just be it It’s about the work involved in establishing a dedicated practice to feelings of a bigger belonging through practices aimed at increasing feelings of compassion, gratitude and forgiveness

Motive Continued

Published on 29/10/15
by randy



I was raised on a dairy farm in southern Minnesota. As a child, we tried to go on a vacation. We traveled to Duluth, a four hour drive, before my father’s anxiety about his cows overcame him and we had to return. He loved his cows and they knew it. They could feel his caring energy and responded with far less milk when another person tried. He simply didn’t trust anyone else to handle them with the care he did. We reaped the benefits of farm food, eating from our garden, drinking unpasteurized milk fresh from the cow, and enjoying the meat from a cow that had lived a life of service in sustaining our family income. When a cow’s milk production dropped below an income producing level our family would butcher the cow, ending up with a year supply of meat. Hutch was our butcher. I can’t remember the name of the truck driver who transported the cows, but I know Hutch and the driver really cared about their work and how the cow was handled. We had an unspoken reverence for the meat we ate, having had a personal relationship with the cow that was now nourishing us. Sometimes it was especially poignant if the cow had been one of our 4-H show animals. We got to know them as much as our family dog. We never did eat our family dog, but I came to eat dog when I was in the Philippines as a high school foreign exchange student. Our AFS orientation highly stressed eating everything with an attitude of gratitude, no complaints allowed. When dog meat was presented, there was no option. The motive was to not offend our host. The motive for eating cow meat was easy. It was affordable sustenance for our family and it tasted pretty good. We were indoctrinated with the necessary benefits of meat. It was easy to conclude that we were taking care of ourselves through the dietary benefits of red meat. Hutch did an amazing job at breaking out the various cuts from sirloin and t-bone steaks to hamburger, liver and tongue. We got it all.

Years later Hutch stopped and we started taking our retired cows to Wilson’s Meat Packing plant in Albert Lea. They were a major employer for our community and a tour of facilities was almost mandatory. I don’t specifically recall seeing the killing floor, but I heard the stories about how they killed the animal. They ranged from hitting them on the head with a sledge hammer, to electric shock to slitting their throats. Both Hutch and Wilson’s killed the cow, but somehow, I seem to recall the meat tasting better when it came from Hutch. I was troubled by stories of the workers who had to kill animals from the start of their work day to the end of it. However, the thought of not eating red meat never crossed my mind. As a high school athlete, I devoured meat, trying to gain pounds for football. Meat tasted good, built strong muscles and made me feel good.

In 1971 my wife and I read Diet for a Small Planet. We had embraced many of the teachings coming from the East and were fascinated with their dietary habits. After reading about the environmental impact from a red meat diet, being exposed to the possibility of a meat free diet, we went to McDonald’s and had our last Big Mac. It was a lot of work back then. There were no veggie burgers or meatless substitutes. If you went out and weren’t going to eat meat about the only thing you could order in the Midwest was iceberg lettuce salad. I recall that first week without meat. My desiring mind just wanted it and it was hard to let the thought of a meat meal go. Then something strange happened that I hadn’t expected. My tastebuds changed dramatically. Vegetables I hadn’t liked before started tasting delicious. We slowed down our dining experience and relished the taste of what we were eating. We no longer felt heavy after our meal. But perhaps the biggest surprise came from our friends and family. Almost universally, we were attacked for our dietary change. Everyone wanted to know ‘why’ we stopped eating meat. We started by giving some of our philosophical reasons. It didn’t go well. They became defensive, assuming we were judging their continued meat filled diet. It was a hot topic that felt like we were breaking ground on a new religion that threatened them. As a courtesy, whenever we were invited out to dinner we told our hosts that we didn’t eat meat. When they asked ‘why’ we soon softened our answer to, “Because we feel better”, almost implying that we were allergic to meat. In truth, we did feel better…much better. So our motive to stop eating red meat first came from wanting to have less environmental impact. Even back then it appeared evident that forest lands were disappearing so cows could graze, methane from the cows was impacting the ozone layer, and you could feed twenty people for the same amount of resource it took to feed one person on a meat diet. Our decision back then was motivated from our love for our planet. Yes, this was a new belief that we acted on with the information we had at the time. The benefit of feeling better was perhaps the main motive for continuation. A few years after going meatless we started eating fish. We had times where we ate poultry. While we still periodically eat fish, our main diet is plant based. We can say that our forty five year experiment has worked well for us.

So what’s my motive for writing this? It’s certainly not to say we were ‘right’ given the recent reports of danger from red meat. But it is a hope that we all take greater care in what and how we consume. I think it’s important we look at how our actions help or harm our family, community, nation and planet. The food industry seemed to lose it’s sensitivity to this. The drive to profit allowed us to change our motive for what we defined as better. The small farms all but disappeared as massive corporations now became our supply of dairy and meat. The relationship my dad had with his 26 milking cows was gone. Feed lots replaced grazing fields. Poultry practices were brutal as the birds lived a tortured life. In short, as we saw the change in the food supply and how animal products were coming to market, we were glad we weren’t participating. Our motive to continue with a meat free diet was strengthened.

Food awareness became a ‘practice’ for us. We became alert to all the chemicals being added to our food supply and searched out those foods with the least processing. We’ve become increasingly aware of the harm from trans fats, sugar and salt. We’re amazed at the thousands of offerings in our super markets, but more amazed at how few of them are free from additives. It’s refreshing to see the growth in organic food choice and meatless alternatives. We think it’s much easier to give up or reduce red meat consumption today given all these food options. It’s easier to do this as more and more information comes out about the health and harm that comes from our dietary practices.

I’m not advocating that a meat free diet is for everyone. The topic is too complicated. However, I can say our life has gone better as we’ve put more attention to the food consumption process. It’s been good to examine personal and environmental impact and make choices from love for our bodies and planet rather than from fear. The recent report from the World Health Organization linking a higher cancer rate with large consumption of processed meat may lead one to change behavior from the motive of fear. I can say our longevity with this practice has come from gratitude for the gift of these bodies and a sense of stewardship for their care. Concern for the food we eat and how it impacts the planet comes from our ‘feeling’ that we’re all connected. The statement, “We are what we eat” carries weight with us. I think it’s good to pause before ingesting the gift of food, give thanks for the opportunity to participate in the dining experience, and put great emphasis to how it feels in the belly/body after eating rather than primary focus on the perceptual pleasure of how it tastes in the mouth without regard to how it harms the body.

The real motive is that we all want to feel good. Putting attention to how we feel through the eating process is key to a dedicated dietary practice. Feeling sluggish and tired doesn’t feel good. Feeling energized, strong, light and ready to move feels good. Whether eating meat or not, moderation is key to this. When we slow down, give thinks, chew our food and pause for at least fifteen minutes after having a moderate portion we can deliberately take action to conclude the meal or have more. It’s aware, mindful eating vs. less aware, less mindful eating.

If you’ve made it this far I suspect that I’ve succeeded in not offending you. My intention was to share a snippet of our journey as red meat free citizens in hopes that others may feel open to exploring dietary changes for personal and planetary health. It’s not about ‘right vs. wrong’, but it is a story about what has worked for us over the past four decades.

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