1 - Earthly Ethical Marketplace 2022

Veganism as a Spiritual Practice.

BY: Melanie Howarth @tarot_and_tea

Veganism as a spiritual practice.

My name is Melanie Howarth and I am a Holistic Health Therapist, Therapeutic Tarot Practitioner and founder of Tarot And Tea. I wish to share my thoughts about a subject which is very personal to me. 

The topic I’ve been asked to explore is why anyone seeking to enhance their spirituality should consider going vegan. My own journey towards a plant based diet started 37 years ago and I have been vegan for the last 21 years.

A spiritual life is one that recognises the unity of all things. That all sentient beings are connected to the Universal Consciousness, the Divine, the All That Is. Regardless of how you may personally define that energy whether through Religion, Spirituality, Mysticism, Philosophy, Physics or some other personal observance, spirituality in basic terms recognises our personal connection and the unity of all things to that which is at once within us individually and expressed externally in the manifestation of everything else that exists. 

Another universal aspect of spirituality is the expression of love and compassion for all. Those wishing to live a spiritual life strive towards love and compassion for the self and for all others. When we recognise the unity of all things and work towards the ideal of compassion we develop our sense of empathy and connection.

Unfortunately we live in the age of the military industrial complex where the dominant culture is one of exploitation for material gain. The very food that sustains so many people and supplies energy to body and mind is based on suffering and exploitation. As an ultimate demonstration of the spiritual law “as within so without”, the impact of animal agriculture is destroying our planet, causing hunger and starvation to many, while affecting people’s personal health in an equally destructive way, in addition to suffering of its countless animal victims each and every day. There is another way. Ethical consumerism is the antidote to the rampant materialistic industrial agendas that surround us constantly. Social change starts with individual action that is prompted through the passion of conviction as a result of inner change.

Veganism is more than a diet. It is a lifestyle that recognises the divinity and unity of all life and is a way of practicing ahimsa or non violence. Ahimsa, a concept found in Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism, is a Sanskrit word which means nonviolence and to have compassion as well as recognising the divinity in all things and the law of Karma with the understanding that because all things are connected, that to hurt another is to hurt yourself. 

If you aspire to a spiritual life, and understand the concept of karma, that in turn leads to the necessity of right action and ethical, moral behaviour. We have no necessity in the current time for animal agriculture. There are so many alternatives to a carnivorous diet and a healthy, delicious, balanced, nutritious diet that does not include animal products is easily achievable. 

At many vegan events there are always a great variety of stalls offering a wide range of delicious plant based foods, drinks and other vegan products. Truly as animal rights advocate and Law professor Gary L Francine states “Veganism is not a sacrifice it is a joy”. When I first started eating a plant based diet there was very little in the way of alternatives. Early soya milks were best avoided. I remember eating lots of lentils. Sosmix was as good as it got! 

Now there is no ingredient, dish or treat that cannot be replicated or veganised! There is so much available….vegan non dairy items replicating or improving upon artisan cheeses, milks, butter, yoghurt, ice creams, chocolates, omelette, jelly, even meringues and so much more! Vegan food production has come a long way and there is a great deal of skill and experience by artisan chefs as well as investment in an exponentially growing market. 

Research conducted in 2018 by comparethemarket . com and supported by Gresham College professor Carolyn Roberts, suggests 7% of the UK is now vegan. There is more investment and greater demand for vegan products which means a better variety and prices for vegan consumers. Veganism has gone mainstream with many high street chains, restaurants and supermarkets offering Vegan foods. This is indeed proof that ethical consumerism works. Individuals making choices to support positive change as a collective does make change happen. There has never been a better time to make the change.

When we learn that we can live more compassionate lives without the needless suffering and destruction of animal exploitation, with improved health for our bodies, minds and the ecology of the planet, why would we choose to continue to eat an animal based diet? 

By being vegan you respect the right to life and freedom from suffering of all animals as a result of your personal lifestyle choices. You accept responsibility and accountability for your choices. You honour the sanctity of your own being by nourishing your body and mind with energising, healing, nutritious plant based foods. You can also have a direct and empowered positive effect on the environment. 

Alternatively as a non vegan environmentalist you can recycle, take showers, limit energy consumption in your home and cycle to work and yet it will be little more than a gesture, if you are still financing ecological destruction through animal agriculture. Through veganism we can rebuild our relationship to the natural world with honour and respect and reconnect to our empathy. We remove the delusions of our cultural conditioning that makes us love one animal while eating another.

The idea that some animals are for eating and others are for loving is based on a philosophy of speciesism that we are entrenched in from the earliest age. So many people say they love animals but in truth they love pets and the concept of animals, while ignoring the plight of exploited animals and preferring not to acknowledge their own culpability. George Bernard Shaw said “The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them but to be indifferent to them: that’s the essence of inhumanity“ 

We are conditioned and desensitised to the reality of our relationship with animals and the abuse of power at its centre. We learn as infants that dogs go woof and cows go moo. We have baby books that normalise the exploitation of animals and portray life on the farm as a wonderful idyllic place where lambs skip and chickens wander. The reality is so different. 

We buy prepackaged body parts from the supermarket shelf and are totally removed from the reality of what that means. From my perspective this dissociative functioning is at the heart of what is wrong with the more violent, sociopathic aspects of our world. 

I believe that collectively we create our own reality. As we think, feel, envision, express and act we create. We have numerous subconscious programmes operating that are also adding to this process of creation. 

If the very basis of our cultural conditioning and indeed the sustenance of our bodies is based on a power dynamic of exploiters and exploited, of superiority and inferiority, of separation and disconnection, is it any wonder we are confronted by a reality that includes war, crime, intolerance and injustice? 

What we eat has not just a physical effect on our bodies but energetic impact on our minds, spirit and the world around us. We can each make a simple choice that moves us towards spiritual wellness and a world of peace.

Is it not a function of extreme ego to feel that we as humans are somehow entitled by the privilege of our power status to take what we want from animals, be it their lives, flesh, the food for their babies or their skin? 

Can we hope to evolve spiritually while caught in a cycle of denial, entrenched conditioning and violence? There is a paradigm shift taking place globally. People all over the world are becoming vegan for many different reasons. For some it is seen as an aspirational lifestyle choice, others choose it for compassionate reasons, some for environmental concerns and still others for improved health. 

The growing popularity of veganism in our social awareness and thanks to the Instagram generation which sees veganism as part of an aspirational lifestyle has led to people thinking of veganism as a phase. Veganism may be gaining in popularity but it is far from a fashion trend. 

The Vegan Society was formed in the UK in 1944 by Donald Watson, who also coined the term vegan, and 23 other people who shared the same ideology. Donald Watson, a vegetarian since 1924, went vegan after discovering the realities of milk production. He is quoted as saying “ We can see quite plainly that our present civilisation is built on the exploitation of animals, just as past civilisations were built on the exploitation of slaves, and we believe the spiritual destiny of man is such that in time he will view with abhorrence the idea that men once fed on the products of animals’ bodies” Donald Watson who had been a peace activist and conscientious objector during the Second World War remained vegan until 2005 when he transitioned to spirit at the age of 95.

Regardless of why people choose to become vegan, huge benefits result and an energetic shift in awareness begins to take place. When the  body is feeling great, free of meat and dairy and other animal products the mind feels clear. New vegans may begin to embrace other reasons that weren’t the initial impetus for their transition. You begin to see how unnecessary animal exploitation is and without the assumption of necessity you can truly see how cruel it is. 

My own journey towards veganism started very young. It was 1985. I was living in rural Scotland at the time and I was about ten years old. I was walking beside fields with my Mum and younger Sister. At the entrance to one field the dairy farmer was forcefully and violently separating a newborn calf from its mother. The mother was desperate to be with her child and the farmer was taking the distraught baby away from her while kicking and pushing the mother cow away. I didn’t fully understand what I was seeing, the full ramifications of what was happening for mother and child or my own role as a consumer of dairy products in this tragic scene but I did recognise the fear, grief, desperation and loss. The feelings were so palpable, so beyond species that to this daythe emotional and visual memory of it is vivid for all three of us. 

Afterwards I became fascinated by the cows I saw around me each day. The fact that each one had a plastic tag with a number attached to its ear unsettled me although I couldn’t articulate why. The fish flapping around in boxes at the harbour, gasping for air made me feel helpless. It was lambs I saw playing in the fields that were in my mind when we had “lamb stew” for school dinner.

It was shortly after seeing the calf taken from its mother that the three of us , my mother, sister and I became vegetarian. I thought that was a compassionate choice. I wasn’t eating or wearing animals that had been killed for my benefit. I felt absolved of guilt. I became complacent with the idea that I was doing my bit. It wasn’t until much later I connected the dots and understood my vegetarianism was a well intentioned gesture but in reality did little to stop the suffering I had been so affected by as a child.

What I connected with as a child was my own empathy for the suffering of other sentient beings. I recognised their feelings, the injustice and cruelty being inflicted on them. I felt a connection in the depth of my being with their pain. I grew to understand that they suffered for me, for my school dinners and other meals, clothing and so much more. Sadly it was another 15 years until I understood that being vegetarian was not sufficient and that I was still fully supporting the meat industry through my consumption of other animal products. 

My passion for energy work, nutrition, body therapies and spirituality led me towards veganism. As I became aware of the toxicity of the egg and dairy industry not just in terms of nutrition but energetically I realised I wanted no part of the industry of suffering. 

At this point my family has three generations of vegetarians and vegans. My own daughter who is fourteen, was raised vegan until she was 6 at which point she made a choice to be vegetarian. I know she has a roadmap for vegan living and feel that it is highly likely that she will return to that path in time. I only provide vegan food at home but I respect her autonomy to make her own decisions as I don’t believe these choices should be forced or coerced in others but rather should be encouraged and supported.

When you become aware of the impact of your choices and choose to fully abstain from animal products, regardless of how long it takes you to get to that point, you will probably wish you’d made the change sooner, to love yourself, the planet, the people and the animals. 

At the time I chose to become vegan, despite the work of Donald Watson and those like him, it was still viewed as an extreme dietary choice. People were derisory. My choice was viewed as almost akin to an eating disorder. People couldn’t believe that I could be healthy on such a diet. The truth is that going vegan has had a hugely positive impact on my health with the chronic bronchitis that had plagued me for my entire life up until that point clearing up and fading away with my choice to abstain from foods containing dairy.

I understand why people attack vegans. It is because the choice to be aware and accountable can highlight for people their own complacency and as a result people may project their resentment and anger towards you. Your choice confronts their cognitive dissonance, questions why, if they are a good person who is kind to animals are they supporting animal exploitation and death. Your choices challenge theirs and their internalised anger will be redirected towards you. If you decide to make the change I urge you to be firm in your intentions to remain vegan despite criticism directed at you but try to be gentle towards others when you experience negative reactions like this. Your consciousness and growing changing perceptions may be challenging their deep subconscious conditioning. 

Console yourself with the thought that maybe you were like that once and that this anger may be the first step in their growth towards a more compassionate choice. You don’t have to judge the choices of others just model your own positive choice and you may find you inspire others towards a change. Resistance as an energy is counterproductive and judgement is a function of the ego. What you resist will persist. Instead like Mahatma Gandhi said “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” Vegans are not better people who feel superior to non vegans but they are making a more compassionate choice that recognise that animals have an equal right to a life free from human exploitation.

As a spiritual practice veganism is like yoga. It isn’t about forming the perfect pose it’s about showing up to the mat. You don’t have to be perfect, you simply need to want to try. Feel your way into it naturally. If you try veganism and find yourself slipping back into familiar patterns it’s ok. Try again tomorrow and just show up. Give yourself permission to keep trying. Get informed. Seek support and advice. You might be stretching out of your comfort zone at first but soon with some sustained effort you will find the change smooth and easy to maintain. Your body will in some undefinable way feel lighter. Your mind will feel clearer and your heart will open. I highly recommend veganism as a spiritual practice!

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