Eating Animals


As a part of the South Granville YYoga Book Club, I recently read Eating Animals by Jonathan Saefran Foer. While not his only focus, Foer writes extensively in this book about the modern means of meat production – a.k.a. Factory Farming.

Reading stories about how abused animals are in the factory farming process, I finished the book feeling that factory farming is morally equivalent to genocide.

In addition to the mistreatment of animals, animal agriculture makes a 40% greater contribution to global warming than all transportation in the world combined. And, factory farming practices carry incredible health risks – with H1N1 originating in a North Carolina pig farm and 98% of American chicken being infected with campylobacter or salmonella at the time of consumption.

The stories of abuse, destruction and threat seem endless.

And, it is overwhelming.

Potentially paralyzing.

But, I’m writing today in an effort to prevent, to move through, paralysis and to foster an appreciation for doing something being worth something.

For many people, the thought of switching to a vegan diet to avoid the consumption of animal products produced in inhumane ways feels impossible, undesirable, and extreme. I have allergies to wheat and dairy, and the thought of voluntarily removing another group of food items from my diet feels unhealthy, limiting and isolating.

But at the same time, holding the reality of what is involved producing most animal products isn’t compatible with freely indulging all my carnivorous desires.

So where is the middle ground?

For me, the middle ground is letting doing something be enough because I’m not prepared to do everything right now and because doing something is so much better than turning a blind eye to the atrocity that is factory farming.

I want to share some of my ideas for small steps – and I’d love to hear your ideas.

  • Start a conversation about small steps people can take to do something to address the issues arising from factory farming
  • Eat smaller portions of meat (and other animal products) and commit to never throwing any away
  • Avoid eating at large fast food chains (like McDonalds & KFC) that play a large role in creating an unsustainable demand for meat
  • Cultivate awareness by asking restaurants where their meat products come from
  • Give up meat for a certain number of days in the week. The idea of being a vegetarian on the weekdays is popular (omnivore on weekends), but maybe that is too extreme for you. Try 1 day or 2 days.
  • Give up eggs. Chickens who produce eggs are some of the most horribly abused animals in the system. (And, if you buy “free-range” or “cage-free” eggs, do some research to make sure you are really getting what you paid for.)
  • When you buy meat, remember that relative to inflation rates factory farmed meat is ridiculously cheap – and pay a more appropriate price for meat more humanely raised and slaughtered

Resolution Support!


Having worked as lifeguard at public pools – and now teaching yoga, I am very familiar with the “January Rush” that facilities catering to any sort of fitness activity experience at this time of year.

Recently, a friend relayed to me an experience of a coworker (who works at a very busy fitness facility) being told, “Just make it through January.”

While I understand the comment was made to bolster morale during busy times, I couldn’t help but reflect on the implication that a large percentage of the people attending fitness facilities this month will fail to follow through with their New Year’s Resolutions. I wouldn’t call myself a hopeless romantic, but in certain situations, I am undeniably a hopeless optimist. And, without a word of a lie, I thought to myself in response, “Maybe this year will be the year that everyone follows through with their fitness related resolutions.”

And, I began to consider how I could help the students in my class stay committed to their yoga-related resolutions. Two ideas I came up with were consistently guiding attention to intention and connecting the community.

Guiding attention to intention is something I already focus on in my classes, because I believe it is easier to move in the direction you want to move when you stay focused on that direction. ‎Demi Langford put it beautifully when she wrote, “Setting an intention is like setting the destination on your GPS system.”

At the beginning of every class, I ask my students to take a moment to become clear about why they are practicing. I invite and encourage them to let go of any need for their intentions to be noble or world-changing, and to find what is true in their heart, whether it is simply to escape from pressures outside the class or to build a yogalicious body.

My hope is that by cultivating more presence and awareness around yoga-related intentions the decision to step on to the mat will continue to be made with relative ease.

The second idea – connecting the community – is founded upon a belief that people are more likely to stay committed to something if they are a part of it with other people. The connection doesn’t need to be deep; simply knowing that there will be familiar faces in class can make it easier and more desirable to show up.

At the beginning of my classes, I have been taking a moment to foster this sense of community by asking my students to introduce themselves to one or two other people in the class. My hope is to cultivate enough familiarity that if two of my students ran into each other outside of class they would at least smile and nod to one another – instead of awkwardly looking down as people who recognize but do not officially know each other sometimes do.

Who are you dragonifying?


The Dreamworks’ film How to Train Your Dragon has been the inspiration for my yoga classes this week. Without giving away too much about the movie, I will tell you that it is about a village of Vikings whose lives revolve largely around fighting dragons, and that in the movie the Vikings come to realize that the dragons are only fighting because the Vikings are fighting – and vice versa.

I found this (unnecessary) battle between the Vikings and the dragons to be a powerful reminder about how dangerous it can be to blindly operate on assumptions.

Of course, assumptions serve us well in many ways. I assume that Warm Goat Cheese, Beet and Argula Sandwiches are going to be delicious (because they have been every other time I’ve eaten them), so I gladly eat them again. I assume that the car at the red light will stop, so I drive through the green. I assume that the orange stove element will burn my finger if I touch it, so I don’t.

Assumptions bring so much ease into our lives that it is easy to see why we have come to rely on them and how we sometimes lose touch with the places where they lead us to suffer. One of the areas I have been focusing on in my classes is holding assumptions about the actions of others.

The conflict between the Vikings and the dragons illustrates how relying on assumptions about the actions of others can bring more suffering, turmoil and stress into our lives. You might be thinking that a long-standing war with fire breathing dragons is an extreme example. You are not actually fighting a war – or are you?

In her book Practicing Peace in Times of War, Pema Chödrön, a Buddhist teacher, writes:

War begins when we harden our hearts, and we harden them easily – in minor ways and then in quite serious, major ways, such as hatred and prejudice – whenever we feel uncomfortable. … We can talk about ending war and we can march for ending war, we can do everything in our power, but war is never going to end as long as our hearts are hardened against each other. (16-17)

Do you make assumptions about the actions of others that stir up a hardening in your heart? Do you make assumptions that lead you to feel like you need to defend or protect yourself from another person?

Are you fighting dragons that don’t need to be fought?

I know I am.

And, one way I’ve been working on moving through my initial assumptions is by challenging myself to come up with at least three different explanations for actions of others that I experience as harmful.

Honouring that I may never truly understand the intentions of another, I believe that this practice cultivates an openness to the likelihood that the actions of others revolve much less around me than I experience them to – or that, in some situations, the dragons are simply protecting themselves from me.