consider themselves Hindus or Taoists, and they and their culture see this is normal and natural. Likewise, we can be simultaneously a vegan and also be Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, Buddhist, or an agnostic or atheist. The beauty of veganism is that, as the living core of all world religions, embracing veganism will invariably make us better Christians, Buddhists, Taoists, agnostics, or whatever. Our lives will more genuinely reflect both the spirit and the letter of the ethical principles for living advocated by the religious and ethical teachings, such as humility, kindness, fairness, peacefulness, introspection, generosity, gratitude, and caring.

The word religion derives from religare in Latin, to restrain, and like veganism, has the connotation of exercising restraint in our behavior. The ancient Sanskrit word ahimsa, nonharmfulness, epitomizes this ethical teaching of restraint, and is clearly the essential teaching in veganism as it is in all the world religious teachings. At a deeper level, religare, or restraint, means to join again, and this reveals the deeper meaning of religion: reconnecting with our true nature of wisdom, compassion, and awakened consciousness. In a similar way, ahimsa means not only the restraint of nonharmfulness, but at a deeper level, Mahakaruna (great compassion in Sanskrit), the joyful, loving, and affirmative compassion born of spiritual liberation.

Just as there are stages in the spiritual life of people on a spiritual path, there are stages in our practice of veganism as a spiritual path. I have discussed these more in detail elsewhere, but basically, we begin with what I refer to as the shallow vegan stage, where we are shaky in our understanding of vegan philosophy and practice, and have a lot to learn. If we are able to survive this vulnerable first stage, we arrive at the second stage, which is the stage typically that I refer to as the angry vegan and/or the closet vegan. Though we’ve learned and absorbed enough to be able to live in a healthy way as vegans in our culture, because we are in such a small minority, we find ourselves often angry, outraged, and disappointed by the attitudes and actions of our neighbors, or we are afraid of being rejected, and become closet vegans. Beyond these stages lie the more psychologically and spiritually satisfying stages that I refer to as deep veganism.

With deep veganism, we are not only able to thrive as vegans in a not-yet vegan world, we are also able to understand the underlying cultural program that imprisons virtually all of us in disempowering attitudes of disconnectedness, entitlement, reductionism, and materialism. By doing the necessary inner work to free ourselves from these culturally injected attitudes, we begin to resurrect the sacred feminine within ourselves, and our natural wisdom and intelligence return. We increasingly live our life as an embodiment of veganism, which is radical inclusion, and we naturally become more non-violent in our relations not just with nonhuman animals, but with other people as well.

This hopefully sheds light on the question about how we can have less divisiveness in our movement. It requires us as vegans to realize that going vegan is just the very beginning of a long and rewarding journey of positive personal transformation. Going vegan in the world’s sense of this is certainly a beneficial achievement, but it’s not the end goal; it’s a commencement and the best is yet to come, provided we understand the critical truth that Gandhi articulated: that there can be no positive social change without positive personal change. As we increasingly live vegan ideals, and evolve in our vegan journey, we will learn to communicate non-violently and bring more healing to our world, our relationships, and our movement.

In sum, as our culture evolves, veganism will increasingly be seen as a religion that people can rely on, for example, to ensure they have access to vegan foods, for religious/ethical reasons, in typically oppressive environments like prisons and schools, and to justify refusing vaccinations, which contain animal ingredients and are tested on animals. Veganism in not just an animal rights movement, a social justice movement, a physical and mental health movement, an environmental movement, a peace movement, and a world hunger movement, but it completely embraces and nourishes all of these because it is, ultimately, a spiritual movement reconnecting us with the deeper, trans-verbal truths of existence. As we increasingly realize this and live it, we will not only regenerate the established religions, but also recognize veganism as the spiritual path of liberation for all, and the religion of the coming age (if we prove worthy to have a future here), drawing us to fulfill our proper destiny on this beautiful and ravaged Earth.

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Dr. Will Tuttle, author of the Amazon best-seller, “The World Peace Diet,” is a recipient of the Courage of Conscience Award and the Empty Cages Award. A vegan since 1980 and former Zen monk, he is the creator of several wellness and advocacy training programs.

Untangling Vegan Dilemmas

Will Tuttle : August 26, 2014

Q & A With Dr. Will Tuttle


Dr. Tuttle, I know you must be very busy, but I have so many questions. I just heard you speak at the World Day of Peace. It was awesome! When you questioned treating people to meat-eating meals, that really struck me. I work for the Catholic Church. So it is not uncommon for me to treat a homeless person to a meal. But I’m stuck. If we order Chinese food, of course I tell the person to order whatever he or she likes. I never say that it must be vegan/vegetarian. I don’t feel that that would be right. What a dilemma. Another question – what do you say to people when they say things like, “Don’t go imposing your values on me or anyone else…” Just wondering how you respond to that. Thank you for all you do! — Joyce

Hi Joyce,

Thanks for your interest in being a voice for compassion and justice – I think these questions will clarify as your vegan path develops and matures authentically in your life. That’s how it’s been for me over the years. The dilemmas diminish as I get more clarity, but the underlying dilemma for us is that it’s essentially not possible to live a completely ethical life in a profoundly unethical society. So we do the best we can.

I would not knowingly pay for someone to buy & eat a piece of horse, dog, human, or cat flesh if they’re hungry, nor would I similarly pay someone to buy & eat a piece of cow, pig, chicken, or fish flesh, or the stolen mothers’ milk of an enslaved and tortured cow or other animal. I do my best to ensure that I’m not relieving suffering for one being but at the same time directly causing suffering for another being. In the case of feeding animal-sourced food to the hungry, I would be actually causing abuse not just to the animal enslaved, mutilated, and killed to proved the flesh or secretions posing as food, I would also be causing abuse to many other beings as well: paying workers to harden their hearts and stab, shock, and mutilate animals, and traumatize their families and neighborhoods; stealing grain and legumes that could feed hungry and malnourished people, and feeding it instead in massive quantities to imprisoned animals; exterminating free-living animals who are targeted and killed as pests, and forced into extinction by animal agriculture; devastating oceans, rivers, forests, aquifers, and other vital elements of our planetary ecosystem that are destroyed by the inherent waste and violence of animal agriculture; and harming future generations who will inherit an Earth that can no longer celebrate and support bountiful life because of the war, disease, social injustice, and inner and outer devastation caused by animal agriculture.

As far as imposing values, we would never say that someone who argues and works against rape, murder, and stealing is imposing their values on rapists, murderers, and thieves, and shouldn’t do such a thing! We would naturally be grateful for their efforts, because this is the best not only for those who commit these offenses and their victims, but also for the entire society. It is of course similarly true with our abuse of animals. Just because our abuse of animals is culturally-approved and mandated (as was human slavery for many centuries for example), this in no way makes it acceptable.

Also, the only reason anyone is paying for killing, raping, and stealing from nonhuman animals is that their cultural programming has imposed these values on them. The primary reason anyone eats animal-sourced foods is that they’re simply following orders, and doing what they’ve been told to do since infancy by every institution in our culture. How ironic for such a person to say to a vegan, “Don’t tell me what to do. Don’t tell me what to eat.” The only reason they’re eating and doing what they’re eating and doing is because they’ve been told to eat and do that by pervasive damaging indoctrination. The vegan is actually helping them to question the fact that they’ve been told what to eat their entire lives, and to become aware of and question the negative effects of this. In this the vegan is acting as the most kind and helpful friend and ally. As vegans living our lives, we encourage people in their natural quest to be more healthy, happy, and free, and to live in a world that is more healthy, just, and sustainable.

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Dr. Will Tuttle, author of the Amazon best-seller, “The World Peace Diet,” is a recipient of the Courage of Conscience Award and the Empty Cages Award. A vegan since 1980 and former Zen monk, he is the creator of several wellness and advocacy training programs.

Vegan Lessons from Taiwan and New Zealand

Will Tuttle : March 15, 2014

SLW_0710We have recently returned from a six-week lecture tour promoting vegan living in Taiwan and down under, and I’m glad to say that we found a lot to be inspired about on this journey. And not surprisingly, there is much to be concerned about as well. In my recent article, “Taiwan: Emerging Beacon of Veganism,” written just after landing in Australia, I discussed the enormous positive response to my sharing the World Peace Diet vegan message there in late January. I believe that attracting 1,800 and 2,200 attendees to a lecture promoting veganism, as we did in Taichung and Taipei respectively, is unprecedented in the vegan movement, worldwide. Why is it so rare to have large crowds attending vegan lectures? This is a critical question, because spreading the vegan message effectively is the heart of the animal liberation movement, and of our hope for humanity to be able to live in harmony on this beautiful and beleaguered planet.

Considering the fact that the most any speaker promoting veganism can attract to a lecture anywhere else in the world has been at best 500 or maybe 800 people, what can we learn from Taiwan? What are the factors in Taiwan that make both the public and media unusually receptive to the vegan message? Taiwanese newspapers and magazines provided coverage that amplified the vegan message I was sharing, bringing it to potentially millions of readers.

While we had excellent turnouts and enthusiastic responses to our lectures in Australia and New Zealand, the scale of response in Taiwan was not just unprecedented, but quite frankly awe-inspiring. There seem to be several lessons we can learn from our Taiwanese friends. The first has to do with religion. Taiwan is a primarily Buddhist country, and for the most part it is Mahayana Buddhist, with an emphasis on compassion for animals and eating what they refer to as a vegetarian diet. (By the way, I learned that there is absolutely no word for vegan in Chinese, and also that the Chinese are loathe to borrow words from other languages, so when I said vegan, that was translated as “pure vegetarian.” This typically means no animal foods, and may also mean refraining from leather, fur, and so forth.) It was refreshing to visit Buddhist temples where the monks and nuns eat and live in a vegan way, and they teach this also to lay people who come to the temples for teachings, inspiration, and spiritual retreats.

In addition, I was embraced with open arms by the Taiwanese Buddhists because it’s well-known that I was a Zen Buddhist monk in Korea, and my book, The World Peace Diet, is written in a way that resonates deeply with Buddhists because it is grounded in these teachings and in the universal spiritual truths that undergird the world’s religious traditions. The World Peace Diet had been translated a few years before I arrived and was already a popular book in Taiwan, both in bookstores as well as being featured in the media. Thus, when the word spread that I would be coming, there was a huge response, because the large Buddhist organizations sponsoring my lectures were able to get the word out to many people.

What is ironic is that I’ve never been allowed to speak at Buddhist centers and temples in North America and other countries, basically because the monks, nuns, and leaders eat meat and dairy products regularly. I’m sure that if I had gone to Thailand or Cambodia, for example, where Theravada Buddhism is the norm, or even to Japan, all places where Buddhists regularly eat meat, there would not have been nearly the interest in the vegan message. In fact, we flew from Taiwan to Perth, where there is a Theravada (Vipassana) Buddhist center. A number of students asked that I give a lecture there, but the head teacher refused to allow it. This has always been the case here in the U.S. as well, and includes centers of Tibetan Buddhists also, which are typically similarly resistant to the vegan message.

Thus, an obvious lesson we can see is that to the degree we can work within religious institutions and help people within them move toward understanding, embracing, and advocating veganism, we will open huge doorways for the vegan message to pour into the mainstream. Our recent experience in Taiwan is a good example. Our vegan message was amplified enormously through Buddhist-sponsored lectures, press conferences, television programs, and media reporting, interviews, and outreach.

Another lesson we can learn is about the role of animal agriculture in the cultural discussion of veganism. Taiwan, for example is an island country about the size of Maryland with a population of 25 million, and New Zealand is a much larger island country about the size of Colorado, but with a population of only four million. There is no influential animal agriculture industry in Taiwan. People are naturally protective of their island’s beauty, and animal agriculture is mainly small-scale, though they do have an imposing fishing industry. East Asian people traditionally ate no dairy products at all, so dairy consumption is relatively new, just beginning in the post-World War II era with greater U.S. influence, but it has become quite popular in Taiwan, as it has throughout Asia. Even though there are over 1,500 registered vegetarian restaurants in Taiwan, for example, less than five percent are strictly vegan. Again, they don’t have the word, and the cruelty inherent in dairy is not understood by most. Though the Buddhist monastics are vegan, most Buddhist restaurants and functions are still vegetarian, not vegan, though this is changing as awareness grows, and is also helped along by the presence of the vegan spiritual movement founded by Master Ching Hai, which is quite strong in Taiwan, and manifests in about 20 vegan Loving Hut Restaurants around the country.

Because of the absence of a powerful animal agriculture industry in Taiwan, I witnessed, participated in, and heard about things that would be rare or almost impossible in North America, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand, like meat-free hospitals and meat-free weekdays in 93% of public schools. I had to pinch myself practically during a press conference I was in with highly respected Taiwanese politicians who were speaking about the importance of passing legislation promoting vegetarianism and veganism, and taxing animal foods because of their negative health and environmental consequences. There was no fear of the usual ferocious backlash from the animal ag industry! Thus, the Taiwanese are freer to question animal foods, which they primarily import, especially dairy products. When I asked, “From where?” the answer was, “From New Zealand.”

Another lesson: poor New Zealand. The last of the three countries we visited, New Zealand seems hardest hit by animal agriculture. Traveling through both the north and the south islands, we both witnessed and heard about the environmentally devastating consequences of animal agriculture, especially the large dairy operations that in recent years are expanding throughout the country. Wherever we went we saw clear-cut forests and destruction of habitat for wildlife, in order to graze cows and grow feed for them. Of course this has happened in the U.S., Europe, and Australia as well, but in New Zealand, which has such a tiny human population, and so many rich green forests and clean streams, it seems especially tragic. Hearing about, and seeing, the devastating pollution of rivers and aquifers so that people in Taiwan and other countries can buy inexpensive dairy products from cruel, ecosystem-crushing industries was especially disturbing. And of course the main anti-vegan argument we kept hearing in New Zealand (which we also hear in other rural regions of the world) is about the economy: “Our whole economy is built on the dairy industry: if you’re promoting veganism, you’re anti-New Zealand!”

So another lesson for all of us is to compassionately consider the meat and dairy industry workers and operators, and ways they can transition into growing healthy, sustainable, and peace-promoting gardens, orchards, and fields so we can feed everyone without forcing farmed animals into terror and misery, wildlife into extinction, children into starvation, and people into war and violence.

Finally, one of the most heartening lessons was working with the enormously creative, enthusiastic, generous, and resourceful vegan activists in all three countries. We’ll discuss that in the next writing. For me, one of the best things about being involved with and serving the vegan movement is the opportunity to meet and cooperate with some of the most loving and dedicated human beings on the planet. Madeleine and I are grateful to you all for your heart-touching and inspiring efforts!

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Dr. Will Tuttle, author of the Amazon best-seller, “The World Peace Diet,” is a recipient of the Courage of Conscience Award and the Empty Cages Award. A vegan since 1980 and former Zen monk, he is the creator of several wellness and advocacy training programs.

Taiwan: Emerging Beacon of Veganism

Will Tuttle : February 20, 2014

IMG_0477_2“Taiwan is known as the vegetarian paradise.” Soon after arriving in Taiwan recently, I was told this by quite a few people. There are over 1,500 registered vegetarian restaurants on this little island smaller than West Virginia, with a population of 23 million people. Taiwan, also known as the Republic of China, was originally named Formosa by Portuguese explorers, which understandably means “Beautiful Island.”

During my five-day lecture tour I discovered a less-obvious heart-touching beauty of this island: the Taiwanese people, who strike me as some of the most caring, motivated, and intelligent people I’ve encountered anywhere. What I found most inspiring is their enthusiasm for both veganism and for organic and ecological living. My lecture tour was organized primarily by a local grass-roots vegan education group called Meat-Free Monday Taiwan, and secondarily by the publishing company that translated my book, The World Peace Diet, into classical Chinese.

Remarkably, 93 percent of all secondary schools in Taiwan have adopted a meat-free policy in school lunches one day per week, and increasing numbers are now boosting it to two days per week (and hopefully, beyond this also). A predominantly Buddhist country, Taiwan has many Buddhist organizations that, unlike those in the West, actively promote vegetarian and vegan living. I was fortunate to be able to meet with and collaborate with some of these groups.

For example, the largest Buddhist organization in Taiwan, Fo Guan Shan (Buddha’s Light Mountain), founded by Dharma Master Hsing Yun, has many temples and meditation centers throughout Taiwan and around the world. All the monks and nuns, as well as the retreats for lay people, are vegan (“pure vegetarian” in Chinese) and their restaurants are all vegetarian. Fo Guang Shan sponsored a seminar at their center in Taipei where some of the monastics and I discussed the many benefits of veganism for an audience of both monastics and the public.

Another large Taiwan-based Buddhist group that promotes vegetarianism and veganism is the Buddhist Tzu Chi movement founded by Dharma Master Heng Yin. This organization produces several national TV programs, and we recorded two episodes in their studio focusing on the benefits of veganism, and on the healing power of music. Tzu Chi also has a half-dozen full-scale hospitals in Taiwan, and I gave a lecture at one in Taipei to an audience of about 300 people comprised of nurses, nutritionists, doctors, and the public. All of Tzu Chi’s hospitals are vegetarian/vegan, and several doctors spoke in their introductory remarks to the audience before my lecture of the significant health benefits they see in advising their patients to eat plant-based diets. Taiwan seems to be on the cutting edge of wellness, and is world renowned for its affordable and effective health-care system, considered by many to be the best in the world. It’s not surprising, with this focus on the benefits of plant-based meals. Both Fo Guang Shan and Tzu Chi have memberships that include millions of people, and the vegan teachings that the monks and nuns exemplify and propagate not only raise consciousness in Taiwan, but also in our entire world because they are world-wide in their scope and outreach.

A third Buddhist organization, the Leezen group that runs 97 Taiwanese vegetarian and organic health-food stores, and its affiliated Bliss and Wisdom Cultural Foundation, sponsored my two main lectures in Taiwan. The first, at the university in Taichung, drew 1,800 attendees, and the second at Taipei Tech in Taipei, attracted 2,200 people. Again, the response to the vegan message of compassion and justice for animals was received with enormous enthusiasm by both the general public, who gave standing ovations at the end of the presentations, and also by the university officials, who are keen to promote veganism in Taiwan. Both the president of Taichung University and the president of Nanhun University are eminent academics and policy experts in Taiwan, and besides practicing veganism themselves, took the opportunity to promote veganism in their opening remarks to the audiences before my lectures.

After decades of encountering chronic resistance to veganism from university administrators and religious leaders here in North America—even among progressives like those in the Buddhist, Unitarian, Unity, yoga, and environmental and peace movements—it was enormously refreshing to see veganism warmly embraced and enthusiastically expounded by leaders in the Taiwanese religious and educational sectors. We have a lot to learn from our brothers and sisters in Taiwan it seems!

Finally, what about Taiwanese politicians and veganism? Again, a refreshing example of sanity and caring. I participated in a Taipei press conference with two of Taiwan’s most eminent government officials, Madame Annette Lu, who served as Vice-President of Taiwan from 2000-2008, and Lin Hungshih, currently the majority Whip in Taiwan’s House of Representatives. We all agreed about the crucial importance of promoting veganism in society today, and also enacting public policy and education initiatives to help people understand this and encourage adoption of plant-based eating. We discussed ideas such as implementing a tax on meat, for example, and the members of the press asked intelligent and supportive questions.

All in all, I am immensely encouraged by the progress being made in Taiwan by hard-working and dedicated activists who are helping Taiwan lead the way as a brilliant way-shower to the rest of struggling humanity. Besides the work being done by vegan activists, Buddhist monastics, politicians, and educators, there is also cooperation from the Taiwanese press. For example, besides being able to reach thousands of people directly, my presentations were positively covered by all four major newspapers in dozens of articles, so we were reaching potentially millions of people with the vegan message. There are many lessons in all this, and one of the main ones is that we humans can awaken on a large scale from the nightmare of animal exploitation, and cooperate and create institutions that promote compassion for all living beings. Taiwan is a significant example of ways that we can accomplish this, and is an helpful inspiration for us all.

For now, I’ve just arrived here in Australia, and have another whirlwind of lectures here and in New Zealand over the next month. Attending a rally of over six thousand people on the beach in Perth yesterday to protect sharks, I feel inspired yet again by the devotion we humans are capable of, to bring compassion, peace, and freedom to nonhuman animals and each other. The momentum for a vegan world is building, and nothing is more crucial than this.

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Dr. Will Tuttle, author of the Amazon best-seller, “The World Peace Diet,” is a recipient of the Courage of Conscience Award and the Empty Cages Award. A vegan since 1980 and former Zen monk, he is the creator of several wellness and advocacy training programs.

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