Recently I horrified my yoga friends at the vegan restaurant. I was mid-way through a seitan “cheeseburger” when they found a table near mine. They said, "You eat meat but you still come to this restaurant?!?”
“Sure,” I replied. “Not every meal has to include meat. I just eat meat a couple times a week.”
“But you wouldn’t eat pork, right?”
"Yeah, I eat pork.” They were speechless so I continued, “And I would also eat dog." After a nervous laugh on all our parts, we changed the subject. It’s possible they think I’m a monster.
Why should one type of animal be acceptable for meat consumption but not another? The types of meat available are decided by culture and religion. In the United States, we’re taught that cows and pigs are for consumption. We distance ourselves from nature and the food chain by calling those meats beef and pork. I love all animals to the point of personification. Put me alone in a room with a turtle or a gorilla and we will have a full-on conversation. We will bond and I will fall in love. That’s how it works every single time I meet any animal. So why eat only the ones that my current society deems acceptable?
Other countries have different animals on the menu. If, in my travels, someone offered me dog meat, I would partake. I’m writing this as a professional dogwalker and petsitter. I sleep in bed with dogs every night, I care for their every need and it’s my pleasure to bring them peace of mind and happiness.
Yet, in the right circumstance, I would eat dog. I wouldn’t eat my friends Terra or Max or Buttercup (excepting some absurd survival situation,) but I would eat a dog that was given a good life and killed humanely for the purpose of eating.
I've practiced yoga for 13 years so yes, I'm familiar with the ethical principle of not causing harm to others. We call it ahimsa. I love yoga so much that I’ve been a yoga teacher for eight years. Yet I helped make sausage in Italy and I've helped farmers kill and pluck chickens. When the animals live well, hunting or killing them isn't necessarily cruel; it's part of nature. As a human, I am part of that cycle.
The best scenario for acquiring meat would be a swift kill to a wild animal living freely on endless land. Short of that, free-range farms are the best option. I don’t mean “free range” in whatever government definition allows the mislabeling of food (like the labels “raw” or “organic”). Instead I mean the common-sense definition where the animal has so much freedom to roam that s/he thinks s/he’s free. There’s a sense of contentedness with life. The killing has to be as quick and painless as possible.
We have to be careful and educated about where we buy our meat. Meat from small farms is often sold at expensive organic markets. I prefer to eat “clean” expensive meat once a week rather than factory-farmed meat every day. With our wallets, we help control the supply chain and can practice a degree of ahimsa (non-harming).
I spend about one month a year in Africa volunteering at animal sanctuaries and rehab facilities, and that made me confront my inner turmoil about meat being consumed by other animals. Donkeys get slaughtered daily to feed the lions. I struggled with the idea of killing one animal to keep another alive. It seemed like we were choosing to value the lion more than the donkey. But I have deep respect and love for the donkeys who offer their physical bodies to the lion, as well as to any animal that winds up on my plate. What an honor it is to be eaten by a lion! We can’t choose only to help herbivore animals in sanctuaries and rehab facilities. We have to help everyone, including apex predators that eat meat.
Perhaps you’re thinking that I should throw myself to the lions. I’ve thought of that! But my meat is so convoluted with vaccines and medicines and human impurities that they wouldn’t even want it. (And I’m not ready to die so this is only theoretical until I’m on my last hurrah. Then it’s real.) If my meat was desirable to them, I would not sign the Organ Donor paperwork for car accidents. Instead I’d will my meat to the lions. Or to the wolves or hyenas or whichever animal lives in close proximity to the location of my death and wants to eat my body. I would be honored to be part of the cycle with my animal brethren.
Vegans and vegetarians usually think though the ethics and logistics of their consumption. They often have to explain themselves or opt out of their neighbor’s dinner parties. Meat-eaters also need to think through their choices. Would you eat pork? Would you go hunting? Would you refrain from Starbucks or that new pair of shoes in order to afford meat from the family farm near your town?
In yoga, we finish the practice with a chant in Sanskrit: Lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu. This means, “May all beings everywhere be happy and free.” Whenever possible, the meat I consume comes from an animal who enjoyed life, was treated well and felt healthy while alive. I don’t discriminate based on the species of the animal because all beings everywhere deserve and have my love and respect.