Buddha and the Low-Carb Craze

Originally published in VegNews Magazine, July 2004

By Will Tuttle, Ph.D.

What would the Buddha say about low-carb diets? He would certainly recognize an obvious correlation that seems to elude many, namely that since foods contain only three basic constituents—carbohydrates, fats, and proteins—low-carb diets must be high in protein and/or fat. The foods highest in protein and fat, with little or no carbohydrate, are animal flesh, dairy products, and eggs. Because of the low carb craze, more animals than ever are being killed to supply us our daily meals.

It’s well documented that the Buddha not only ate a strict vegetarian diet, but that he required this of his students as well. The Buddhist precept against killing, taken by both monastic and lay practitioners, prohibits animal sacrifice, hunting or raising animals for food, or eating them. While this tradition of ethical vegetarianism is not as strong in some Tibetan and Southeast Asian Buddhist traditions, it is still strong in many other traditions, and when I lived as a Zen monk in Korea, the diet and lifestyle among the monks and nuns there was virtually completely vegan. Nonviolence toward all animals, even mosquitoes, was practiced. We ate meals of rice, vegetables, tofu, and occasional fruit, and wore no leather, silk, or wool according to the ancient Buddhist tradition.

The monks and nuns were vigorous and long-lived but more importantly, were consciously refraining from contributing to the unnecessary suffering caused by eating and using animals’ bodies. Their low-protein, high-carbohydrate way of eating provided a wonderful foundation for lives of meditation and service, and for cultivating inner peace, clarity, harmony, and freedom.

I think the Buddha, epitomizing compassion, wisdom, and mindfulness, would ask, “Cui bono?”—“Who benefits?” from promoting low-carb, high misery diets. The two largest industries in America, the food and medical industries, and the massive investment industry lurking behind them, must keep demand for their products high. The destructive agricultural system now in place devastates millions of acres of forest and grassland in order to grow corn, soybeans, wheat, and other grains and legumes for animals, who convert plant carbohydrate into profitable and unhealthy fat and protein. The food and medical industries are guaranteed lucrative incomes at the expense of starving people, wildlife, aquifers, biosystems, and future generations. Ironically and tragically, we’re growing far more grain than we could ever eat ourselves. The billions of dollars invested in hospitals, drugs, and pharmaceutical and medical facilities requires a reliable and steady flow of clogged arteries and cancers to stay profitable and pay back the bankers in the background. An essential way to ensure this flow of sick people is to encourage the eating of drug- and pesticide-laced animals foods high in artery-clogging fat and acidifying protein.

With its legendary influence and wealth, the meat-medical-media complex would have to create a low-carb craze if there weren’t one in order to keep us from awakening to the truth that we have all been blessed with bodies that run best on high-carb diets, requiring no animals to suffer for their feeding, and with minds and hearts that basically recoil from violence and killing.

The Buddha would perhaps be impressed by our computers, airplanes, and other clever devices, but looking into our eating habits and farming practices he would be far more impressed by how easily we are deluded. I think he would ask us to consider the consequences of our actions, and to show compassion to the vulnerable beings whom our low carb, high-protein diets starve, maim, and murder. Based on their teachings and on recent scholarship, I’m confident Jesus and Mohammed would agree.

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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