World Peace Diet: Eating for Spiritual Health and Social Harmony
When it comes to eating, the majority of Americans confuse complicity with simplicity. The term “meat” encompasses a vast array of products: poultry, pork, beef, all terms that mask its origin. We don’t call cabbage or celery by another name, there is a celery stalk, or celery root, or celery leaf. On the other hand, food from a pig is called bacon, pork chops, or ham. The World Peace Diet: Eating for Spiritual Health and Social Harmony, by Will Tuttle, Ph.D., seeks to explain what meat is, and what its impact is on the environment and our bodies.
The impact is decidedly negative. If this book were to be read by everyone, and its argument accepted, the world would become vegan. Calling the vegan movement a “revolution,” Tuttle challenges the root of Western culture, taking it on as a violent and oppressive civilization, and tracing our eating habits from Homer, to the Bible, to Constantine, and then to what he calls the “military-industrial-meat-medical-media complex.” To consider veganism a revolution is idealist, but appealing, because Tuttle has a vision for a better human society. And that is why the book is worth reading.
Imagine everything that is wrong with society: drug abuse, domestic abuse, poverty, pollution, over-consumption, environmental destruction, government corruption, inequality, and depression. Imagine there is one answer to those problems. The The World Peace Diet argues that a simple change in what we eat, an easier change than most people acknowledge or accept, will eliminate all of these problems. Although it is a difficult idea to digest, there is ample evidence that our treatment of animals is replicated in how we treat humans — a theory repeatedly reinforced by the Pythagorean principle, or the Golden Rule.
What is at stake, Tuttle insists, is our spirituality, wholeness, benevolence. The depravity of humans is caused by our persistent oppression of animals, whose spirits we cognitively deny, because we deny it physically at meal times. This argument seems fallible. Looking at Native American culture, we see how omnivores existed in harmony with their environment. There is an important difference, however. Through observation of society, in the time I was reading this book, seeing chicken sandwiches in vending machines, yogurt in plastic containers, and the hollowness with which these precious products of flesh were consumed, I became aware that the disconnect that pervades society on many levels — political, intellectual, artistic — begins with what we eat.
“Looking undistractedly into the animal-derived foods produced by modern methods, we inescapably find misery, cruelty, and exploitation. We therefore avoid looking deeply at our food if it is of animal origin, and this practice of avoidance and denial, applied to eating, our most basic activity and vital ritual, carries over automatically into our entire public and private life. We know, deep down, that we cannot look anywhere, for if we do, we will have to look deeply into the enormous suffering our food choices directly cause.”
This statement is a challenge to anyone who considers himself capable of looking deeply. If you can look deeply, look at what you eat. Accept that animals are capable of suffering, that when you order chicken, a chicken suffers, not only death, but prior to that, a life of (often) extreme abuse. Tuttle asks that we see animals as spiritual equals, not as objects or property. It is a challenge to stop the hypocrisy of theory, and embrace practice. Veganism is a mode of thought that requires action, so while you may sin and still be Catholic, you cannot eat eggs and be vegan.
Tuttle blames the herding culture from which we are derived for instilling oppression in our habits. A true revolution, he insists, must overturn this influence, specifically what began as the domestication of animals, and spread to wars fought over grazing land. Today we are fighting a “War on Terror” that is strongly linked with oil, a resource necessary for production of animal feed in mass quantities. If we were vegan, the logic implies, we would not be a violent nation. The incredulity some express at that statement, a vehement objection, does not suggest the falseness of it, but instead the dependency on violence and oppression. America has overcome its dependence on slavery, finally recognized women’s right to vote (some 60 years ago), and there is no reason animals should not be accepted in the progression toward a liberal world.
“In a herding culture, nothing is more subversive to the established order of exploitation and privilege than consciously refusing to participate in buying and eating the animal foods that define our culture.” The culture he refers to is one dominated by the military-industrial-meat-medical-media complex. These industries profit from the production of meat, the book argues, at the expense of our lives. The chain of influence — from meat processors lobbying in government, to the medical industries denying the viability of a vegan diet because of the profitability of clogged arteries, to the commercials that perpetuate the societal norm that humans need meat to survive, which tells us to eat meat, but does so for selfish reasons. The destruction, personal and environmental, of these influences, can be overturned by individual decisions.
The health benefits of eating vegan are enough reason to make the switch. Granted, you must first accept that most of what you have been told about a proper diet was a lie designed to squeeze money from you. Disabilities such as heart disease; diabetes; breast, prostate, and colon cancer; gallstones; strokes; and liver and kidney disease may be caused by diets high in animal products. Vegans typically risk having insufficiencies of three vitamins/minerals. Meat eaters, however, may lack closer to seven. They may also lack sex-hormone-binding globulin, which increases testosterone in the blood and increases likelihood of aggressive-destructive behavior.
This is only a brief overview of the health problems for humans. On the opposite side of the fence is a system that exploits living animals and destroys them. This is our food, and the toxicity of animal-based food is terrific. Fish, for example, especially those living in polluted water, “absorb and intensely concentrate toxins like PCBs, dioxins, and heavy metals like mercury, lead, cadmium, and arsenic.” The same occurs for animals fed food sprayed with pesticide and grown with fertilizer, and enhanced with animal flesh from fish or any type of livestock.
There is also excrement to consider. Livestock produces 10,000 pounds of manure for every person in America. Where does it go? Some of it ends up in your stomach. The lax conditions in meat processing plants enable about any unbelievably disgusting thing you can imagine. Entrails and manure are reportedly shoveled off the floor and mixed with the meat being processed into hot dogs or bologna. If it doesn’t go into our food, it eventually ends up in the water, which helps explain the 7,000 square meter dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico.
The environmental costs of meat are appalling. The “Standard American Diet,” as issued by the US government, produces 1/15 as much protein per acre as a plant-based diet would. One pound of beef requires 5,200 gallons of water to produce, while a vegan meal requires 300. The waste production of livestock is 130 times greater than human waste. Methane from cows is a more important cause of pollution than carbon dioxide from cars. Natural habitats are destroyed for pastures. 521,000 square miles of US forests have been cleared to graze livestock, and that number grows by 6,000 every year.
The human expense of eating animal flesh, the effect on humanity, is tragic. Tuttle compares some obese men incapable of sex to Butterball turkeys. This is the justice of nature, that while we force feed the turkeys until they can barely stand, humans assume a similar posture by their consumption. I say it is tragic, because until we knowingly turn our head from the problem, we have not been made aware of a choice.
Eating animals has been a requisite of Western society for thousands of years. Reductionism, scientific and religious, are cited as causes for our oppressive habits. “The fourth-century emperor Constantine made Christianity the Roman state religion, that its earlier vegetarian emphasis was completely repressed… Constantine reportedly ordering his men to pour molten lead down the throats of any Christians who refused to eat animal flesh.”
Reductionism, Tuttle argues, permits the domination of animals through conventional, but outmoded, thought. The oversimplification of life and justification of eating flesh based on the principles our ancestors followed must be abolished. The glory and righteousness of man are more questionable the more we insist we are glorious and righteous. To accept animals as partners of the planet, we step beyond the theory of man’s goodness, overcome our depravity, and achieve the practice of goodness. On the other hand, if we choose to continue eating animal products, we reinforce ancient wrongs.
One example of the suffering we cause is the chapter, “Reviving Sophia,” the sacred feminine. The chapter discusses how dairy products destroy the respect for women, which our culture persistently searches for. With every baby calf stolen from her mother and killed, with every gallon of milk stolen from enslaved and broken mothers, with every thrust of the waking sperm gun… we kill the sacred feminine within ourselves.” This is an illustrative example, because the subject is one that is discussed more frequently; and, yet, the objectification of women continues on television, in magazines, and in relationships.
Once again, the connection might seem unlikely. After all, women have made significant progress in gaining respect, recognition, and equality. It is clear, however, especially among lower socio-economic groups, that women are subjugated to oppressive ideas of men that limit women to objects for sexual pleasure and domestic chore. I think again of the yogurt in the plastic cups, and how disconnected the food is, how far the cow’s milk is removed from its purpose. Aside from the research that suggests cow’s milk is nutritionally unhealthy for humans, the more significant idea is how dairy affects our psychology.
Since becoming vegan, barely more than a month ago, I can attest that I already feel more connected with living humans and animals, and am more involved in the life of the planet and removed from the destruction of it. Eating has become a greater pleasure than ever; my body, its cells, feel more connected to the earth; I look at my hand and see an open palm, not a fist. I am convinced that there is little to lose by refusing to eat animal products. Instead, I am proud, if not thrilled, to consider myself a part of a revolution, although I do not agree with the book’s claim that the only way for a spirit to be liberated is to not eat meat. I still do not condemn eating meat as evil, but I do see it as an unnecessary and costly act.
After reading The World Peace Diet, you will understand the excitement of eating, living, and being part of the revolution that fellow humans are beginning: to strive for greater harmony, to seek for inner peace, and to not yield to ancient and oppressive ideals. We are, I believe, on our way to a more united planet, not only for humans, but for all living creatures.
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