Why I’m NOT a vegetarian
How much meat do I eat? I eat a lot of fish, quite a bit of chicken and other poultry and very little red meat except on special occasions. Being a Zen Buddhist shouldn’t I be a vegetarian? Thich Nhat Hanh is a vegetarian and so are other prominent Zen Buddhists shouldn’t you be? You must not take Zen very seriously if you are not a vegetarian. The line of accusatory questions and statements go on and on and are also valid to some degree. The question is not a simple one and deserves some time to consider and answer thoughtfully. My reply is sure not to satisfy some but I remind them that Buddhism contains precepts or in another words guidelines and not commandments or laws as some other faiths have. Some might find that splitting hairs.
I feel it necessary to answer this question in two ways, from a Buddhist perspective as well as from a general health perspective as it is applied to myself. The latter is much simpler. I am on a medically recommended diet that is higher in protein and specifically animal protein than the average person. This is due to the fact that I had a liver transplant and through my illness had much muscle wasting. Although I am in general in very good health I do still have issues with keeping my weight within the proper range and allowing me to build muscle mass and eating meat is beneficial in this regard. For those that are interested the top 10 foods to gain muscle mass are: lean beef, skinless chicken, cottage cheese, eggs, whey protein, tuna and other fish, oatmeal, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and healthy fats.
Second, we were designed by evolution to eat meat and other animal foods. Humans have much shorter digestive systems than herbivores and don’t have the specialized organs to digest cellulose, the main fiber in plants, (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/should-humans-eat-meat-excerpt/). Third, meat in very nutritious. A 3.5 ounces portion of lean ground beef contains large amounts of vitamins B12, B3, B6, Iron, Zinc, and Selinium among others. Studies have shown that 92% of vegans need supplements in B12 (http://www.karger.com/Article/Abstract/176565). Other nutrients gained are creatine, and carnosine. Fourth, meat tastes good. Could I simply drink multiple protein drinks everyday instead? I suppose that would be an option, but one I have not discussed with my medical doctors and plan not to. I feel it is of more importance how the animal was raised than whether you eat meat. Does eating humanely raised animals cost more? It sure does but is worth it.
Sure from my Buddhist perspective it would be ideal in some respects if I was a vegetarian. I believe much along the way that chef Eric Ripert a Buddhist of the Tibetan tradition does, “If you can be vegetarian, it’s a good thing. If you kill an animal, obviously you kill something that’s alive, ultimately, Buddhists understand that we are omnivores by nature. If you can be vegetarian, that’s very good. If you cannot be, that’s okay.” As a matter of fact the Dalai Lama is not a vegetarian. So am I borrowing from another Buddhist tradition and quoting someone with no Buddhist authority? Yes. I believe in the middle way in all things and not to be too extreme in one pole or the other as the Buddha preached. I believe becoming a vegetarian takes one precisely to an extreme. So while I may receive criticism from some I’m going to continue to eat meat.