Followers of some spiritual paths, professing love and compassion, are traditionally reluctant to adapt to an ever-changing world that increasingly recognises the physical, mental and spiritual benefits of veganism.
Just over four years ago, I gave a talk at Bristol VegFest that I called ‘Consume, don’t think; Waking up to a vegan world’.
I used my vegan journey, inspirations and influences as springboards to discuss various issues, from friends suddenly becoming nutritionists, food tied to memories and traditions, through to being inspired by vegan musician Moby and ideas for making vegan cheese.
During the Q&A, one man asked about spirituality and veganism. It was something along the lines of: “Why aren’t all spiritual people vegan?”
I remember saying that was a good question, but that I didn’t have time to delve into every subject in great detail. After the talk, I endeavoured to carry on the various conversations we’d started, creating a Facebook page, where I post occasional long streams of consciousness, but I haven’t fully explored the relationship between spirituality and veganism; there is a lot to discuss.
Veganism and vegetarianism are either intrinsic to some core spiritual beliefs — or the use of meat, fish, etc. is so ingrained in some religious traditions — that they may be deemed outrageous or blasphemous to question the presence of dead animals on one’s dinner plate, regardless of how sacred and miraculous life is deemed to be.
Ridiculous though it may seem, you’re always going to offend someone, however humble and unassuming a vegan you may be. Like Moby, who is also a Christian, but hates evangelism, and has simply stated he follows the teachings of Jesus Christ, with a tattoo of a cross on the back of his neck.
Recently, he’s added ‘Thou shalt not kill’, arching over the cross.
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And to celebrate 32 years of being vegan, he’s covered his arms and other sections of his neck, with vegan messages. Moby puts it so succinctly: “Wouldn’t it be remarkable if the world’s religions agreed on this one simple edict: thou shalt not kill? Thou shalt not kill humans. Thou shalt not kill animals. Thou simply shalt not kill.”
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It sounds so simple and unaggressive, but some people immediately become defensive — sometimes aggressive with it — largely contradicting the path they profess to follow and advocate. A spiritual person may express themselves with greetings or prayers like “‘Love and light”, “God bless” and “Peace be with you”. But then they may, for example, sacrifice an animal, or eat meat that has been prepared in a traditional way, or say a prayer thanking the God they follow for the animal’s lives.
These practices form such an indivisible aspect of their path or faith, it is difficult for them to even just consider change. I am a spiritual person, inspired by aspects of Buddhism and Paganism, but I don’t have a specific set of beliefs or a faith that I follow, but I respect my friends’ beliefs and freely share my outlook on life.
I don’t push my views, just as I don’t preach my veganism, but I will openly talk about my spiritual thoughts, and my vegan journey, with anyone who may like to listen. That’s the point: we can’t tell people what to do, but we can strike up conversations, keep it civil and aim to have engaging, healthy debates.
We’re all on individual journeys and paths; some of us aren’t even spiritual in any sense that I have touched on so far, but we have our world views, moral compasses and may believe our outlooks are right, or we simply care about our families or friends.
We live in an often disturbing but largely wondrous, amazing world, navigating social soup and cultural melting pots. Veganism isn’t a religion — or a cult, for that matter — but a peaceful, thoughtful way of living, that can easily sit on top of any belief held, enhancing one’s spiritual outlook, creating a basis for discussion, rather than division, at least in theory.
Wherever you fall on the spectrum of spirituality, we can all agree life should, at its essence, be about love: caring for each other, and everything on this planet, should be our priority. For me and fellow vegans, this means taking death off your plate, for the spiritual health of us all.