A month ago I posted a piece comparing Earth with the planet Eliria (the planet in my novel Never Again). I wrote of the challenges of being incarnate on Earth, and how we might meet them in a sacred manner. Today I am writing about meeting the challenge of killing to eat.
Several decades ago I became a vegan because I didn’t want animals to be killed to feed me. But I was a gardener. I sang as I planted my seeds, prayed to the devas for guidance, blessed my little plants as I watered them, watched over them and nurtured them. Then one day I cut some leaves of Swiss chard, brought them into the house, chopped them up and steamed them over boiling water.
I had done that for years, harvested my vegetables and cooked them. Killed them.
That day I realized what I was doing, and grieved for my chopped up plant. It doesn’t matter whether it is animal or vegetable. We must kill to eat.
I was explaining to my seven-year-old grandson who has dinner with me once a week, why we say blessing before we eat. Because, I told him, other life forms have died so we can be fed.
He considered this for a while. “No, Grandma, not apples. The apple tree doesn’t die.” More consideration. “Not milk . . . or cheese . . . or yogurt. The cow doesn’t die.” He was silent a while frowning, then summed it up with a wave of his fork. “Fruit and dairy. We could just eat fruit and dairy.”
True. But in fact most of us need to eat more than that. And other life forms must die to feed us. Unlike the Elirians, we cannot live on light.
How then can we nurture the life that we eat, and kill in a sacred manner?
In some traditional cultures hunting was a ritual, with dances and prayers to honor the animal to be killed. There was awareness not to take more than was needed, to use every part of the animal sacrificed.
Not wasting is part of honoring what we kill to eat.
In earlier times in our country, and still on organic farms, animals are cared for well and killed cleanly. The soil is renewed with organic matter.
But most of the food in our stores comes from factory farms where no care is given to the quality of the life of the beings that feed us.
Caging animals so tightly that they cannot move and must live in their excrement is travesty.
Spraying vegetables with chemicals that then sink into the ground and poison our waterways is travesty.
Altering plants so they can withstand ever more toxic herbicides is travesty.
How much, I wonder, does this disregard for the lives that feed us lead to disregard of other lives— other humans that are different from us, our wildlife, all living beings? And further lead us to destruction, war. If we could all honor the lives that are closest to us, those we eat, perhaps we could begin to turn around the culture of violence that so mars our planet.
There are ways to create our food in a sacred manner. May we all be aware and make choices that can heal the travesties.
My shaman teacher, Elizabeth Cogburn, taught us this blessing for our food:
“We give thanks for all life given to nourish our life. May we so honor this life given that we use it to grow the cells of that which we seek to become. And may we offer ourselves again in service to life.”