Tag Archives: vegan

Making the connection

A guest post by Avril A Brown


Statistics from the oxymoronically-named Humane Slaughter Association (https://www.hsa.org.uk/) indicate that every year in the UK approximately 2.6 million cattle, 10 million pigs, 14.5 million sheep and lambs, 80 million fish and 950 million birds are slaughtered for human consumption.

That’s an awful lot of blood on human hands.

I was prompted to research these statistics on animal slaughter after a recent visit to the Tribe Animal Sanctuary Scotland (https://tribesanctuary.co.uk/).  After following them on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/updatesTASS/), I knew that I wanted to visit the sanctuary.

Nestling in Scotland’s Clyde valley, the 11-acre site is home to around 100 ‘food’ animals rescued from slaughter, neglect or abuse. The sanctuary was set up 2.5 years ago by tattoo artist Morag and her husband John as the culmination of a long-held dream.

Morag told me that she has been vegan for 25 years. Her activism has matured in that time. Less the ‘angry vegan’, she prefers now to help people make the connection between the meat on their plate and the animals that she cares for.

Making the connection is the TASS mantra. Morag and John firmly believe that the pigs, sheep, goats, Highland cows, chicken, turkeys and donkeys have just as much intelligence and personality – and therefore intrinsic value – as all the cats, dogs, rabbits etc that we currently celebrate as pets. However, most people never get to meet one of these creatures, let alone see those sides to them.  That’s why TASS encourages visitors to come and meet the animals in the hope that by being able to look into the eyes of a sheep or a chicken, then people will be able to make that connection that will allow them to forego meat in future.

TASS is a peaceful place, relaxed and full of love.  None of the animals are required to ‘perform’ or to earn their living; they are simply allowed to ‘be’.  The joy and the satisfaction that they bring is obvious as Morag’s face lights up when she talks about them. I asked her if she had a favourite species or animal among her crew, “They are all so different, so special in their own ways that I love them all and couldn’t possibly choose just one. Every animal at TASS has a name and they all have their own story.”

My visit to TASS certainly left me with a lot to think about.

Being neither vegan nor even vegetarian, I have no particular axe – metaphorical or otherwise – to grind over how or even what other people eat. What I have been increasingly conscious of, however, is the impact of animal husbandry on our increasingly fragile ecosystems.

Whatever your own stance may be on meat consumption, I doubt that anyone can argue that much needs to be changed in the world of the intensive agriculture industry that so damages and wastes as much as it produces. At the very least, food animals must no longer be considered as ‘product’ so that they can enjoy better lives.

The rewilding project at Knepp in West Sussex (https://knepp.co.uk/home) shows how ecosystems can recover if left to nature. However, in the short term it is unlikely that such projects will feed populations, particularly in areas where poor soil quality (eg the Scottish Highlands and islands) has led to a dependence on animal husbandry that would be hard to justify let alone unpick.

In the meantime, the very least we can do as individuals is to significantly reduce our consumption of animal products, to support compassion and welfare in farming and to purchase ethically wherever possible.


Feeding the spirit

What we eat has a huge impact on how we feel, and the state of our physical health. I think it also effects us at emotional levels. Where nature is honoured as sacred, and relationship is highly valued, eating becomes an activity with spiritual implications. For me, nothing I do is separate from my Druidry, not even lunch. I don’t believe there’s any one right way of doing this, but there are many issues around food that we might want to contemplate from a spiritual perspective.

Where did the food come from? Is it part of our land? How do we relate to the spirit of the place it originated? Do we experience food differently if it’s locally sourced, or we’ve grown it ourselves, or foraged it from a hedgerow? The origin of the food can significantly shape our relationship with it and also raises issues around food miles and sustainability.

How was it prepared? For me there is a huge qualitative difference between pre-packaged mass produced, and homemade. Where someone has invested love and time in creating nourishment, it can be related to as a bardic expression, and it is richer. It’s unique, and there is more soul in it. There’s also less packaging usually, which is an environmental plus. Mass produced food can be bland and will be the same every time. The more inspiration we bring to our food, the more interesting and rewarding it becomes.

How do we eat it? Food that we share with loved ones and take time over is more pleasing than a hastily grabbed solitary snack. It’s about taking the time both for relationship with the food, and with those around you. Food creates space for social bonding, which is powerful, so when we think about food we can also be thinking about community.

I find that what I eat has huge impact on me. I spent time as an omnivore, and found that meat sits very heavily in my gut – some people equate this with satisfaction, but it’s not a sensation I like. I find my body feels more comfortable when I don’t eat meat. I assume this will vary from one person to another, but finding the diet that suits us is a huge contributor to wellness and feeling good. If I keep refined sugars and pre-processed food minimal, I feel cleaner, lighter and better in myself. I find that including a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables makes me feel better about myself – not just as a physical experience, but emotionally better and spiritually more open. Where I’ve experimented with vegan food, I find I feel lighter again, and I enjoy being less dependent on animal products. Although I’m very conscious of the sustainability issues here too, it’s the impact on my body and my sense of self that incline me to continue exploring.

Too many people are all or nothing about food. For some, vegetarian, vegan or meat eater labels are such a big part of sense of self that exploring alternatives seems threatening. I like experimenting with food, learning to cook in new ways, and there are vegan tricks that everyone, regardless of overall diet, would benefit from. Nuts and pulses are great, and broaden a diet and meal repertoires. It was from vegan cooks that I learned to mix raw and cooked things, and to explore texture to a greater degree. Vegan meals don’t focus on a solid lump of animal product, so you have to think about the components in totally different ways, again opening up creative possibility.

How I feel about myself as a spiritual person is informed by what I eat. Would I feel as I do if I consumed a lot of fatty, high sugar, chemical laden food? Or if I frequented fast food emporiums with their disposable, unsustainable packaging? I wouldn’t be the same person at all. When I’ve eaten in ways that felt at odds with my beliefs, I’ve been deeply unhappy.

I’m not any kind of food evangelist, beyond the ideas that we shouldn’t waste it, we should enjoy it and we should be responsible about it. How we eat affects how we feel. It’s a key point of engagement with the rest of nature, which for any pagan ought to make it a point of significant interest. We can make it a conscious part of our spiritual expression. We can eat with awen, and recognise spirit in what we do.