"I am becoming a vegan freak"

The truth about attorney vegan, lawyer vegan, holistic health care vegan animal rights lover post-vegetarian complementary medicine, spiritual law guy.

 

 

 

I am becoming a vegan freak

The truth about attorney vegan, lawyer vegan, holistic health care vegan animal rights lover post-vegetarian complementary medicine, spiritual law guy.

Eating Vegetables

Back in law school at U.C. Berkeley, I was hanging out at Sproul Plaza between editing sessions on the law review, when a bunch of hopping, jamming, jiving, bare-headed, chant-wielding, song-bombarding, Krishna-loving Hares were jumping up and down with cymbals and tambourines. 

I remember a mock-up, cardboard crèche of a cow, facing its butcher (who wielded an ax), and looking with a distinctly human expression of appeal for compassion.

I bought a copy of Easy Journey to Other Planets, which I read during Bar Review class, but didn’t think too much about the encounter beyond that.

After all, I had been trained a long time ago, during my days in USY (United Synagogue Youth), to beware of cults. And I was a confirmed steak-eating, Midwestern, meat-and-potatoes guy. In fact, three years of my childhood were spent in Buenos Aires, land of the gauchos and different most excellent cuts of carne.

But the image reverberated in my consciousness, the notion that that cow had thoughts and feelings and consciousness and was involved in a cycle, a web of life, with its human, and that the slaughter was an unnecessary addition of violence to an otherwise peaceful relationship.

Anyway, I had scholarly articles to edit and footnotes to cite-check.

Around my second year of working as a Wall Street lawyer, after studying transcendental meditation (I used to meditate in the “recovery room”) when staying all-night on corporate projects, I started going to an ashram in upstate New York. Vegetarianism was a part of ashram life, and I adopted it – briefly – living in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, it was difficult to get any real food, out; waiters would constantly look amazed that I could order a meal with “no meat,” and the choice between meat dishes and canned vegetables seemed obvious. I went in and out of vegetarianism for some years.

Time passed. A few years later, I dated a woman who said: “you’re a doctor” (I’m not, but she was reading something – the healer in me, the doctor from other lives, the awareness of medicine), “and, you need to respect the sacredness of life, it’s your guru’s command.” Read inner guru here. I know she was right, so I lived this awkward space where I was vegetarian sometimes but not when it got difficult.

Crab Speaks

One day I was taking a nap on my living couch, when suddenly a crab appeared before me. The crab spoke. It told me that there were 4 kinds of karma associated with eating meat: the karma of violence of the slaughter, the violence of the slaughterer, the suffering of the animal at death and during its existence as a source of food production, and the karma of the person preparing the meal. The crab seemed to be a teacher, letting me know that I should not be eating meat or chicken or fish.

From that point on, I couldn’t help but think, whenever I saw fish, of the gasping, strangulating, final moments of that fish’s life. People hear “vegetarian” and say, “well you eat fish, of course,” but they don’t understand that it’s not “fish” like “human,” there are individual, sentient fish who are conscious of their horrible deaths. And I cannot consume them.

The crab that appeared was a conscious being, a teacher. Not some random firing of neurons in my brain, not imagination or hallucination, but an individual with an identity.

We seem to understand this well enough in Disney movies, but when it comes to real life…..

Anyway, when people ask why I became a vegetarian, I sometimes say, “because a crab told me to do so,” or, “a crab instructed me on the different kinds of karma……” And sometimes I simply say, “for ethical reasons.”

Vegan

I had never heard of veganism before moving to LA. And at first it seemed like just another orthodoxy and I do not like orthodoxy, or complying with strictures.

But gradually it seemed intuitive to me that it’s a discipline one imposes as part of their own moral evolution.

I had to do some reading to learn about the ethical issues involved in production of milk, cheese, and eggs. Who would have known that something so innocent as a glass of milk involves, in our world, making baby cows anemic to satisfy our penchant for white flesh, and grinding calves alive to satisfy the craving for soft meat, and taking them away from their mothers early on under the premise that humans can own animals and dispose of them in inhumane ways that bring untold suffering?

Beyond Speciesism

I started reading two books: “Why we love dogs, eat pigs and wear cows,” and “Hello my name is vegan freak.” These books amply chronicle the suffering involve in production of animal byproducts.

So the soapbox is not mine to climb. The second book is about embracing that in a society where inhumanity to animals is considered the norm, going vegan is judged “freakish” and the only way to live one’s conscience to embrace being considered a “freak.”

What does resonate is the work I did years ago in bioethics. I cited a lot of the literature that says we are unnecessarily, and wrongly, species-centric. We put humans at the top of creation and assume this gives us the divine right to do whatever we want with other species.

I firmly believe that we will find the technology within a few short years to enable animals to speak their thoughts and feelings to us.

When we do, that image from the Hare Krishna crèche will become a living reality.

Already these souls speak to us. While reading those two initial books, I went to a Starbucks and my eyes were opened. I looked at all the pastries and suddenly saw the rows of caged hens whose beaks had been hacked away; I felt the tens of billions of baby calves separated from their mothers and ground into veal, and sensed the immeasurable violence that surrounded the pasty, pleasant production.

Another influence – a course in Marxism during my college days at Columbia. While I could not embrace Marxism, nor obviously the evil that this ideology engendered in the form of communism, I could see certain truths in the notion that humans are alienated from their labor, alienated from the mode of production – and that capitalism despite its benevolence in sparking creativity, also runs amok when profits are separated from ethics, when conscience is neglected and living beings are consumed as means to an end.

Another thread is psychic numbing. Robert Jay Lifton wrote in Nazi Doctors about how an entire society used the defense of psychic numbing to split off the awareness of violence and in its extreme dissociation, rationalize cruelty and evil. Melanie Joy in “Why we love dogs” invokes the same psychological process in explaining how the vast majority of Americans literally switch off their awareness when they come to the table.

“The Face on Your Plate” is next.

I feel a calling here, and it requires the minor sacrifice of convenience for the higher life of consistency with principle.

How could I make my life’s work a call toward a more conscious world, while participating in the violence of the food industry and consuming beings whose lives were shaped by human violence?

It seems like an ignorance in which I recklessly participated, even as a vegetarian, for many years.

I never wanted to become a “vegan,” to become anything, to be defined by any label. And yet there’s a philosophy here that’s irresistible.

When I see the spirits of animals all around the placid Starbucks, and put myself on the Other Side of consciousness, the one where beings reside in spirit and not material bodies, I ask myself the same question Socrates asked: when I pass and look back on the scene, what will have been the life worth living? What is the highest truth of this moment?

While I was thinking this, a woman who had been on her cellphone the entire time at 6 am in the airport was walking out with a donut half-stuffed into her mouth, the other glazed half popping out as if to clear the path before her.

Is eating a pastry a moral choice, or is it just going to Starbucks at 6 am in an airport? Do I need to think about, or even understand, the violence that goes into making my life more convenient, and are there choices I can make to reduce the layers of karma that are, inevitably, interwoven into every moment of our modern existence? Can I champion sustainability and complementary medicine and attunement to angelic realms yet remain unaware of levels of violent inherent in ordinary choices? To what kind of future does my life contribute?

This is something to contemplate.

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PS - Last night I dined at the Peace Cafe in NYC.  As I ate the cashew butter cheese and vegan butter-coated vegetables, I wondered whether I would have an epiphany.  Would rows of chicken souls be blessing me from the aisles like so many animal buddhas?  Interestingly, and unusually, I had no mystical revelation.  It was as normal a meal as could be.  In fact the experience was so ordinary I concluded that this was what a meal should feel like - like a movie where you see the disclaimer at the end - NO ANIMALS WERE HARMED DURING THE MAKING OF THIS MEAL.  It seemed insane to me that cruelty is the norm and making small sacrifices to be cruelty-free is considered freakish.

If that's being a freak, then I embrace it.  I still don't know what to do in restaurants where every offering is either Gnawing Dead Flesh or Chef's Toxic Surprise. 

Onto more reading to figure out this vegan thing....

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