Friday, March 23, 2012

On Veganism

In 2003, I was for a brief time jobless while living in Las Vegas, and contemplating a career change. In that place of uncertainty and perhaps even some level of depression, I made the decision to experiment with psychedelics at the age of 34.

Now, I don't recommend such experiementation for all. Again, I was 34. I had significant savings, so I was not in financial trouble. I was single and childless. Basically, the only thing I felt was at risk was myself, and I was not particularly afraid of death since one of my issues was feeling a lack of purpose to life. In those limited circumstances, I felt that this drug experimentation was, if not ideal, at least not particularly irresponsible.

For the record, I also opted for a legal psychedelic, which I will not name. It has since become a scheduled drug by the DEA. So it is now illegal, but at the time it was legal. I point this out because, in fact, I was not breaking any laws when I did this experimenting. From that standpoint, it was on par with getting drunk on alcohol -- imprudent, but not illegal.

This trip did not create hallucinations, but it did make me feel very aware of everything that the mind normally screens out of conscious thought. For example, I was entirely conscious of the weight of the shirt on my back. I had a bite of chocolate and felt like it had 100 times more flavor than anything I'd ever eaten. Basically, I was on sensory overload.

Eventually, without gaining any real insight about much of anything, I decided to call it a night. Before sleeping, I took a shower to help relax. It was as if I felt every drop of water on my body simultaneously. It was sensory overload to the nth degree. It became so overwhelming, I began feeling a sense of mental expansion as my mind tried to process it all. I felt a sensation very much like my mind was growing larger than myself, and larger and larger, and this accelerated. It became a bit like being in a rocket taking off and in a matter of seconds I felt something totally unexpected: I felt one with everything.

I was no longer "Ken," I was now a fragment of the universe, like a finger or toe, though much less significant than that. I was nevertheless a living tool for the universe. This, I later found out, is called "ego death" and sometimes happens on psychedelics, and it can sometimes happen for other reasons, such as the product of meditation.

This was not a frightening place. On the contrary, it was the most peaceful and harmonious mental state I ever experienced. There was no fear of death, or even pain. What happened to my physical body was unimportant because I was the universe, and the universe was immortal. It was a certainty of purpose and immortality that was infinitely comforting.

In that mental state, I still was in my own body, still had my own memories and thoughts. Aspects of my personality were unchanged. But the egotistical aspects were all erased. The things that we do regularly, without thinking about it, based on ego, based on insecurity, based on fear, those were all erased.

I slept and awoke to find I was still in that same mental state. I realized I was hungry and went to have breakfast. However, the notion of having some fried or overly sweetened breakfast -- my general preference -- was totally unappealing. I felt a desire solely to do that which seemed best for the universe, and for nurturing life in the universe. In that mindset, the notion of eating junk food, or anything bad for me, was just completely alien. I did not have to suppress or overcome any desire for sweets or junk food, there simply was no such desire. Instead, I had complete satisfaction and joy in the notion that I was eating in a way that nurtured the cells of my body -- cells I felt I had a duty to care for.

So I had some pieces of fruit and some healthy cereal. When lunch came, I had some plain white rice and a carrot. I saw that much of my kitchen was stocked with food I simply could not bring myself to eat because I knew it would harm my body, and my goal was to nurture life, including my own life.

I went to the store and as I shopped, I realized I could not bring myself to eat meat, or in fact anything that required suffering of an animal. I also was not sure if dairy came from ethical farming or not, so I elected to avoid it until I found out for sure. I erred on the side of depriving myself rather than risk supporting some source of suffering. In that moment, I adopted a vegan diet.

This was a complete 180 from how I had been eating. I was raised on junk food and my mother's pot roast and fried chicken and the like. I never thought I could do without those comfort foods. Yet overnight, I gave them up in that mental state of ego loss (some may say, "enlightenment," but I cannot say for sure that is an accurate label).

The psychedelic I had taken lasts about 6 hours according to everything I read, so it had long worn off. However, this mental state of ego loss lasted three days. After three days of living in a way that was completely selfless and nurturing of life -- not watching tv, not eating meat or any kind of junk food, spending my free time exercising, doing yoga, reading educational books, etc. -- my ego began to reassert itself little by little. A desire for chocolate finally led to me eating some junk food. Then a desire for a cigarette (I smoked at the time) finally overcame my 3 day abstinence from smoking. I had even been having thoughts of giving away all my worldly possessions, and becoming something of a monk. But those thoughts faded. I started watching junk TV and playing video games.

However, despite the resurgence of my ego, and returning to my old habits and ways, one thing that did NOT change was my veganism. For whatever reason, that had taken hold in three days and I did not want to give it up. It was, in fact, surprisingly easy to maintain the diet. I learned to cook delicious vegan foods which became comfort foods as satisfying as anything I had grown up eating.

One caveat is that my reason for staying vegan was a bit different than the norm. Over the prior days, I had done some reading on living to help the planet, to nurture life, etc., and I read how creating meat to eat uses a lot more of Earth's resources than creating grains, fruits and vegetables. I read how there simply was not enough resources on Earth for everyone on the planet to eat the typical American diet. So to eat that diet, one is effectively saying "fuck you" to the rest of the population, and is saying it is okay to take more than your fair share of Earth's limited resources, even if that indirectly causes suffering and starvation elsewhere in the world. Basically, I remained vegan because I felt I owed it to my fellow man.

This actually means I was not vegan. From reading some vegan literature, I learned you are only considered a vegan if you abstain from eating meat or any animal products because you feel the animal is on a par with humans such that eating the animal or its byproducts is unethical. I had a problem with that. For all I know, carrots don't particularly like being plucked from the soil and eaten. Trees give nuts and seeds to grow into new trees, not to be chewed up by humans. While we may be able to more readily empathize with animals and animal suffering, I was not sure that made it any better to make a plant suffer rather than an animal.

And where did that leave carnivors in society? Did vegans think it would be good to invent some kind of plant-based food that would satisfy all carnivores so we could feed it to lions, tigers, ant-eaters, sharks, etc., and thereby prevent any animals from being eaten by any other animals? Where did the goal of saving animal lives end? Did we need teams of veterinarians to go out in the wild and try to save and heal any sick or injured wild animal?

No, in the end, I decided life is meant to feed on life. Animals, too, are meant to be food. The notion that this is morally acceptable only so long as the animal is eating by a carnivore, but not an omnivore, seemed to be splitting hairs. However, I kept to a vegan diet not because there is something wrong with eating animals, but because it was selfish to take too much of Earth's resources for myself. I felt a moral obligation to try to live a lifestyle that was more sustainable and less likely to lead to famine, shortage, and strife among humans.

I also thought that while eating animals may be morally acceptable, there was something wrong with developing a system that essentially tortured animals in the process of grooming them for eating. So I still felt that there should be some more ethical types of raising animals for food, in a way that gave the animal some measure of quality of life before its ultimate slaughter for food.

I still think those are good thoughts and good reasons to be vegan, or vegetarian. However, I have "fallen off the wagon," when I fell in love with a non-vegan, and moved away from my vegan support network back to where I grew up. Times grew a bit rockier and I let that induce me to slowly and steadily eat more meat. These days, I eat as bad a diet, as meat-centric as I ever did. I do, however, look back on my year of being vegan with some measure of pride and longing to return to that way of eating. Not just because I have some guilt eating my current diet, but also because I frankly felt healthier eating that way. I weighed less, had lower cholesterol, at more of my own cooking, was more creative in my cooking, never had to fear about working with raw meat in the kitchen, etc.

So, basically, I do see myself resuming veganism one of these days, or at least vegetarianism. It is a goal of mine. I guess, though, I still would not be technically considered vegan because, again, my motive would be mostly that I think it is better for myself and humanity, and lessening animal suffering is only a secondary issue, and the notion that eating meat is inherently evil is, in fact, not a motive at all and not a position I think I agree with. (However, I am open to the notion I still have more to learn and maybe vegans have a point I just do not yet appreciate in this regard.)

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