A few years ago, I felt compelled to make the switch to a vegetarian lifestyle. Most people who know me assumed this choice was motivated by my ever-deepening yoga practice, but the truth is, yogic philosophy was only a secondary component to my decision. The main reason I stopped eating meat was the Rede, the guiding rule of Wicca: “’An it harm none, do what you will.” I don’t consider myself a Wiccan, but when I first found the Pagan path, that was the bulk of material I read and absorbed, and much of it resonated for me. I still strive to live by the Rede, and I decided that if I truly wanted to avoid harm, I would stop eating animals.
I made the choice shortly before the Winter Solstice that year, and I was just beginning to establish my new eating habits when my husband and I traveled to Egypt. For whatever reason, despite how careful I was (even brushing my teeth in bottled water), I got desperately sick toward the end of our trip, and spent a few miserable dehydrated days curled up on the hotel balcony, rather than out exploring. Looking back, my body may have even then been protesting my dietary change, but I clung stubbornly to the idea that a vegetarian lifestyle was essential to my core spirituality.
A few months later, I hadn’t really returned to full energy levels, so I had my iron levels tested, but there was no evidence of anemia. So, I carried on, for close to a year, before I finally admitted that, in my quest to do no harm, I’d been harming myself. Despite an active, healthy lifestyle and carefully prepared nourishing meals, I’d been perpetually sick and exhausted during my year without meat. Perhaps a supplement would have fixed things, but I was already an ardent consumer of a daily multivitamin coupled with fish oil, and I didn’t want to get more of my nutrients from pills. My inner voice started prompting me to reevaluate my diet, but I’m stubborn, and I resisted for a good long time before I finally sat with myself and considered what would be necessary for me to feel well again.
Since nothing seemed to be medically wrong with me, it didn’t make sense to begin popping different supplements in an attempt to fix the problem, and my inner voice argued quite compellingly that what I really needed was to consume meat again. I wasn’t happy with the idea of integrating meat back into my diet, and the first time I did, I half hoped that my stomach would reject the flesh, giving me further justification for remaining meat-free. But despite a year without meat, my body consumed the first bit of turkey I offered it happily, and I had no ill effects.
Deborah Blake addresses the tension of working with the forces of nature while at the same time consuming them in her wonderful book, The Goddess is in the Details, and one statement she makes particularly resonated with me while I was struggling with my diet: “On those occasions when I do eat [meat], I always try to take a moment to say thank you to the animal that died so that I might continue to live.” There’s really no one-size fits all diet, and I think it’s important to make food choices with the same mindfulness I give to my magical practice since, after all, nourishing our bodies is a beautiful kind of magic that we engage in every day.
Slowly, I began to mindfully and thankfully integrate poultry and seafood into my meals, although I continued to eat vegetarian about three quarters of the time, and not so slowly, my health improved. I now eat meat consciously and sparingly, always trying to buy as close to local and “happy” as possible (my husband and I joke about the cage-free happy turkey we supply each year for the family Thanksgiving), and although I occasionally regret that I cannot live a fully vegetarian life, I’ve also acknowledged that in my quest to do no harm, I have to remember not to do harm to myself.
Photo of fruit courtesy of shutterstock: shutterstock.com.