Can Compassionate People Eat Meat?

by Clara P. Triane, M.D.

       In some of the teachings of Buddhism one is advised not to eat meat out of compassion for animals. My husband, Sol Ta Triane, and I are both teachers of Buddhist yoga, yet we enjoy a meat-based diet. Here is why.

       Many people become vegan or vegetarian out of a desire to protect animals. It turns out, however, that many more animals are killed from agriculture than animal ranching. Not only do fields need to be cleared of animals in order to grow plants, but millions of traps are set to catch plant-eating animals, not to mention the billions of insects that are killed with poisons. 

       My background is that of a family medicine doctor. Later I spent many years working in hospice with patients who were dying or close to it. Hospice and my Buddhist training made it clear that death is a natural part of life.

       I have found it very beneficial to reflect on life and the inevitable death of our bodies, as well as how humans and many animals eat other animals. Omnivores, given a choice, prefer to eat other animals or insects before they resort to eating plants. Consider my neighbor's chickens. I have observed how enthusiastically the hens consume meat over chicken feed. 

       The Buddha taught his disciples to reflect upon impermanence. The Master Nagarjuna advised that contemplating impermanence can bring one to the door of enlightenment, so I no longer see death as merely the enemy.

       As a beginner Buddhist I was vegetarian, but now, with gratitude, I enjoy an animal-based diet and optimum health. This is in alignment with my spiritual values and nature itself.

       My husband was vegetarian for 25 years. When he started to include meat he noticed a shift. As he adopted a low carbohydrate meat-based diet his health improved dramatically in a hundred ways.

       For most of my life I consumed what could be considered a "Mediterranean diet"—plant-based, low fat, with a modest amount of lean meat. I was hungry all the time and had to eat five or six times a day in order to avoid feeling lightheaded and weak. Since eating a low carbohydrate ketogenic diet my energy is at an even keel. I generally chow down twice a day without feeling wired or tired after a meal. I'm good to go right after eating. Years ago I had cavities in my right upper molars filled, and afterward those teeth always felt sensitive; now I can eat a thick steak without having to avoid chewing on that side. In my twenties I had reconstructive surgery for a torn anterior cruciate ligament in my knee, and years later I started to feel intermittent pain in that knee. Now I rarely experience knee discomfort and am much better able to engage in activities that require squatting. These kinds of changes are common in my dietary clients.

Natural, Ancestrally Appropriate Diet

       It makes sense that a natural, ancestrally appropriate diet for any given species, human or otherwise, would be conducive to optimal health. Part of the karma of being a sentient being is that one needs to eat. Veganism is but a recent experimental moment in a sliver of time, a failed experiment at that. Quite simply, our human ancestors ate meat whenever they could get it, and if they hadn't, we wouldn't be here. They might have eaten fruit for a few weeks out of the year, when in season. If they failed to procure meat, they might have eaten plants as emergency, backup food to survive.  

Plants Eat Animals

       Plants, like animals, must eat. Did you know plants are omnivores? In addition to growing in compost that comes from plant material, they particularly thrive on animal bodies including bone meal and blood meal, which often are used to feed organically grown fruits and vegetables. When animals and humans die they decompose, releasing carbon dioxide and creating the best of soils, the purest of plant foods. People may eat plants; plants will surely eat people. 

       Animals don't want to be eaten. They use teeth, claws and hooves to defend themselves, or their quickness to flee. Likewise, plants don't want to be eaten! Plants use different strategies to avoid being eaten: thorns, spikes, needles, plus dozens of kinds of toxins, poisons and anti-nutrients that make the animals who touch or eat them sick or weakened. A small fraction of plant life is edible by humans, and as such they often need to be modified or industrially processed to be fit for human consumption. 

       There are ridiculous claims that animal agriculture is not sustainable. Animal agriculture is the most natural and sustainable form of human sustenance. Only a tiny percent of land is arable, suitable for tilling and producing crops. Ruminant animals can eat the low protein, low fat plants that cannot be consumed by humans—grass, hay, hulls, cobs—in vast land masses where fruits and vegetables cannot be grown, turning them into nutrient dense proteins and fats that are optimum for humans. This is the way of nature, way of the Tao: animal and plant agriculture, working together. 

       As a meat-eater, I do feel compassion and appreciation for the animals that I eat. I support ranchers who raise livestock with integrity so that the animals can have a decent life and even a decent death. Take it from a hospice doctor. Consider that an animal in the wild continually needs to be on the lookout for predators. An animal compassionately raised for consumption generally will be protected and may experience a more comfortable life as well as a quick, painless death. 

       If you eat plants, you might also feel compassion and appreciation for the animals who died so that you can have those fruits and vegetables. 

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