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A Balanced Diet

Published in VegNews Magazine, December 2005

By Will Tuttle, Ph.D.

I often hear, especially during the holidays, from readers who suffer emotionally during what should be a joyous time of year. The plight of animals used for food is hard to ignore when seeing billboards for ribs and TV ads for chicken and turkey stuffing. As vegans, we may feel sad, bitter, misunderstood, and isolated by the apparently oblivious attitudes of our culture, friends, and families. What can we do?

In a few words, we can cultivate a sense of joy and thankfulness. In the face of our culture’s unrelenting pressure to view animals as mere food commodities, going vegan is a victory for peace, a real spiritual breakthrough. As vegans, we’re a force for healing and compassion every day and at every meal. Our way of living exemplifies mercy and promotes freedom, and offers opportunities to unfold wisdom and help heal our world. These are true causes for an abiding sense of joy. Even in the midst of grief and outrage at our culture’s cruelty, we can be glad that our ability to feel is reawakening.

The act of regularly eating foods derived from confined and brutalized animals forces us to become somewhat emotionally desensitized, and this numbing and inner armoring makes it possible for us as a culture to devastate the earth, slaughter people in wars, and support oppressive social structures without feeling remorse. By going vegan, we’re taking responsibility for the effects of our actions on vulnerable beings and we’re resensitizing ourselves. We’re becoming more alive, and more able to feel both grief and joy. Kahlil Gibran points out in The Prophet that unless we are able to feel our grief and weep our tears, we will not be able to laugh our laughter, either. Turning our pain and outrage into action on behalf of vulnerable beings will bring healing to us and to our world.

The foundation of our culture’s systemic violence against animals for food is a mentality of exclusion. For us as vegans to be a force for the revolution of compassion that is called for if our culture is to survive, we must heal the mentality of exclusion within ourselves, and exclude no one from our understanding and compassion. We don’t have the luxury to cultivate anger, or allow it to be a motivation, because anger is a poison that is inherently exclusionary. We are called, as Gandhi said, to be the change we want to see. There is no motivation more revolutionary than joy-filled loving-kindness.

Please take time every day to connect with the beauty of nature and with the inner silence of your being. Consciously practice opening to the joy and blessedness of life. You have every right to do so. Turn your pain and awareness into action and act from joy, gratitude, and kindness; your joy helps build an expanding field of freedom and happiness and is a powerful contribution to our human evolution beyond the contracting pain of fear, violence, and exclusivity.

The revolution implicit in veganism is a revolution of universal love and inclusiveness and its energy of joy can wash the planet clean and transform ugly human folly. Give thanks every day for the joy in your heart and that you see reflected in the birds, flowers, trees, and in the whole web of celebrating life, for that is what you are.

Stay open and sensitive to the suffering of both animals and humans, and bring as much loving-kindness as you can to all your relationships with others, including yourself. We are all connected, and your joy brings joy to others and makes your veganism more appealing and contagious to others.

Will Tuttle, Ph.D., composer, pianist, Zen priest, and author of The World Peace Diet, is cofounder of Karuna Music & Art and of the Prayer Circle for Animals and Circle of Compassion ministry.

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