This past weekend, I joined a unique group of 120 men and women for a three day seminar to learn about an ancient practice of world-changing proportions. Through one of those amazingly strange flowing sets of circumstances, I found myself registered to join this opportunity, that I admitted readily to myself was not something I would usually agree to. After all, it cut into the last weekend of spring break, and took my parents to a non choice of weekend activity outside of babysitting for my daughter; it literally took a village. I was told that the premise of the message was beyond words. Just how was the lifeblood of this wondrous experience to be communicated if it could not be described? I was very curious, I was open. Off I went.
Three meals a day, plus snacks along with comfortable, thoughtful accommodations were provided for all of the attendees by caring, bowing, anticipating house staff. One had a choice of resting comfortably inside or outside camping. The majority of the cooking was done outside in a well appointed kitchen, Florida style, open to the elements, but covered against inclement weather. From my experienced eye, everything from the three bay sink for washing potwares to the prepping and service areas were all up to Department of Hotels and Restaurant codes. The hired cooks; friendly and clean. The food itself, vegetarian, following one of the tenants of the group, to maintain non violence to all beings, was delicious, colorful, beautifully presented and fresh. There was not a repeat dish in all of the three days that I experienced.
On the last day, one of the directors had the subject of “The Importance of Being Vegetarian” to share as his topic with the group. We had been told repeatedly that this belief was not a religion. We had been told "Don't believe, experience," we had been told that there was nothing written as far as rules and laws go to define the teachings of the group, for the purpose of avoiding the pitfall that had plagued all prophets and messiahs in the past, that being that the written words of all of these pioneers had not been penned by themselves to describe the core of their teachings, but had been defined by the leaders followers, upwards of some 2500 years, in some cases after the prophets deaths, and so therefore defined a "religion" and became something eventually rigid, too defining, and perhaps not what the original visionary had in mind, not really. One speaker actually said that there were no problems with the teachings, just problems with the people and their rigidity in defining the religion.
The speaker began by informing the congregation that there were available all kinds of documentaries and DVD’s, detailing the inner machinations of the modern day slaughterhouses and meat production plants that provide us with a million dead carcasses a day. Then there are the Babe movies that he had heard had caused after viewing, many a small child to refuse to return to his/her meat eating ways after viewing. OK, so now we would move to but, “Don't believe, experience...” right? Oh, no. Next came. “And do you know what becomes of the baby chicks?” Their beaks are burned off so that they will not peck each other while being forced to survive, albeit however impossible in horribly, overrun, cramped on top of each other conditions. Then came a description of all the antibiotics they have to administer because of this barbaric practice, and then soon we moved onto why veal is so tender, and then we were treated to this director taking on the voice of a supposed Gourmand simpering, “I deserve a good meal of tender veal.” Hey, wait a minute. I looked around, and I was not the only one looking at this guy, like, Dude, what are you doing? Where's the benevolence, where's the non-violence, where's the consideration for others beliefs?
OK, I can be a sarcastic so and so. Yes, and I am right up there with the biggest of skeptics. However, convince me, it is possible, it has happened, and I will listen. The Tsunami point of all of this for me, was there was obviously no other choice available for anyone who wanted to begin following this path than to commit to being a vegetarian. If you want this, then you will do this. And I am going to make you want to do this by making you feel bad, guilty, etc., etc. Hey, that's me in the corner...losing my religion...uh oh. What was that? What did you say?
I owned and operated a vegan, vegetarian, macrobiotic delivery catering company for five years. I became a vegan and lived as one for four years up until the day that I conceived my little girl. I did this a result of research and a personal belief that I had to honor myself and all of the world by living what I believed. I got involved in many arguments in the beginning due to my newbie passion. One memorable fight was between myself and the alcoholic husband of a neighbor, who pressed his nose and his over 300 pound frame over my 115 pound shape shaking epileptically, spittle and sweat flying hither and yon and screamed in my face things that I wouldn't even ask you to imagine, because I had made a comment about something on the BBQ grill. I learned to keep my beliefs to myself if I even half expected that this would reoccur, or a reasonable facsimile thereof.
Curiously, it wasn't long after this that my body took me to my favorite health food store, and I left with a beautiful creamy wedge of smoked gouda cheese, a tin of fat, olive oil soaked sardines, organic creamy cottage cheese, and then one stop at the grocery later, some mayo laden potato salad. My body settled in to grow a beautiful, healthy baby girl. I have never wanted to go back to a life sans meat. But that's me. I learned through years of copious research, that there is not one diet for anybody. There is not one blueprint, one size fits all. You must listen to your body, you must acquaint yourself with your physical as well as mental self to the point that you need something, you require a tweak here and there, you need to know that there's something going on, wayyyy before the wave starts rising up over your beach blanket, you know? C'mon, would you wait for the lifeguard to tell you it was time to move uphill? Do you need someone to tell you what to do with your own self?
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, what followed all of this, was anyone who had come to the decision that commitment to this practice was their new destination, needed to stand up and make a verbal commitment to vegetarianism, from this day forward, till death do us part. Later would come a written vow. Hmmmnn. The men sat on the right side of the room, the women on the left. We also slept and ate separately. The men were asked to stand up. The men were asked who cooked for them, and if they believed they would encounter difficulty in obtaining a veg diet for themselves. The majority of the men shared that they ate their meals at restaurants, were cooked for by a woman, or just mooched off of friends. One participant shared that he lived close by to a large neighborhood of Hari Krishnas, devout vegetarians, so he was covered. The women were not asked who cooked for them, however the majority of those women asked if they might have an experiential period in order to slowly introduce the veg idea into their lives and homes because their significant others would not take kindly to this, and if they did not want to become someone who had to cook multi choice meals at every seating, they would have to take it slow with their children as well. Those women were told to “Just Do It.” I have found, by listening carefully, that most people who have tried the veg way and have abandoned it, attach a physical disclaimer when recounting their backslide. These were heard, mostly, "I could not get enough protein, I felt weak, I have diabetes, and my doctor had to redo my system. To one of the women whose vegetarian exit path had been low blood sugar as a result of inadequate protein, one of the leaders told her that she just needed a piece of candy or glass of juice, she didn't need animal protein. Hmmnn, I said to myself. I looked at the woman’s' face, she being in my row, and I could tell she was thinking Hmmnn, as well.
The three days were over. It was time for me to leave. As the new vegetarian converts were standing to receive instructions on how to set up altars in their home...Hmmnnn, I came to this conclusion. I was leaving feeling so grateful. So unabashedly grateful to have participated in this three day experience and to be leaving with the final thought that I am so very grateful for my independence, my freedom, my American, God-given right to live my life according to choices and tenants stemming from my own beliefs. Personally, I do not want to be driven to a point and made to get out to belong or fit with anything. There is not one religion, or pseudo-non-religion for that matter, in completmess, nor one diet in completeness that is one size fits all. It defeats the purpose, n'est ce pas? It becomes a religion, and not one that you wrote down and tried to define. I would love to invite you over for dinner for perhaps some gorgeous lamb chops with a silky syrah and some garlic and rosemary. I would find it equally thrilling to offer you a golden slab of sauteed tofu, tempeh, or butternut squash in lieu of those chops. I would simply have to know what you'd prefer. Never, ever, would I consider as a part of the invitation, to hit you over the head with the pan that I had used to cook your dinner with. However, never fear, apparently there are so many out there that will happily do that for you. But hey, don't believe...experience.