Compassionate Consumption: Eating With Awareness
Food. What to eat and what not to eat. What to consume consumes our thoughts- some of us obsess over it. Vegetarian? Vegan? Paleo? Organic? Wild harvested? Whatever is on sale? The daily special at my favorite restaurant? Many people are shocked to find out that I am not a vegetarian or vegan. As an herbalist and shamanic practitioner, people assume I would be. But it is exactly because I am a shamanic herbalist and wholistic healer that I am not a vegetarian…
But what of the ethical issues? We are all aware by now of the ghastly treatment of animals raised purely as food for humans. The widely available video footage of this abuse brings tears to my eyes. There is also data available that indicates a percentage of global warming is caused by the manure of our food animals. A widely cited 2006 report estimated that 18% of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions were attributable to cattle, buffalo, sheep, goats, camels, pigs and poultry- and further studies have shown that figure as high as 51%. Finally, all the land and grain required to feed meat animals lowers the availability of less expensive grain based foods for the millions of hungry mouths of our ever-expanding human population.
These are excellent reasons to drastically lower our meat consumption. Eating huge chunks of animal protein because we can afford to do so is a bad idea by all accounts. But is animal protein the main cause of our terrible modern health issues? And is it the moral obligation of the human being to avoid eating anything with consciousness… with a face… with eyes that look back at us with emotions that we clearly identify as emotions we recognize and feel too?
From the perspective of the shaman, everything is alive. Everything has consciousness. Everything vibrates with life force energy. As an herbalist I have come to understand the great power of the Plant Nation. Plants have provided us with food, medicine, clothing and shelter since we arrived on this Earth (in whatever way you feel we arrived). This budding awareness (pun intended) at the beginning of my walk as herbalist was enough for me look closely at my own anthropocentric ideals. In my human-centric way of viewing the world, I had put consciousness on a hierarchical scale, with life forms being most like humans at the top, and those things less like humans at the bottom. This left plants very near the bottom of my chart. Plants could be eaten, weeded, hybridized, monocultured, and thrown away at will. After all, plants don’t have a face, right? And who has heard a tree cry when it’s apple is plucked?
Shamans use plants as medicine, and as powerful, compassionate teachers and allies. As I have moved ever deeper over the years into my practice as a shamanic herbalist, I could not ignore the ancient and conscious bond between shaman and plant. I have explored plant consciousness and in doing so have glimpsed my own true face and the faces of my plant teachers. Plants are aware and intelligent. I have learned how to speak with them- and in honor of our alliance plants speak back to me.
Diet is a personal choice and the issues are very complex. There is no one-size-fits-all way to eat, of that I am certain. I do know that every time I put something in my mouth- I have taken the life force (life) of another being. Every time I breathe I kill microbes and other microscopic beings. I must take in life force energy every moment in order to maintain my own life. This is the way of the Earth- and it is good.
It is an inevitable part of life on Earth to eat and to be eaten. I do my best to honor the body I was given. For me this means eating with the knowledge that EVERYTHING I eat has a face. When I am eating at my best, I eat the least processed and organic foods I can find. PROCESSED MEANS MADE WITH HUMAN INTERVENTION: Mono-culture grown vegetables. Animal feed lots. Pasta & breads & crackers. Margarine. Soy meat & milk substitutes are very processed have you ever SEEN a soy bean? It must take a lot of processing to get milk or meat outta that bean. Why not just eat the actual bean of the soy plant? Vegetarian meat and cheese substitutes are very processed. The meat of a naturally grass-fed and raised cow is less processed. Less processed still- a wild deer. I choose the foods that have the least amount of human handling before they got in my fridge. Better still, eat plants and animals that thrive without human intervention, in their natural and chosen habitats. That trumps any label- organic, free range, pastured…
Want to learn more about eating vibrant, living plants and the health benefits of doing so? Join me each year- this year in June- for a Wild Food Retreat. We will identify, harvest, cook and eat wild plant foods that surpass organic. Foods that fit into your body chemistry like a key in a lock. You might even grace your July 4th picnic table with some of the wild plant dishes you will learn to cook and eat. You will no longer say you cannot afford organic- it will be sitting at your feet. And we all- human and plant alike- will enjoy the communion.