A Vegetarian’s Dilemma: “Can I Eat Meat and Still Be a Good Yogi?”
It’s been over two years since I’ve eaten chicken or any animal that walks on land, until yesterday. I am a weird ball of differing emotions about it today.
First some back-story. I grew up in a very meat-and-potatoes kind of family. We pretty much had the same few things for dinner every night for the first 20 years of my life. I wasn’t exposed to lots of foods that most people think of as normal, i.e.: mozzarella sticks, pancakes, sushi. When I moved out of my parents’ house, I really began to open up to new kinds of foods and eat all kinds of stuff that I wouldn’t have gone near before. I also started eating less meat because I would either be eating pork chops until I “literally couldn’t even” or half of them would go bad. Beef was really the first thing to go. I remember going to yoga practice the day after eating a burger or steak and thinking about how gross I felt and how I couldn’t get into my twisted chair as deep as I did the week before. So eventually beef was out, then pork followed shortly after. This lasted for a couple years.
When I was in my late 20s, I started an elimination diet to figure out what was causing me stomach issues that I had been facing for years. Actually, they’d been plaguing me for as long as I could remember. My regular was totally irregular, and that can be very uncomfortable, if you know what I mean. I found out the dairy was the culprit. Especially cheese, ice cream and yogurt—nooooo. Everything just tastes better with cheese, right?!?!? This was also the time that I started getting really into my yoga practice.
In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali lays out the eight limbs of yoga. It is said that they are laid out in a way so that the first things mentioned are supposed to be the most important. The very first part of the eight limbs is Ahimsa, or non-harming. This the ethical basis that most yogis use for vegetarianism. You do your best to move through your life causing the least amount of harm possible to all beings. This is also something that I touch on in every single one of my classes. Lokah Samasta Sukhino Bhavantu means: May all beings be safe and free from harm, and may the actions of my life in some way contribute to the peace and freedom of all. Doing my best to live my yoga everyday and knowing that most of the animals that we eat here in the States live a tortured life and are not treated humanely, I decided to give up the last of the meats that I was eating, poultry and bacon.
I continued to eat fish for two main reasons: I still wanted to get protein, which I know you can totally get from broccoli and quinoa, and I could almost always find something to eat when we went out or were on the road. Traveling is super difficult for vegans and vegetarians.
A few months ago, I read a book about diets and moods, in an effort to prevent my Seasonal Affective Disorder. The book talks a lot of tryptophan and other nutrients that come from poultry and how they affect your mood. I was very tempted to try some turkey at Thanksgiving because we make sure to get a “happy” turkey. I didn’t, though. I just couldn’t get past the fact that I would be eating an animal. Ever since then, I have been having cravings. I’m also getting sick of eating the same foods all the time. I can’t eat most dairy products, I don’t eat meat and I don’t like lots of other foods that vegetarians thrive on like eggplant, mushrooms, and tofu. With such a limited diet, it can get boring quickly.
So last night my amazing husband made dinner, polenta and some sauteed veggies, and for himself he made a chicken breast. Again since it was something we purchased, I know that it was organic, and supposedly lived a good life. I tried a piece. It wasn’t bad. I grabbed another piece and then another. I ate like half a chicken breast. I was awaiting the rebellion of my belly, but it didn’t come.
This morning, I was feeling guilty about eating it. At the same time I was craving a Primo’s turkey hoagie. I decided against it and was just going to come home and make some eggs and toast. We had one egg. Primo’s and Giant are in the same shopping center. I ate the Primo’s. I still feel a little guilty, but my belly is super happy right now. I probably feel more guilty about this than the chicken from last night because it wasn’t organic and while I really hope that that turkey was happy while he was alive, it probably wasn’t.
I’m at a point of decision right now. Do I follow my ethics and stay on the vegetarian-moving-towards-vegan front, or do I listen to the cravings of my body and eat some poultry? Will eating poultry lead to other darker meats? Do I only eat organic, “happy” animals, which means pretty much only eating meat at home when I know where it’s sourced from? One of the plus sides to eating meat is that eating at restaurants is a whoooooole lot easier. Meat from a restaurant, though, is probably not from very happy animals. I’m not sure what to do at this point. I know that even when you eat a leaf of lettuce, that lettuce which was once alive dies. It’s natural to eat meat, but it’s not great for the environment. I understand both sides of the argument, and I just need to decide which side I am on. I also need to understand that this can be a fluid thing. Just because I ate some turkey today, doesn’t mean I have to eat chicken tomorrow.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, especially if you are a yogi! Go ahead and share in the comments.
This post first appeared on Kate Goodyear Yoga.
Kate Goodyear is a Philadelphia-area yoga instructor who teaches weekly classes at Yoga Home, Focus Fitness Main Line, Stillpoint Yoga and Gateway Body Works; she also offers private instruction, corporate yoga and retreats. She teaches a Vinyasa-flow style in the Ashtanga lineage. Read more about Kate here.