By Will Tuttle, Ph.D.
“I don’t think that animals were meant to be eaten and worn.” – John Lennon
There is a basic understanding that is hidden from us in our culture, and it is vital that we make an effort to recognize it and its consequences. This basic understanding is that we are all born into a culture that is essentially organized around herding animals for food and that this defining practice and the mentality it requires of us is devastating to the health, happiness, and welfare of our children, ourselves, and all life on Earth. Through our daily meals, we have all been ritually injected with a cultural herding program to buy and eat the flesh and secretions of certain animals. It’s been passed through the generations as a seemingly benign inheritance, but it destroys not just our rainforests, oceans, aquifers, ecosystems, and cultural and physical health, but also harms the inner landscape of our awareness.
The great irony is that it’s taboo to discuss or even be aware of this herding foundation because it is ritually foisted on all of us by every institution in our culture, and because of the remorse and dissonance we naturally feel in contemplating it. This core practice of enslaving and eating animals is instilled in all of us through what are any culture’s most intimate, powerful, and relentless social bonding experiences: daily meals.
In essence, the primary mentality of our culture is an attitude of reductionism. Daily, we practice and eat the mentality of reducing beings to things. Through our meals we are indoctrinated into the pervasive practice of commodifying living beings. We are forcibly taught to see and treat certain beings as mere objects that are routinely bought, sold, confined, mutilated, stabbed, and eaten. It’s a mentality of exclusion as well. We practice excluding certain beings from the sphere of our compassion with every meal. It’s also a mentality of hierarchical privilege, and of elitism, because the subtext pervading our meals is that certain beings have no purpose other than to be dominated and used by inherently superior beings. And it’s a mentality of disconnectedness because we are taught relentlessly to disconnect the reality that is on our plates from the reality required to get it onto our plates. This disconnectedness represses our individual and collective intelligence and compassion because intelligence is the ability to make connections cognitively, and compassion is the ability to connect empathically.
From this, we can begin to understand that the living essence of our culture is a mentality of domination, exploitation, predation, and oppression that we’re all forced to participate in and ritually instigate through the meals mandated by all our culture’s institutions: the family, education, religion, medicine, science, government, and the media. The hidden, driving fury behind our inability to fulfill our potential for wisdom, peace, freedom, equality, and sustainability is right under our noses daily at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The remorse we feel for being forced from infancy by our culture to be agents of death and abuse at every meal leads to denial and disconnectedness, and this makes it easier for us to be controlled by a wealthy elite, while crushing our inherent awareness and spiritual sensitivity. A natural result is that we become numb and fixate on competing and consuming. Our innate wisdom and compassion have been hijacked by our culture’s mealtime rituals that promote violence through consuming it.
Cross-culturally we see that most cultures have had religious and mythic traditions that encourage respect for what we can refer to as the sacred feminine dimension of human consciousness. This natural wisdom is the foundation of caring parental love, and of healthy families and communities, but it is severely repressed by forcing children to participate in mealtime rituals of eating violence and the accompanying disconnectedness and exclusivism. As the sacred feminine is repressed in all of us from infancy, we create cultural institutions that perpetuate this. Additionally, animal agriculture is not just humans dominating and exploiting animals. It is more accurately the practice of male humans dominating and exploiting female animals, and specifically the reproductive organs and cycles of these mothers, impregnating them against their will and stealing their offspring, and causing incalculable misery to these mothers and their babies, and laying waste the hearts of human oppressors who become hardened, tough, and desensitized to the beauty, innocence, and splendor of creation. Lost, we wander in worlds of anguish, fear, anxiety, disease, and conflict, because these are what we inflict on the billions of animals at our mercy, and to whom we show no mercy.
Contained within this understanding is the enormous and benevolent social revolution that we all know our culture longs for—the evolution into being individually and culturally worthy of peace, justice, freedom, and abundance. Encompassed in this understanding is the realization that we are essentially benevolent, creative, and wise. However, we have been forced by our culture from infancy to participate in meal rituals that reduce our intelligence as they reduce animals, the Earth, and ourselves to mere commodities in an contrived system of violence. When we realize that we’ve all been given the gift of bodies that require no animals to suffer to be healthfully nourished, and act on this realization, we become, ourselves, the change we want to see in the world. This is the heart and soul of the vegan vision of caring, joy, and peace that is beckoning and to which we are all called to contribute.
There is no greater act of kindness and liberation than to question the core of violence and disconnectedness churning unrecognized in the belly of our culture, and to switch to plant-based ways of living because of respect for the countless animals, humans, and future generations to whom we are inextricably related. All life is interconnected, and as we bless others, we are blessed. As we allow others to be free and healthy, we become free and healthy. Each and every one of us makes our world. Questioning everything this culture says, we can throw off the chains of abusing fish, birds, and other mammals, discover our purpose on this Earth, and join the celebration here instead of attacking and destroying it.
We will learn to love this world and all living beings authentically enough that our culture will be transformed. Imagining a vegan world is imagining a completely different world, and it beckons as our only viable future.