Choosing Love Over Fear: How Giving Up Meat Transformed My Physical & Spiritual Bodies

First and foremost, animals are delicious.

Choosing Love Over Fear: How Giving Up Meat Transformed My Physical & Spiritual Bodies
Photo by Colton Jones / Unsplash

First and foremost, animals are delicious. Or at least they are when you're used to eating them. That's why I'd like to precede this by saying that at no point throughout this post am I going to try to make you feel bad or guilty for eating animals because I did it and enjoyed doing it for a long time. In fact, I'm actually a pescatarian right now as I still eat sea creatures about 2-3 times a week and typically enjoy doing that too. But I stopped eating pork, poultry, beef, and any other kind of land animal about a year and a half ago and I don't think I'll ever start back. Switching to a plant-based diet has enhanced my quality of life in so many ways. I made the change around the same time that I started to take my spirituality seriously and my heart started to open back up after years of being sealed shut. For the entirety of my life up to that point, I thought animals only existed to serve human needs. But meditation showed me that humans aren't that different from any other animal. We've convinced ourselves that we're superior to other animals but is that true? And if you do think that it's true, what makes you so sure? One thing that I am sure of is that I really don’t enjoy suffering and I've noticed that animals suffer. As I gained more love and compassion for myself through meditation, I also gained it for every other living being around me. I was no longer okay with another sentient being having to suffer for my enjoyment when there was an alternative.

My eyes were also opened to the health dangers that eating meat exposes us to and I don't mean just physically. You get what you give and I wholeheartedly believe that the reason there's so much disease and suffering in human existence is because we bring so much suffering to our earth and the beings we share it with. Type 2 Diabetes, which preceded my mom's Pancreatic Cancer, is entirely preventable and a plant-based diet has been proven to cure it completely. I used to frequently get sick until I started eating cleaner and I swear that I've only been sick once or twice since I cut meat completely. As someone who would rather break a bone than have a cold, having a stronger immune system is reason enough for me to stick with a plant based diet. But it's honestly the changes that happened to my spirit, not my body, that led me to give up eating land animals for good and I hope that what I have to say in the next few paragraphs will encourage you to consider that possibility for yourself.

Sometimes I dream about fried chicken. Our relationship was way deeper than just taste. Fried chicken is home. Fried chicken reminds me of the best times I had with my family growing up. Fried chicken was there for me when my crush rejected me. Fried chicken was there for me after I got cut from the basketball team. My mother and grandmother's fried chicken was one thing that seemed to stay consistent while everything else around me changed growing up. The smell of chicken slowly frying to a golden brown state of perfection was the first experience I had with psychedelics because I swear it got me high. For me and for a lot of people like me, fried chicken is the epitome of comfort food and honestly, I never thought I'd be able to part ways with it for that reason. So you can imagine how confused I was after I started having this nagging desire to stop eating it. The religion I was born into always told me what not to do -- don't do this thing or don't do that thing. But the spiritual teachers I've learned from never told me that I had to stop doing anything. They said, just do your spiritual practice and your "impure" desires will fall away. Probably like you're thinking right now, I thought that was absolute bullshit. But since meditation was the only thing that brought me peace in the midst of the storm of cancer, I meditated regularly.

As my meditation practice deepened more and more, I noticed that things were changing inside of me. The first major change I noticed is that I cared a lot more about the feelings of those I interacted with. It started bothering me that I was consciously manipulating people for my selfish benefit. I started getting this weird feeling of compassion for everything around me, not just other people. The way I was suffering back then was kind of like a scared straight program in the way that it opened my eyes to the fact that all sentient beings suffer and that I had contributed quite a bit to suffering of a lot of living things. I remembered seeing those viral videos of the behind the scenes of what happens to animals at farms and butcher shops and I remember knowing for sure that those animals were suffering but not caring enough back then to stop eating them. But now I did care and not only did I care, I had this feeling deep inside the core of my being telling me that it was time for me to stop contributing to that suffering. And that's why even though there's a moment of bliss when I bite into the fried chicken in my dreams, I immediately wake up to feelings of guilt.

I'm a big believer in energy and it was Ram Dass who first introduced me to the idea that everything that we eat has an energy of it's own and that we take on the energies of the things we eat. Under this school of belief, you literally are what you eat and so if we eat something that died as a result of violence in a state of fear, terror, and anxiety, those emotions become the pervading ones we feel in our lives as well. Now I know that's a pretty abstract idea and I'm not asking you to accept it as fact, just consider it. You have certainly felt the energy of a dog or a cat when it was hurting or in distress haven't you? When I watched those videos of animals having to live in their own shit and being beaten and slaughtered, I felt a certain type of energy and it wasn't an energy that I wanted inside of me. "But Micheal, you eat fish, doesn't that make you a hypocrite?" Some would say yes! But… the verdict isn't in yet about whether or not fish are sentient beings and if they feel pain or suffer. And that's honestly why I've been able to hang on to eating them for now, at least. My Yoga teacher is a passionate vegan and she says that all life is sentient, including plants. But not all spiritual practitioners are anti-meat. Some teachers say that not eating meat won't make you enlightened any faster than eating it everyday. They believe that the relationship you have with your food is what's most important. That as long as you show respect and genuine gratitude for whatever it is you're eating as a gift from the Creator then you're golden. And I'm not qualified to tell you that they're wrong and that's also why I'm not going to tell you that you should definitely stop eating meat or that you necessarily need to stop eating meat to be spiritual or get closer to God. I'm just saying that breaking my addiction to meat has made me a better person. It's made me more compassionate for all life, including my own. It's fostered an awareness in me that our planet is a living thing and that the choices we make either contribute to it's longevity or to it's demise.

It's not just animals that I've gained compassion for -- I also try my best not to kill insects these days which makes dating a challenge. Not too many girls want to hear "try and catch it" when they're freaking out about seeing a spider on the wall. But it's really difficult for me to intentionally kill something these days. There was a time that I found pleasure in killing insects but what gives me the right to end a life that I didn't begin? Because I'm afraid? Because I don’t understand it? I've learned that there's never a good reason to be afraid and that fear is a sorry excuse for ending someone or something else's life. This idea is beautifully put in the following poem by Nikki Giovanni:

"I killed a spider
Not a murderous brown recluse
Nor even a black widow
And if the truth were told this
Was only a small
Sort of papery spider
Who should have run
When I picked up the book
But she didn’t
And she scared me
And I smashed her
I don’t think
I’m allowed
To kill something
Because I am

I've gained so much love for this planet, for my life, and the lives of all those around me because I now see it all as a gift from my Creator. I now see the same beauty I see in flowers in snakes and in roaches and in rats. I no longer subscribe to the belief that human beings are the superior life form and that we get to choose whether or not other life forms should be able to enjoy their lives here. The truth is, we humans are the visitors here and as visitors, we should be doing everything that we can to maintain life on earth, not destroy it and certainly not just for our pleasure. At every moment we get to choose whether we'll act out of fear or if we'll act out of love. For too long, fear drove my diet. Fear of missing out. Fear of not getting enough protein. Fear of not being able to eat my favorite foods. Fear of not being accepted if I didn't eat what my family ate. But now, I try to choose love in regard to my food. Choices that not only show the planet that I love it but also show my body that I love it enough to only want to put the best food in it. So I encourage you to consider love, consider life, consider at least cutting back on meat if you can't quit it completely and I promise you that both your physical and spiritual health will benefit from it immediately!