Dirty Little Secret

June 5, 2013 § 13 Comments

A video of a Brazilian toddler talking about why he wouldn’t eat the octopus his mother prepared went viral last week. Unfortunately, the version with English subtitles has since been taken down but you can still absorb his adorable-ness in the original video. Like his mother, I found myself crying by the end, moved by his earnestness and the simplicity of his reasoning.

Sadly for Luiz Antonio, I still enjoy octopus and most of the animals he wants to keep “standing up”, and therein lies my dilemma. I find myself in the unique position of thoroughly enjoying two areas of interest that are, in some circles, diametrically opposed. Yogis are supposed to be vegetarians, preferably vegan (apparently). My experience in Mysore showed that the typical Ashtangi’s attitude towards food is primarily utilitarian – it is a means to an end, the end being the asana practice and the broader journey towards a sattvic state. Conversations about food in this group have a stronger focus on nutritional value, less on textures and flavors.

In the other part of my life, however, I am part of circles where food IS the end, and we talk endlessly about the variations on a recipe, how we would do it differently, what we could improve on the next round, and so on. And yes, we talk about the joys of meat consumption too, a topic that has recently left me feeling like a hypocrite in Ashtanga circles. I feel like the Ashtangi with the dirty secret: I like meat and dairy, and I don’t plan on ever giving it up. Never mind that meat isn’t a regular part of my diet, or that when I prepare it, I make sure to source it locally from sustainably-run farms. The fact that I eat meat at all feels like I’m breaking the biggest taboo in Ashtanga.

Of course, this could all just be in my head. My guilt issues manifest in “Ashtanga police” form, popping up just as I’m getting ready to photograph a food blogging conference where I will be immersed in familiar conversations about textures, flavors, butchery, ingredients, pickling, baking, brewing, etc etc etc. I’m still working through this, looking, hoping, for the middle ground where I can comfortably straddle both fields of interest and not be intimidated by superficial judgements of my food choices. A work-in-progress, definitely.

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§ 13 Responses to Dirty Little Secret

  • Nobel says:

    Hello D,
    thanks for sharing your thoughts and feelings so honestly here. Having been a meat-eater for most of my life (I only went vegetarian about three years ago), I totally understand where you are coming from. No matter how you cut it (no pun intended), the fact of the matter is that meat just tastes good, and there are some things out there (sushi and a thick juicy filet mignon are two examples) for which there are simply no satisfactory vegetarian or vegan substitutes, taste- and texture-wise. I have yet to see a vegan/vegetarian version of filet mignon, for example šŸ™‚

    Moreover, as you surely know, Chinese cuisine (and Singapore cuisine too) is very meat-heavy. Sure, it’s possible to eat Chinese and not eat meat, but one can only do so by missing out on many tasty treats.

    Anyway… where am I going with all this? Well, I guess I’m just trying to register my empathy with your feelings. Actually, I had a conversation with Kino about this topic once, and although she didn’t really do into specifics, she did say that while it is good not to eat meat, it is probably not a good idea to be too dogmatic about it either. For example, one might need to eat meat because of health reasons. I know this doesn’t apply to you, but maybe there is something to be said for job/lifestyle reasons too? In any case, my experience with these things is that beating yourself up/feeling guilty about eating meat is not productive. Some years ago, I went to this yoga conference where this big-name teacher (you may know who she is) went all preachy about not eating meat and not harming animals, and showed a whole bunch of PETA videos to make her point. I was honestly very put off by it, and just went on my own merry meat-eating ways anyway. It was only years later, when I met my teacher in Milwaukee (PJ Heffernan), that something clicked in me, and I basically went cold turkey and quit meat in a couple of months.

  • P says:

    So what made you quit meat Nobel? What clicked in you?

    • Nobel says:

      I’m still not sure how it happened or what exactly clicked. If I have to pinpoint one single thing, I would probably say it was the force of my teacher’s personality. Not the best reason to do something, but well…

      • D says:

        Thanks for sharing Nobel. Going off on a tangent here, I practiced next to PJ once during Sharath’s tour in Encinitas (didn’t realize who he was until photos were posted on Facebook). He’s definitely a strong chap in many ways!

        Back to the topic, like you I was raised with a typically Chinese-Singaporean diet that’s 110% omnivore. I was mostly vegetarian while in Mysore because of the dubious sources of meat, but there were some times where I just had to have it – my energy levels were noticeably lower if I didn’t. What those 6 weeks showed me is that I’m suited for a predominantly vegetarian diet but still need a dose of meat every couple of weeks. And I can live with that, because that’s what’s right for my constitution right now. It may change in a few years, who knows?

        Totally agree with what Kino said about taking one’s dietary preferences too seriously. I would go one step further and say it’s problematic any time we take ourselves too seriously!! It’s so important to be aware of the food choices that we make, but a big question I have these days is wondering when it stops being healthy and becomes another manifestation of the ego, like an obsession with body image? How far can we expect family/friends to go to accommodate our dietary preferences? At which point do you stop being the vegetarian/vegan friend and turn into *that* friend with picky food choices that no one wants to invite for dinner?

        As a caveat – I have a number of vegetarian/pescaterian friends who are mindful of not imposing their diets on others, which in turn makes me want to accommodate when I cook for them. I suppose a lot of the sentiment and questioning in this post (and comment) is a reaction to the sense that I’m being judged (truly or imagined) as a result of my food choices. I don’t react to judgements very well, least of all for something as personal as FOOD!

  • grimmly says:

    We went veggie a number of years back, me because I just didn’t want to buy into the whole industry, the industrial scale of the meat industry any longer ( so a lot of sympathy for the locally and ‘responsibly’ sourced meat) and M. because the Buddhist in her came out one day as she was saving a weak bee that had got stuck in the house and then about to tuck into some Salami.

    Remember mentioning to somebody who had given me a meat pasty rather than the Veggie one that I had taken a bite out that I was a veggie, thought they were going to drop to their knees to apologise, I was like, so what no big deal really but just give me one of those bland ones instead.

    Giving it all up was easy actually. Didn’t even wince when we went back to Japan and had to pass on Kobe beef. We’re lousy vegetarians though, still eat fish, doesn’t bother me because fish are stupid but started to think more and more about eggs and milk. Again the whole scale of the industry thing, just don’t want to be a part of it however inconvenient that is.

    I wonder about the health and energy aspect re my practice, a steak might do me good perhaps but I’m sure there are other options, we’re lazy vegetarians although I played Chef for a few years off and on. I have zero interest in food these days.

    As for Ashtanga police, always felt they should keep their own drishti.

    • grimmly says:

      Should perhaps add that the “It’s Ok to eat fish because they’re stupid” idea is supposedly a Buddhist argument (probably from Buddhists that live by the coast somewhere) in that what you can or can’t eat relates to how evolved they are. Personally I feel Chickens should probably be lumped in with the fish….anything that hasn’t worked out it’s heads been chopped off and runs merrily around the barnyard perhaps deserves to be eaten. Just can’t bare the thought of Nando’s though so am prepared to give the chickens a pass…. despite their IQ.

    • D says:

      The stupidity-meter as it applies to food is an interesting one, never heard that before. I am with you about not buying into the industrial food sinkhole. I had no idea how extensive it is here until we walked into Costco (big box retail store, not sure about the equivalent in the UK) for the first time. Their food section was just mind-boggling. Rows and rows of huge vacuum-sealed meat cuts and vegetables going for almost next to nothing. I find that problematic, especially when there’s an abundance of local, sustainably-raised produce available where we are.

      I’m open to the possibility that I may give up meat entirely one day, but that would mean a reduction in my curiosity to try new things, especially when travelling. I suspect too that there’s an inverse correlation between how long one has been practicing yoga/on the spiritual path and one’s interest in food. Pratyahara at work perhaps? Until I get to that stage (if ever), the challenge is to find the yoga in my food choices. It would be interesting to see how that pans out.

  • Sarah P says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this.

    I am an ashtangi, and a food blogger (not quite your scale, but still!) I have put a LOT of thought into the fact that I still eat meat, and in fact where all my food is sourced from (I don’t shop in supermarkets, try to not buy multinational brands, shop locally, support my local community) that I actually think is as much of the ‘non-violence’ aspect of yoga as anything is.

    As a result I don’t eat that much meat, but still, I get the guilts a LOT. In Mysore I just didn’t ever mention it TBH, I was mostly too lazy for the debate…

    • D says:

      Picking your battles eh? Always the smarter path to take šŸ˜‰

      Re: non-violence, did you mean that you’re practicing that through your sources of food, by choosing locally as much as possible? That’s an interesting way to approach it, because it opens up a discussion about the nuances of ‘non-violence’ and what it means in practice off the mat.

      Glad to have discovered your blog – loving the lentil and feta cakes as well as the crab noodle salad. Yum!

  • mariavlong says:

    Excellent topic D. Our food preferences tell our story at so many levels. Our food preferences change as we grow in knowledge. Not just yogic or nutritional, or environmental knowledge, but self knowledge. Are those changes linear and forward? Not a chance! Asana is not the only aspect of yoga where it is three steps forward and two steps back (or whatever it is!) I do aspire to find pleasure, health, and equanimity in my feeding practices. I think that search is a metaphor for the search for happiness (santosha!). Let’s keep looking. Seek and you shall find right? xoxo

  • evahowe says:

    I feel like I completely mirror your struggle with it. The foodie in me doesn’t want to give up the new and interesting things to try to cook and eat if I give up meat. I also like to find locally sourced meat and veggies too! I am currently smoking some chicken from our CSA on the grill. But I find to a larger degree that my energy level plummet when I don’t get enough animal protein. I notice the difference in my practice too, by the time I get to backbends, I am just exhausted, nevermind having enough energy afterwards to chase Walter!

    I like to echo the person who was talking about the stupidity meter too – I hadn’t heard anyone talk about that either, but I admit that I feel the same way. I raised goats and chickens growing up and the neighbors had cows. The chickens and cows are just awful – there is very little personality there at all. However, goats are quite smart and they definitely have a personality to them. So I don’t have any problems eating chicken or beef, but some problems with eating goat (although you don’t run into that often in the US).

  • SamKelly says:

    I too eat meat, I tried a few times to go Veggie but ended up really ill, like really ill. I recently found out that I have an autoimmune illness and both grains and dairy seem to trigger it. Hence being veggie made me as sick as a chip. I do agree that ethically vegetarian is best, but physically there is no one diet that suits everyone.

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