Excerpt from “The Mindful Carnivore: A Vegetarian’s Hunt for Sustenance”

Guest post from Tovar Cerulli. Blogger at The Mindful Carnivore and most recently, author of The Mindful Carnivore: A Vegetarian’s Hunt for Sustence. Tovar’s book is out NOW! Go here for your copy: http://www.tovarcerulli.com/book/

modified excerpt from Chapter 5 (“Where the Great Heron Feeds”)

Now that I was fishing again, the water had come alive. Ponds and lakes were no longer mere scenery. When I walked along a brook or drove over a bridge that spanned a river, I wondered what fish lived there. Did a brookie or a rainbow lurk behind that big rock, waiting for hapless insects to swirl by? Water was no longer just a surface to glance at or paddle across, but a living depth to participate in.

Fishing—like gardening—provided sustenance I could not get from grocery-store foods, the circumstances of their production unknown and unreal, a gaping chasm between field and table. “The supermarket,” wrote Richard Nelson in Heart and Blood, “is an agent of our forgetfulness.” Pulling a trout from water, like pulling a carrot from soil, reminded me of the origins of all nourishment in earth, water, and sun. Each was an antidote to forgetfulness. Each reminded me that glossy boxes and cellophane wrappers were illusions that divorced me from nature.

And there was something else, too, something in the killing itself. If I was going to eat flesh foods, I needed to be brought face to face with living, breathing creatures, to look directly at them. “Behind every meal of meat,” argues feminist and vegan Carol J. Adams, “is an absence: the death of the animal whose place the meat takes. The ‘absent referent’ is that which separates the meat eater from the animal and the animal from the end product.” That was an absence I could not stomach. I couldn’t go on eating without any real sense of what it meant, keeping the truth at bay just as I did in my vegan days, eating tofu and rice—and Joey’s greens and strawberries—without seeing, or wanting to see, the whole picture. I couldn’t go on killing by proxy.

In his autobiography, the 14th Dalai Lama comments on Tibetans’ relationship with

Tovar with a striper

meat. He notes that, in the 1960s, at least, very few Tibetan dishes were vegetarian. Alongside tsampa—a kind of barley bread—meat was a staple of the local diet. This, however, was complicated by religion. Buddhism, the Dalai Lama writes, doesn’t prohibit meat eating “but it does say that animals should not be killed for food.” And there lay the crux of what he calls Tibetans’ “rather curious attitude” toward meat.

Tibetan Buddhists could buy meat, but they couldn’t order it, “since that might lead to an animal being killed” for them specifically. What, then, were Tibetan Buddhists to do? How could they eat meat without being involved in butchery? How could they consume flesh, yet prevent themselves from being implicated in killing? Simple. They did what I, as an American shopper, was already doing. They got someone else to do the killing for them. In the Tibetan case, writes the Dalai Lama, much of it was left to local Muslims.

I understood the comfort we find in not knowing, or in knowing and not looking or thinking. But I could find no virtue in it. If there was some kind of cosmic accounting system at work, it seemed to me that such willful ignorance should accrue extra bad karma, not less.

© 2012 Tovar Cerulli