Monday, April 7, 2008

Ahimsa vs. Gastronomy

Today I took a yoga class from my friend Rachel, a certified yoga teacher now doing her advanced training in Anusara yoga, a heart-centered form of yoga founded by former senior Iyengar instructor John Friend. During savasana at the end of the class, Rachel read an excerpt about ahimsa from one of Pema Chodron's books.

If you practice yoga and follow the mindset, you probably already know that ahimsa is the practice of non-violence. Yogis often philosophize about the many ways in which ahimsa can be incorporated into modern life, not only in obvious ways like not physically or verbally harming others and actively supporting peace, but in less obvious ways like not harming oneself through negative self-talk.

And then, there is the matter of whether or not to eat meat.

This is the one I struggle with, as an avid cook, amateur food historian, and ethnic food fancier. In fact, Rachel and I love to cook together and often bemoan the fact that our favorite cuisines and cooking methods include animal products. I love vegetarian food and cook it often. I'm well versed in substitutions and the many ingenious ways vegetarian and vegan cooks have managed to replicate, sometimes with amazing accuracy, traditional animal-product dishes. I admire and often practice these techniques.

But they aren't authentic techniques. This isn't the way humans have designed food in their cultures over the centuries. And when the gastronome in me rears up against the part of me trying to practice ahimsa, I often feel conflicted.

I've already banned all factory-farmed meat from my house, where I live with three meat-eating males. That was easy. I buy local or sustainably harvested flesh. But it's still flesh. And sometimes I eat it.

I suppose I could decide that I can practice ahimsa in ways that work in my life, but isn't that hypocritical? Too convenient? It's not like I have to eat meat. But then, what about truly understanding the food culture of Mexico, for example? What about mastering the art of Cajun cooking? What about French food, for goddess' sake? And how do I separate my two great loves, yoga and food, from this philosophical scuffle?

So far, I haven't. I've just been able to stand back and watch the dust fly.

I don't have any answers yet, meaning I continue on uneasily eating, balancing on the wire between compassion and consumption. I suspect one day, I'll probably tip over and fall to one side, and maybe stay there. But for now, I'll keep teetering and trying to figure out which way my life will unwind as my years and my hungers ebb and flow.

Until then, I'll continue to work and cook through it. So stay tuned. Namaste. And bon appetit.

1 comment:

  1. I can understand some of your conflict. I care about things like animal cruelty, but sometimes it seems like there's already so much to keep track of in life that making sure that all of the products I buy fall into the right categories is one more I don't need.

    It's something I wrestle with. I love meat and will probably never give it up, but we do shop differently now. We buy meat at the butcher instead of at the grocery store and use it much less often and in smaller quantities. We're growing some of our own vegetables this summer, using organic products.

    I know there's more I could be doing, but the problem is there's always more I could be doing. So mostly I try to stay aware of my actions and make good choices.