First, my everyday environment. A couple of days ago, I was ordering my usual lunch (a veggie sandwich on wheat bread) at the campus cafeteria. As the server was putting my sandwich together, the guy next to me in line remarked, "Oh, you have no meat in your sandwich!" From the baffled tone in his voice, I think he meant something along the lines of, "Dude, you forgot to put meat in your sandwich!" This being the upper midwest (and a rather rural part of it, at that), the idea that somebody could eat a sandwich without meat in it probably still strikes many people as quite strange, to say the least. In any case, this is how the conversation between me and this guy unfolded from this point:
Nobel: "I'm vegetarian."
Guy: "Really? I could never imagine going without meat. How long have you been vegetarian?"
Nobel: "About two years."
Guy: "How do you feel, not eating meat for so long?"
Nobel: "Well... I feel lighter. But really, most days I don't even think about it anymore. I've not eaten meat for so long, I barely even notice I'm not eating meat."
Guy: "Very interesting."
And we then went our separate ways.
The same issue has also recently emerged in the blogosphere as a topic of discussion. First, Grimmly recently blogged about his journey from vegetarianism to non-vegetarianism, and back to vegetarianism. Grimmly's story is very authentic and inspiring. You should check out his story, if you haven't already done so.
Bindy also ends her recent post about her wonderful trip to Akron, Ohio with an account of these delectable cheeseburgers that she ate at an old-school burger joint, the kind "with waiters who run out to your car to take your order & return quickly with a tray that hooks on to your window just like in the 50s. you eat in your car."
Anticipating the possibility of the vegetarian/vegan police/PETA activists leaving snarky comments in her comments box, Bindy continues,
"i know many of you who read this blog are probably repulsed by this, but i eat meat because when i was a vegetarian for 7 years, i got sick ALOT. since i began eating meat-the exact same year i started doing yoga-i haven’t been sick since. not all bodies are meant for the vegan/vegetarian lifestyle.
even though i know many of you will anyhow, don’t judge me. i myself am not fond of vegans but i try not to judge either."
Well, Bindy, I am certainly not repulsed by your account (and pictures) of the delectable cheeseburgers. And I think it is probably true that not all bodies are meant for the vegan/vegetarian lifestyle. If eating meat (and lots of it, to boot) is your, uh, piece of steak, then more power to you!
Personally, I don't think I would have become vegetarian if it weren't for the Ashtanga practice. Two years ago, I moved to Milwaukee, and became a full-time Ashtangi when I started going to morning mysore at my teacher's shala. At my teacher's recommendation, I decided to try not eating meat. To this day, I still don't really know why I listened to him: Many, many people have tried to persuade me about the wonders of vegetarianism before that, including a couple of (in my opinion) rather misguided big-name yoga teachers (I'm not going to name names here...) who resorted to cheap scare-tactics like showing PETA videos (you know, the kind with graphic depictions of chickens getting their beaks cut off), but I had basically ignored them, and continued merrily eating meat, especially my favorite meat dish, fried chicken. It probably also doesn't help that I was brought up in a culture (Chinese culture) whose members have been known to eat anything that crawls, swims or flies. Which, if you think about it, is an evolutionary advantage, since this pretty much means that Chinese people will probably never die of starvation due to lack of food in foreign environments :-) So growing up, meat was as much a part of my life as, I don't know, apple pie and cereal might be to the lives of others. Growing up, I used to think that the only people who didn't eat meat were (i) Buddhist monks and nuns, (ii) people with certain medical conditions. I suspect that many Chinese people still think this way.
But I digress. As I was saying, I still don't know why I listened to my teacher, where so many have tried to persuade me but failed. Maybe it has something to do with his no-bullshit way of going about it ("If you stop eating meat, you can get deeper into Marichyasana D!"), but I almost immediately decided to start by limiting myself to eating meat once or twice a month. After about a month of doing this, I realized to my surprise that, except for the occasional craving for fried chicken or Friday Fish Fry, I really didn't really miss meat all that much. And I also discovered that not eating meat allowed me to feel (and be) lighter. Which really helps a lot when you are getting up early to put yourself into things like Mari D and Pasasana six days a week.
So really, I don't have any particularly noble or high-minded reasons for becoming vegetarian. The chief reason is my Ashtanga practice: I love doing the practice too much to let something like fried chicken get in the way of Mari D or Pasasana. Which is probably a very bizarre and egotistical reason to go vegetarian to most people in the so-called normal world ("What? You give up fried chicken and Filet Mignon just so that you can twist yourself into funny shapes every morning? Have you lost it?"). But hey, I'm sure people do even stranger things for way stranger reasons all the time...
In any case, since my reasons for being vegetarian are not very high-minded (in fact, they are actually rather egotistical, if one equates asana achievement with ego), I'm not in a position to hit anybody over the head for not being vegetarian. Nor do I want to. Having been on both sides of the vegetarian-omnivore divide, I don't think being or not being vegetarian puts one in a better or worse position to become a self-realized being. As a matter of fact, I hear that His Holiness the Dalai Lama eats meat too. So if you are a meat-eating yogi/spiritual practitioner, you are at least in good company :-)