What Is Ahimsa?
By Todd Caldecott
The debate I have been having with hard core vegan supporters on my post “Busting some myths about raw-food veganism…” has been affirming, if not in the personal sense, at least in the way that this reaction has confirmed some unfortunately true stereo-types about the raw vegan movement. Chief among these is intolerance and fanaticism. Now, I am not saying that all raw food vegans are like this. Many are peaceful and friendly, but because most of them self-identify with their dietary choice, any contrary opinions on diet has the potential to shake the purpose of their being to its very foundation. As a result, we have borne witness to threats, insults and coarse language as a reaction to the strength of my argument, rather than reasoned debate.
In my piece, all I did was contradict commonly held beliefs among vegans, and provide a battery of scientific research to support it. The statements are taken from my new book Food As Medicine: The Theory and Practice of Food, which attempts to reconcile traditional food practices with scientific research. It was a book I wrote for my patients – people who come to see me, and in my perspective, could resolve many of their issues with an informed, common-sense approach to diet. The book is non-denomenatial and unaligned to any particular perspective or philosophy on dietary ethics – I contradict many cherished beliefs on either side of many arguments. I also take some pride in the fact that it is information based on real-time interactions with patients – not even just my own – but confirmed by many of my fellow practitioners, including Paul Bergner, Michael Tierra, Roswitha Lloyd, Susan Marynowski, Jim McDonald, Kiva Rose, Karen Vaughan and Alan Tillotson – just to mention a handful (and if I missed you – speak up!)
In the discussion, I particularly enjoyed the statements of Justin Penoyer and Juliette Aiyana, who spoke of life as a continuum. It reminds me of a passage from my book:
“Eating is a kind of truth that we can all admit to, a wondrous fact and necessity of being. Despite this clarity, diet is a highly complex issue, influenced by many factors including season, climate and geography, as well as artificial factors such as culture, urban living and advertising. Our own emotions, other people and external stressors can have a dramatic influence on our food choices. Even the microorganisms that inhabit our bodies could theoretically modulate our nervous system, not unlike like the Cordyceps fungus that parasitizes the caterpillar’s nervous system. Who is to say that the world of food we have created only serves the purpose of humans? Who is food? Who is eaten?” (p 22)
I do believe in ahimsa but we need to remember that ahimsa is a human ideal, not a biological fact, and it speaks as much to thoughts and words as it does actions. The original Vedic construction of ahimsa related to the killing of humans, which is the basic code of any human society on earth since the beginning of time. And while some Hindus are now vegetarian, killing animals is not forbidden in Hinduism. Even killing humans is not forbidden when they threaten your life, or in the case of Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita, the protection of truth (dharma). Hopefully humans are heading towards a time when killing each other is no longer necessary. It would be a return back to our roots, before we had the ability to leverage agriculture into war, enlisting peasants to a cull of humanity that has been as regular as planting and harvesting. Back closer to a time when we lived as a tribe, with members accountable to each other and our shared human heritage. The ahimsa we need to practice first is in our thoughts and words, as these underlie the true basis of all action. What we do to ourselves and each other, we do to the world.