Diet for a Mindful Planet

From Thich Nhat Hanh’s book ‘The World We Have: A Buddhist Approach to Peace and Ecology’:

The food we eat can reveal the interconnectedness of the universe, the Earth, all living beings, and ourselves. Each bite of vegetable, each drop of soy sauce, each piece of tofu contains the sun and of the Earth. We can see and taste the whole universe in a piece of bread! We can see the meaning and value of life in those morsels of food. Having the opportunity to sit with our family and friends and enjoy wonderful food is something precious, something not everyone has. Many people in the world are hungry. When I hold a bowl of rice or a piece of bread, I know that I am fortunate, and I feel compassion for all those who have no food to eat and who are without friends or family. This is a very deep practice. We don’t need to go to a temple or a church in order to practice this. We can practice it right at our dinner table. With mindful eating we can cultivate the seeds of compassion and understanding that will strengthen our determination to do something to help hungry and lonely people be nourished.

One thing we can do is to consider how much meat we eat. For over 2,500 years, many Buddhists have practiced vegetarianism with the purpose of nourishing compassion towards animals. Now we’ve also discovered that switching to a vegetarian diet may be one of the most effective ways to fight world hunger and global warming. The practice of raising animals for food has created some of the worst environmental damage on the planet and is responsible for one quarter of greenhouse emissions.* Our way of eating and producing food can be very violent to other species, to our own bodies, and to the Earth. Mother Earth suffers deeply because of our way of eating. Animals raised for meat are the world’s biggest source of water pollution; waste from factory farms and slaughterhouses flows into our rivers, streams, and drinking water. In the U.S. alone, hundreds of millions of acres of forest have been razed to grow crops to feed livestock. The precious tropical rainforests that keep our planet cool and provide a home for most of the plant and animal species on Earth are being burned and cleared to create grazing land for cattle.

Much of the millions of tons of grain we grow isn’t used to feed people but instead to raise cattle for meat and to make alcohol. An Environmental Protection Agency report on U.S. agricultural crop production in the year 2000 states that, according to the National Corn Growers Association, about 80 percent of all corn grown in the U.S. is consumed by domestic and overseas livestock, poultry, and fish production.** When you hold a piece of meat and look at it deeply, you will see that a huge amount of grain and water has been used to make that one piece of meat. A tremendous amount of grain and water is also used to make alcohol. Tens of thousands of children die of starvation and malnutrition every day; that grain could feed them. When we drink alcohol with mindfulness, we see that we are drinking the blood of our children. We’re eating our children, our mother, and our father. We are eating up the Earth.

We have to put pressure on the livestock industry to change. If we stop consuming, they will stop producing. By eating meat we share responsibility for causing climate change, the destruction of our forests, and the poisoning of our air and water. The simple act of becoming a vegetarian can make a difference in the health of our planet. If you’re not able to entirely stop eating meat, you can still decide to make an effort to cut back. By cutting meat out of your diet ten or even five days a month, you will already be performing a miracle – a miracle that will help solve the problem of hunger in the developing world and dramatically reduce greenhouse gases.

With each meal, we make choices that help or harm Mother Earth. “What shall I eat today?” is a very deep question. You might want to ask yourself that question every morning. You may find that as you practice mindful consumption and begin to look deeply at what you eat and drink, your desire for meat and alcohol will diminish. In many Buddhist traditions, monks and nuns are vegetarian. Many lay Buddhist practitioners in China and Vietnam are also vegetarian, and there are others who refrain from eating meat ten days a month. I urge everyone to at least reduce their meat eating by half. During my most recent visits to the United States, many American Buddhist practitioners told me they had made the commitment to stop eating meat or to eat fifty percent less meat. This is a collective awakening that’s already taking place. If we can make the commitment to become vegetarian, or partially vegetarian, we’ll feel a sense of well-being – we’ll have peace, joy, and happiness right from the moment we make this vow. Our collective awakening can create worldwide change.

* Livestock’s Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options (Nov 29, 2006), United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). “The livestock sector emerges as one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global… Livestock’s contribution to environmental problems is on a massive scale, and its potential contribution to their problem is equally large. The impact is so significant that it needs to be addressed with urgency.”



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