The Food in Heaven
Originally submitted as an essay for How to Achieve a Heaven on Earth, February 2009
By Will Tuttle, Ph.D.
I was born and raised in a family in New England eating a typical diet high in meat, dairy products, and eggs. When I was about seven years old, I remember asking my mother, “The kind of food we eat—is that what everybody eats?” She answered, “Yes.” Then she added, “Well, there are vegetarians…” in a way that made me think they must live on another planet.
At thirteen, I went away to a Vermont summer camp affiliated with an organic dairy and participated in killing my own chicken, and never questioned it in the least. After thirteen years in our culture, I knew that chickens are put on Earth for us to eat, that they don’t have souls, they taste good, and if we didn’t eat them and certain other animals, we would all soon die of a protein deficiency. Later in the summer, when we all witnessed and participated in killing a 2,000-pound dairy cow because she wasn’t giving enough milk any more, I have to say that though I was shocked by the sheer terror, bloodiness and agonized death convulsions of the cow, I didn’t question the rightness of our actions for a moment. Everyone in my world—relatives, neighbors, doctors, ministers, teachers, leaders, media—assumed that animals used for food are mere commodities.
As fate would have it, after graduating from Colby College in Maine in 1975, I went on a spiritual pilgrimage, heading west and then south, meditating, walking, and attempting to deepen my understanding of myself and the world. After several months of walking, I reached The Farm in Tennessee, a community of about a thousand hippies, mainly from California, who were living conscientiously on the land to be an example of peace and sustainability. They ate no animal foods, and their delicious meals, combined with my deepening understanding of how animals are routinely mistreated for food, made becoming a vegetarian a no-brainer. I’ve never eaten meat since.
Several years later, after moving to California, I went to Korea to live as a Zen monk, and found myself in a monastery that had been practicing vegan living for 650 years. No animal foods, wool, leather, or silk had been used there for centuries. For me it was a bit like heaven on earth—a deeply satisfying opportunity for sustained, undistracted introspection, and I found my consciousness relaxing into a sense of abiding peace as I was able to gradually extricate it from the brambles of multiple layers of programming, memory, and cultural indoctrination. The joy and freedom this brought were profound.
I have discovered that all of us raised in this culture have been ritually injected with an unrecognized mentality that renders our efforts for peace, freedom, justice, equality, and sustainability ironic. This mentality is the inevitable product of culturally-enforced, relentlessly repeated behavior: reducing beings to things to be eaten in our daily meal rituals. It is a mentality of exclusion, reductionism, predation, and disconnectedness, and it is the living, invisible fury churning at the core of our culture that reverberates as conflict, war, disease, and environmental devastation.
Our unnecessary and routine violence toward millions of defenseless animals every day boomerangs in remarkable and spectacular ways! Whatever we do to animals, we end up doing to ourselves. We force them into disease, drugs, terror, and frustration, and break up their families, hyperconfine them in toxic environments, and steal their purposes from them, and we find the same things happening to us. How could it ever be otherwise? The essential spiritual teaching of all the traditions is this: “Whatever you most want for yourself, give it to others.” To feel loved, be loving; to be free, let others be free. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” We are all connected.
Our massive and routine violence toward animals for food is our culture’s fundamental blind spot, when we look deeply enough, we realize that it is the essential driving force behind our dilemmas: environmental devastation (rainforest destruction, ocean degeneration, climate change, species extinction, soil erosion, fires, floods, water depletion, and air and water pollution), human starvation, disease, spiritual disconnectedness, low self-esteem, economic and political exploitation, and the domination of the feminine.
Paradoxically, this is wonderful news! Each and every one of us can help transform our culture in the most effective way possible: by switching to a plant-based diet for ethical reasons and encouraging others to do the same. This is veganism, which is a mentality and lifestyle of radical inclusion and compassion, and it is the antidote to our culture’s sickness, going to the hidden root of our dilemmas. It is the beckoning revolution that will make peace, sustainability, and heaven actually possible on this Earth. It’s wonderful, because it is not difficult! Anyone can go vegan today and help transform our world with every meal. We can each be the change we want to see in the world and bring forth the benevolent transformation we all yearn for in our hearts.
Dr. Will Tuttle, an award-winning writer, pianist, and composer, has presented widely throughout America and Europe. Author of The World Peace Diet, he has also taught college courses in mythology, philosophy, humanities, comparative religion, and creativity. His Ph.D. dissertation in education from the University of California, Berkeley, focused on educating intuition in adults. A Dharma Master in the Zen tradition, he has done intensive training in Korea, and has practiced meditation and vegan living for 30 years. He is devoted to promoting world peace through spiritual education and to spreading uplifting original piano music through concerts and his critically-acclaimed albums.
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