Vegetarianism is ahimsa in action, toward animals and the environment, and such ethical eating is at the heart of celebrating the Earth today and every day.
This Earth Day, I found myself reading a New York Times interview with Colin Spencer, a great food historian, artist, novelist, analyst, activist, playwright, and journalist. According to Spencer, vegetarianism is “heretical” eating—it is “not simply a criticism of meat-eating but a criticism of power . . . Not to eat meat, or to frown on the captivity and killing of animals, went to the heart of society.” He confirms through the interview and his writing over the last thirty years, that vegetarians have been treated as a minority since the “advent of Christianity.” In the Hindu world, however, vegetarians have not been a minority since our faith tradition holds at its heart the highest yoga of ahimsa—something explained rather simply as the concept of nonviolence. Vegetarianism is ahimsa in action, toward animals and the environment, and such ethical eating is at the heart of celebrating the Earth today and every day.
Being vegetarian means I am more humane toward animals. I don’t support factory farming or the cruelty to our fellow creatures that eating meat involves. It’s a topic I have written about before, especially as it pertains to a Hindu way of understanding our animal friends.
Being vegetarian means I am healthier in body, mind and spirit, an idea that is explained through the Hindu philosophical concepts of sattva, rajas, and tamas. The Bhagavad Gita goes into this in detail, just as it also explains ahimsa. Sattva is associated with purity and goodness, rajas with stimulation and passion, and tamas is associated with inertia and the base nature of humanity. Food that is sattva—Sattvik ahara—is the simplest: it calms the mind, sharpens the intellect, enhances focus, and is generally vegetarian.
And being vegetarian means I am honoring Mother Earth every day. My friends at VegMichigan have an annual Earth Day event to encourage people to switch to a vegetarian lifestyle because it “is one of the most beneficial changes towards living a healthier and greener life.” They point out that animal agriculture is the leading cause of environmental degradation by citing a United Nations report: it contributes 18 percent of the cause of global warming—more than all transportation sources combined! Vegetarianism is a considerable saving to the environment because it can take up to thirty times as much land to raise animals as it does vegetables. As Colin Spencer said, “The thought of the developing world and malnutrition and hunger—it’s a hard call that we use that food for animals.” Sustainability is key, given the number of people we share the planet with and the amount of food that is required to feed all of us. From a Hindu way of understanding, those that we share the planet with are all part of our one family.
These basic tenets of Hinduism help me and millions of others Hindus to celebrate Mother Earth on Earth Day each year, each day. It’s nice to know that others out there also feel the connection, like this inspirational 16-year-old from Massachusetts. Maybe being vegetarian is heretical to some; for us, it’s simply something we do as Hindus.