As a holistic health counselor, I cannot condone the practice of veganism. But as a spiritual person, I have no problem with this way of eating. In case any of my readers has been living under a rock, vegans do not eat any animal foods at all. Plant foods only. In the US, this practice has been strongly influenced by the spread of yoga and the teachings of the ancient Indian philosopher Patañjali. The relevant teaching is that of ahimsa, which effectively means to do no harm. Since Patañjali was an austerity practitioner, he advocated eating no meat. Fine interpretation of Patañjali ‘s intent is well outside my area of expertise, but I do know the human species has a long history of this sort of practice.
Both Patañjali and Plato believed that fasting, austerity, resisting sexuality and other pleasures of the body would lead to knowledge that would release one from reincarnation. Both say that animate beings are composed of a body and soul that are distinct entities. This is an un-natural union and results in desire. Desire attracts matter, which drags the soul down and into a series of incarnations. Soul, when separate from body, is pure and perfect. Plato says when the body dies, the soul is still dragged down by matter and cannot escape. The way out is detachment from passionate response, and the cessation of both pleasure and pain as they are known in the body. One should be celibate, and not eat meat.
To enter the next life on better terms, a Holy Death is recommended this can be done by self-starvation, or by ‘entering fire.’ There are many such incidents recorded in Indian history, but such also exists in the Greek Record. Socrates took poison, and Empedocles was reported to have jumped in a volcano – although this is unsubstantiated.
The Jains hold that their religion goes back further than the Vedas and perhaps as far as the Indus Valley Cultures. There is good evidence for Orphic thought in the texts of the 5th century B.C. and the Jains loved to send out ‘missionaries.’ They tended to follow lines of trade, and they had a period of training that had to be carried out in a foreign culture.
In the context of Paganism (and other spiritual paths as well), becoming vegan is one answer to the ethical dilemma of the sacredness of the world, and one’s kinship to all life. And even a little knowledge of the horror that is factory farming is enough to make the average person want to avoid meat for at least a while. When I was writing my thesis, I read many studies about the health of these animals and I was nauseous about their treatment. This most certainly ran counter to my ethics. The way we produce food is the outcome of our desire for convenience and our resulting inattention. There is a spiritual disconnect between how we nourish our bodies and our souls. If we care about the well-being of all life, then mindlessly eating meat from animals raised in factory farms is spiritual necrosis.
But in terms of nutrition, veganism has huge failings. The article linked here is only one of many. Vegans have an almost legendary reputation for nastiness to those who contradict the idea that being vegan is the most healthy way to live. But the health benefits of a vegan diet are limited to cleansing the system from having spent years eating badly, and there are no traditional cultures that maintained an all plant diet. While I have often heard the contention that we have “evolved beyond needing to eat meat,” the three generations that have passed since the first vegan cookbook was published is inadequate for such evolution. Some people can last on an all-plant diet for longer than others. It depends on how efficiently one’s body recycles vitamin B12, whether or not one has a high conversion ratio for beta-carotene to vitamin A, and if the vegan in question is consuming saturated fats necessary for assimilation of fat-soluble vitamins. But the majority of humanity needs quality animal products to maintain health. Even Ghandi was unable to give up milk, to his great disappointment.
It is noble to sacrifice one’s health to protest factory farming. Perhaps if we were more accepting of variations in human spiritual practice, vegans could just call a spade a spade without having to get into an argument.