Inner Sanctum
 Derek's Private Study

My Vegetarian Path

The original writings on the Tao never mentioned vegetarianism. It's a safe bet that the sages 2,500 years ago and beyond were most likely not vegetarians.

So why are some Tao cultivators today vegetarians? It is because Buddhist beliefs and the Tao influenced one another throughout the last two thousand years of Chinese history. The vegetarianism of Tao cultivators comes from the tradition of Buddhism, which teaches compassion for all living things.

Buddhist beliefs recognize the vast difference between animals and plants. Animals do not wish to be eaten, period. Plants at least offer fruits in the hopes that animals who eat them will carry their seeds far and wide. Therefore, Chinese vegetarians draw the line there, at the division between flora and fauna.

Dairy products (milk, cheese, etc.) and eggs are okay too, since consuming them is quite different from taking the life of the animals that produce them. This is known as lacto-ovo vegetarianism. It's a bit different from the Vegan diet, where dairy products and eggs are not allowed.

Many Chinese vegetarians that I know don't pay a lot of attention to what they eat, and yet remain healthy and energetic. This is because whatever nutrients meat eaters say the body must have can be easily obtained from diary products and eggs.

With the Vegan diet, I think it is indeed true that one has to be quite knowledgeable and consume and wide variety of food, and perhaps take some supplements also, to make sure the body gets everything it needs. I've been influence by my wife, who is a lifelong vegetarian. Her mother is a vegetarian too, so her history with vegetarianism started even before the moment of her conception. She's living proof that it's entirely possible for babies to grow up healthy and strong without ever touching meat.

When I started on this path, my guiding principles were as follows:

1. Out of respect for her, when we dine together the entire meal will always be vegetarian. Always. She has vegetarian girlfriends who, after getting married, cook meat dishes for the husband. I would have none of that in my household. I don't allow any meat in my home, period.

2. I would never deny myself. If I feel the urge to have steak, I will go out and have it. I have plenty of opportunities to have meat, if I really want it. In my opinion, suppression and denial can hardly ever be a good thing.

By virtue of eating vegetarian at home, my meat consumption dropped quite a bit. I had no difficulty adjusting to it (she's a great cook). After a few years of living this way, I noticed I started to lose the taste for meat.

I used to get the Wing Lover's Special from El Pollo Loco all the time. I lost my taste for it. This was a big surprise when I realized it.

I used to go to Souplantation in order to get my fill of their Chinese Chicken Salad and Clam Chowder. Lost my taste for both. Never thought this would happen.

I used to love Hormel's Chilli. Now I find the after taste too much for me. It's strange.

Lost my taste for Pho, the Vietnamese beef noodle soup. To me this was incredible.

Don't want oysters anymore. Used to love them.

One of the reasons for the above changes is the wonderful teachings from people like John Robbins. Also, I took myself through mental exercises like the following: I love my dog, an adorable pet. Would I kill it and cook it for food? No, not even if my personal survival depends on it. My neighbor has a friendly dog who is always glad to see me and wants to play with me. Would I kill it for food? No, not even if my personal survival depends on it. How about dogs I don't know? No, I would really prefer not to harm them. Suppose other people kill them for me? No, I would have to decline. Suppose it's not dogs, but pigs? No, I can't kill them. I don't want someone else to do it for me either. As this "circle of compassion" extends, I realized that when I really think about it, I really would prefer to pick fruits or mushrooms or whatever over butchering living creatures.

I admit, there are still many things that have yet to transition from my "Good Eatin'" list to my "No More" list. But the trend is clear: the longer I stay on this path the less I desire meat. The process for me has been 100% natural, easy, and effortless.

I can see this path being considerably more difficult for most Westerners. Like many Chinese people, I have ready access to fantastic, delicious vegetarian cooking. Many of my Western friends do not. They often say, "Derek, if I can eat like this all the time, I would happily become a vegetarian too."

This is why when I do encounter Western vegetarians or Vegans, my hat's off to them. They are at a level way above me. I seriously doubt I can do what they do, given the constraints they work under.