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Posts Tagged ‘vegetarianism’

Illegal cattle

Cattle at an illegal settlement in the Jamanxim National Forest, state of Para, northern Brazil, November 29, 2009. With 1,3 million hectares, the Jamanxim National Forest is today a microsm that replicates what happens in the Amazon, where thousands of hectares of land are prey of illegal woodcutters, stock breeders and gold miners. Photograph: Antonio Scorza/AFP/Getty Images

Needless to say this was music to my vegetarian ears, although there was also a clear message that with my obstinate taste for cheese I have not gone far enough! So, you will understand why I could not resist posting a link to this Guardian article. Below is the usual short extract as a taster.

Biggest analysis to date reveals huge footprint of livestock – it provides just 18% of calories but takes up 83% of farmland.

Avoiding meat and dairy products is the single biggest way to reduce your environmental impact on the planet, according to the scientists behind the most comprehensive analysis to date of the damage farming does to the planet.

The new research shows that without meat and dairy consumption, global farmland use could be reduced by more than 75% – an area equivalent to the US, China, European Union and Australia combined – and still feed the world. Loss of wild areas to agriculture is the leading cause of the current mass extinction of wildlife.

The new analysis shows that while meat and dairy provide just 18% of calories and 37% of protein, it uses the vast majority – 83% – of farmland and produces 60% of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions. Other recent research shows 86% of all land mammals are now livestock or humans. The scientists also found that even the very lowest impact meat and dairy products still cause much more environmental harm than the least sustainable vegetable and cereal growing.

The study, published in the journal Science, created a huge dataset based on almost 40,000 farms in 119 countries and covering 40 food products that represent 90% of all that is eaten. It assessed the full impact of these foods, from farm to fork, on land use, climate change emissions, freshwater use and water pollution (eutrophication) and air pollution (acidification).

“A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication, land use and water use,” said Joseph Poore, at the University of Oxford, UK, who led the research. “It is far bigger than cutting down on your flights or buying an electric car,” he said, as these only cut greenhouse gas emissions.

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Cattle

A cattle farm in Mato Grosso, Brazil. 60% of all mammals on Earth are livestock. Photograph: Daniel Beltra/Greenpeace

Another Guardian article has motivated me to recommend it, even though I’m treading very lightly on my blog at present. I have always known we have a disproportionate impact on the planet, but grossly underestimated the size of the mismatch, it seems. And, of course, it’s good to see the vegetarian case strengthened by this data! Below is a short extract: for the full article see link.

Groundbreaking assessment of all life on Earth reveals humanity’s surprisingly tiny part in it as well as our disproportionate impact.

The world’s 7.6 billion people represent just 0.01% of all living things, according to the study. Yet since the dawn of civilisation, humanity has caused the loss of 83% of all wild mammals and half of plants, while livestock kept by humans abounds.

The new work is the first comprehensive estimate of the weight of every class of living creature and overturns some long-held assumptions. Bacteria are indeed a major life form – 13% of everything – but plants overshadow everything, representing 82% of all living matter. All other creatures, from insects to fungi, to fish and animals, make up just 5% of the world’s biomass.

. . .

The new work reveals that farmed poultry today makes up 70% of all birds on the planet, with just 30% being wild. The picture is even more stark for mammals – 60% of all mammals on Earth are livestock, mostly cattle and pigs, 36% are human and just 4% are wild animals.

“It is pretty staggering,” said Milo. “In wildlife films, we see flocks of birds, of every kind, in vast amounts, and then when we did the analysis we found there are [far] more domesticated birds.”

. . .

Despite humanity’s supremacy, in weight terms Homo sapiens is puny. Viruses alone have a combined weight three times that of humans, as do worms. Fish are 12 times greater than people and fungi 200 times as large.

. . .

[O]ur impact on the natural world remains immense, said Milo, particularly in what we choose to eat: “Our dietary choices have a vast effect on the habitats of animals, plants and other organisms.”

“I would hope people would take this [work] as part of their world view of how they consume,” he said. ”I have not become vegetarian, but I do take the environmental impact into my decision making, so it helps me think, do I want to choose beef or poultry or use tofu instead?”

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Holland House

Last Monday I was scheduled to give a short talk at Holland House, Cropthorne, to an interfaith group on the Bahá’í approach to health and well-being. It was an opportunity both to share the Bahá’í perspective on these matters and learn from other religions what their take on the matter is. I hope to deal with these other points of view in a separate post. This one is going to be long enough without them! It was another occasion when I had more to say than the time allowed and readers of this blog are paying the price!

More than that though, this time the talk I eventually gave was rather different from the one I planned, though it included some of the original points.

I was derailed by various things. No pun intended, but the train journey there was a nightmare. The four carriage train before mine had been cancelled when its brakes failed. The two carriage train I was on had to find space not just for us but for all the passengers from the first train who were still waiting. Sardine time! At every stop the wait got longer and longer as it became ever more difficult to squeeze more sardines into the tin. My chance of getting my connection faded gradually into Never Never Land.

I’d already begun to revise my talk when I got the final copy of the programme a few days before. It spelt out the topic of the day more clearly than the earlier version: ‘How does my faith community understand and support wholeness, wellbeing and health in individuals and communities?’ I’d started to rework it in the time available but needed to do more on the train.

That proved easier said than done. When I boarded the train I headed for a table with only one man sitting there. As soon as I started to sit down I realised I’d miscalculated. It was one man and his guide dog. No problem, I thought. I’ve done this before. These dogs are well-trained, quiet and docile. He readjusted his dog, and I did the same with my expectations as more passengers climbed on board and a lady joined us at the table. Still not a major problem as Milo, the brown-eyed labrador, still had room to lie down quietly. Until that is a second lady asked if she could sit at the window seat beside me.

From that point on, my revision of the talk was punctuated by unpredictable interactions with Milo who was clearly excited to be surrounded by so many people at close quarters. His harness was on the table. His owner explained that when Milo had his harness on he was in work mode. Without the harness it was playtime!

I arrived at the station for my connection with the train I planned to be on long gone. The next train was more than an hour away. Time for some lateral thinking. In the end, I bit the bullet and took a taxi to the venue. No way I could carry on revising my plan as we bounced along. I had to do that while the other speakers were doing their bit and before my turn came.

Anyway, I felt it might still be worth sharing in this sequence what I originally planned to say, before trying to type up what I actually said into a later post.

So, here it is.

The Basics

It’s probably best at the start to make two very basic points.

We need to use doctors when we are ill and Bahá’ís have no reservations about accepting medical best practice. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá is unequivocal: ‘the sick must refer to the doctor.’[1]

Also we have no Bahá’í healers as such, even if a Bahá’í feels they have healing powers. The Guardian of the Bahá’í Faith, Shoghi Effendi makes this crystal clear: ‘although there is no objection to your helping others to regain their health, he does not feel you should associate the name Bahá’í with your work, as it gives a wrong impression; we have no “Bahá’í healers” . . . You are a Bahá’í and a healer, and that is quite different.’[2]

We are free to use the material means at our disposal to help others in need: ‘There is nothing in the teachings which would forbid a Bahá’í to bequeath his eyes to another person or for a Hospital; on the contrary it seems a noble thing to do.’[3] and ‘There is nothing in the Teachings to prevent a Bahá’í from willing his body for medical research after death. However, it should be made clear that the remains must be buried eventually and not cremated, as this is according to Bahá’í law.’[4]

Complicating Factors

Now I’m going to complicate things a little.

Medicine is not the only option. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá explains: ‘There are two ways of healing sickness, material means and spiritual means. The first is by the treatment of physicians; the second consisteth in prayers offered by the spiritual ones to God and in turning to Him. Both means should be used and practised.’

He also adds an interesting rider to this: ‘Illnesses which occur by reason of physical causes should be treated by doctors with medical remedies; those which are due to spiritual causes disappear through spiritual means. Thus an illness caused by affliction, fear, nervous impressions, will be healed more effectively by spiritual rather than by physical treatment. Hence, both kinds of treatment should be followed; they are not contradictory.’[5]

This is not to say that spiritual means in some way trump material means. Shoghi Effendi wrote: ‘Healing through purely spiritual forces is undoubtedly as inadequate as that which materialist physicians and thinkers vainly seek to obtain by resorting entirely to mechanical devices and methods. The best result can be obtained by combining the two processes: spiritual and physical.’[6]

This sense of the complementary nature of the relationship between spiritual and material means is increasingly being endorsed by evidence such as that adduced in Goleman and Davidson’s excellent book on meditation where they explain that what matters most is our relationship to the pain we suffer from. Our experience, as the authors put it (page 148), is not based on the direct ‘apperception of what is happening, but to a great extent upon our expectations and projections.’ They add, ‘consciousness operates as an integrator, gluing together a vast amount of elementary mental processes, most of which we are oblivious to.’

In follow up studies they state (page 167) ‘no research so far has found that meditation produces clinical improvement in chronic pain by removing the biological cause of the pain – the relief comes in how people relate to that pain.’ And at the neurological level, the more you meditate, the lower are the levels of activation in the reactive areas of the brain. So, they are clear we don’t cure the pain by meditation: we maximize the efficacy of the way we deal with it and thus enhance our quality of life.

The value of human contact and support is endorsed by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá: ‘We should all visit the sick. When they are in sorrow and suffering, it is a real help and benefit to have a friend come. Happiness is a great healer to those who are ill. . . .You must always have this thought of love and affection when you visit the ailing and afflicted.[7]

It may even be legitimate at times to exploit the placebo effect: ‘…if a doctor consoles a sick man by saying, “Thank God you are better, and there is hope of your recovery,” though these words are contrary to the truth, yet they may become the consolation of the patient and the turning point of the illness. This is not blameworthy.’[8]

These points also strongly suggest that what we believe has an important role in recovery from illness, and, just as negative thoughts and feelings can impair our health, positive ones can enhance it.

The wealth of modern evidence pointing towards the power of the placebo reinforces this even when physical problems are involved. The nocebo effect, where our negativity undermines the benefits of interventions, points in the same direction in terms of the impact of our minds upon our bodies. It is also becoming increasingly recognised that the value of the medical approach can be augmented by adding psychological approaches into the mix, in terms, for example, of recovery from surgery.

Caveats

There are in addition some interesting and important caveats against blindly following medical advice.

First of all, Shoghi Effendi advises: ‘Before having any serious operation, you should consult more than one qualified physician.’[9]

Secondly, we should not become unnecessarily dependent upon medication: ‘Do not neglect medical treatment when it is necessary, but leave it off when health has been restored…. Treat disease through diet, by preference, refraining from the use of drugs; and if you find what is required in a single herb, do not resort to a compounded medicament. Abstain from drugs when the health is good, but administer them when necessary.[10]

This warning seems to apply to such situations as the abuse of antibiotics and the habituation and addiction to painkillers that escalates the dosage to dangerous levels over time.

Relevant aspects of diet include sugar, which ‘Abdu’l-Bahá consistently warns us is not good in excess, and possibly meat. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá goes as far as questioning its long-term value: ‘What will be the food of the future?’ he asks. ‘Fruit and grains,’ is his answer. ‘The time will come when meat will no longer be eaten. Medical science is only in its infancy, yet it has shown that our natural diet is that which grows out of the ground. The people will gradually develop up to the condition of this natural food.[11]

I must confess to a bias here. I am a vegetarian and have been for just over forty years. I must not though give the impression that the Faith prohibits the eating of meat. It does not. However, Shoghi Effendi states: ‘It is certain, however, that if man can live on a purely vegetarian diet and thus avoid killing animals, it would be much preferable. This is, however, a very controversial question and the Bahá’ís are free to express their views on it.’[12]

Next time I’ll be picking up on the importance of diet and exploring what else is said in the Bahá’í Writings about what we can do to improve our health.

Footnotes:

[1] From a Tablet – translated from the Persian.
[2] From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, 13 December 1945 to an individual believer.
[3] From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, 6 September 1946 to an individual believer.
[4] 
In a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, 26 June 1956 to the National Spiritual Assembly of Canada.
[5] Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Sec 133, pages 151-52.
[6] (In a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, 12 March 1934 to an individual believer)
[7] 
(The Promulgation of Universal Peace: Talks Delivered by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá during His Visit to the United States and Canada in 1912 2nd. ed. – Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1982 – page 204).
[8] 
(‘Abdu’l-Bahá, “Some Answered Questions”, 1st pocket-sized ed. Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1984), pp. 215-16)
[9] 
(In a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, 8 April 1954 to an individual believer)
[10] 
(Bahá’u’lláh, cited in J. E. Esslemont, “Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era”, 5th rev. ed. (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1987), p. 106)
[11] (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, cited in Julia M. Grundy. Ten Days in the Light of ‘Akka, rev. ed. – Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust – 1979, pages 8-9)
[12] 
(In a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, 9 July 1931 to an individual believer)

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