Dr. Will Tuttle Interview
Dr. Will Tuttle
9 January 2010
Dr. Will Tuttle: pianist, composer, educator, and author, has performed and lectured widely throughout North America and Europe.
Author of the acclaimed book *The World Peace Diet*, he is a recipient of the Peace Abbey’s Courage of Conscience Award, and is the co-founder of Circle of Compassion ministry. His Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley, focused on educating intuition and altruism in adults, and he has taught college courses in creativity, humanities, mythology, religion, and philosophy.
A former Zen monk, he is devoted to cultural healing and awakening, and has created 7 CD’s of original piano music. Traveling full-time with his spouse, Madeleine in their solar-powered RV, he currently presents over 150 lectures, retreats, workshops, and concerts per year. Would you please welcome Dr. Will Tuttle to Animal Rights Zone.
Before we begin, Will has prepared an introductory statement written just for this interview, which he wishes to share.
I am dedicated to helping our culture transform and evolve by spreading the vegan message of radical inclusiveness, appealing to the inherent wisdom and compassion in people that are brutally suppressed by our culture’s relentless and routine killing of animals for food. Our culture’s mentality of violence and disconnectedness is ritually injected into everyone by forcing us to participate in the meal rituals where we dine together on animal-derived foods. Veganism is saying no to this indoctrinated violence, and is saying yes to kindness and inclusiveness, and is the key to our culture’s survival, and to our happiness.
The basic orientation that I promote is that instead of being adversarial with others who are causing violence to animals by purchasing foods and products sourced from animals to rather emphasize our similarities – that we have likewise been indoctrinated by our culture’s food violence, and that we’ve been able to question this indoctrination. Helping people to see the big picture is enormously liberating. When they see that no one who eats animal foods ever does so of their own free will, that it is always a behavior that has been forced on them by every institution in our culture and that it is not in their best interest, then they are on the path to making major positive changes in their lives.
Going vegan is, in many ways, the ultimate positive change anyone can make, and yet it is just the beginning, also, of an ongoing unfoldment
ARZone: You’ve quoted that 8 – 10 thousand years ago the last true revolution took place, reducing animals from being free to being owned and becoming a commodity for humans. Why do you believe this took place, and how does a culture, in your opinion, become indoctrinated in such a way?
Dr. Will Tuttle: This is a huge question – why did what I call “the herding revolution” take place 8-10 thousand years ago – I answer it briefly on p. 20 and the work of anthropologist James DeMeo, who postulates that there were a series of devastating climactic events that caused dramatic cultural shifts, and a primary one was people beginning to “own” animals for later slaughtering.
However there are many conflicting theories on this; we don’t even know what happened on 9/11; how much less do we know what happened in pre-history 10,000 years ago!
The fact is that it somehow got started, and that it’s a relatively recent development (10,000 years is quite recent in the longer view of homo sapiens being here roughly 300,000 years). This violent and outmoded way of living can be stopped if we just decide to do so.
The indoctrination takes place through all the culture’s institutions – children are indoctrinated into their food habits and the mentality required by their food by every cultural institution: the family, education, government, media, religion, business, and so forth, and all these institutions are in total agreement that certain animals are just here for us to confine, kill, and eat. Food is probably the most powerful way that any culture indoctrinates its members, and ours is no exception.
The tragedy is that the mentality required by our food choices (of a diet oriented around the flesh and secretions of abused animals) is the very mentality that is responsible for our deepening crisis – a mentality of reductionism, commodification of life, of exclusion, privilege, competition, might-makes-right, disconnectedness, exploitation, oppression, predation, materialism, and domination of the feminine. Our efforts to create a world where peace, freedom, equality, and sustainability are actually possible are merely ironic – we want for ourselves what we refuse to give to the billions of animals who are at our mercy. That’s why going vegan is the most powerfully beneficial action anyone in our culture can take, and why it is also the most subversive action anyone can take – subversive to what I call “the military-industrial-meat-medical-pharmaceutical-media-money complex).
Thanks for the question!
Can you offer any advice for people, when encouraging others to make the connection between the reality of the animal on their dinner plate and the animal in the field? And, is there any advice you can offer in order to help awaken people to this reality?
Another enormous and pressing question. I have a lot to say about this, too much for this limited time we have, but here goes. The answer can be summed up in three words: Build vegan community. I’ll just give an example: About 4 years ago, shortly after my book The World Peace Diet came out, a man named Mark Stroud in Cincinnati heard about it and read it and was inspired to begin facilitating a 6-week study-group on the WPD through his local progressive church. This went well, and he witnessed the 20 or so participants making connections and understanding the bigger issues involved, and many of them going vegan. The class, or group, was an opportunity for consciousness-raising, discussion, and also included a vegan potluck so people could learn about making vegan foods. The following season he facilitated another group and then another and another.
He shared his successes with Anna Ferguson, a yoga teacher in Cincinnati, and she also began facilitating courses through her yoga studio, and then through the local University extension. The church, with about 700 members, began to get sensitized to the violence toward animals in our culture through Mark’s ongoing study groups, and after a few years, the church food events have become almost completely vegan. Mark, as a vegan, understood something that is vitally important – that we are creatures of community. The most powerful way to spread the vegan message and to help people become vegans is to create vibrant vegan communities within our larger communities. He looked around, saw no vegan community in Cincinnati, and took it upon himself to create one, and through his efforts to spread the message of The World Peace Diet, countless lives have been touched with the vegan message.
Last October, he and Anna put on the first World Peace Yoga Conference in Cincinnati, an all-vegan event that drew about 400 people from around the country and attracted major speakers such as Dr. Gabriel Cousens, Andrew Harvey, and Sharon Gannon, co-founder of Jivamukti Yoga Studio in New York, which also promotes veganism. Next year the conference will be called the World Peace and Yoga Jubilee and is already set to break attendance records and further the message. There is a vibrant and growing vegan movement in Cincinnati that is emerging out of Mark and Anna’s efforts; they have now facilitated study courses on The World Peace Diet there about 15 times, and the message continues to spread. I have begun giving training sessions to help people become facilitators of The World Peace Diet in their communities, and there are now about 65 certified facilitators who are making efforts similar to those of Mark & Anna, and facilitating classes and study groups in communities in many cities and towns in North America.
Anyone can do this. The only reason anyone eats animal-derived foods is because of the community they were raised in. By creating vegan community where we are, we give people the opportunity to awaken to the reality of animal abuse in the foods and products they are purchasing and consuming, and give them a powerful and coherent example and avenue to make meaningful changes. These people can then go on to influence others as well, and the community grows. This is happening, and it’s exciting to see it. Each one of us can make an enormous difference, and the most effective way is to create vegan community.
Many people complain to me that there is no vegan community where they are so they feel isolated, frustrated, and alone. In that case, create vegan community! Post notices and invite people to a 6-week or 9-week or ongoing study group or reading club or class or however you want to frame it in a local library, church, home, or community center. Make it enticing and interesting. People can learn by sharing and discussing ideas in a safe environment, and they can transform their lives. It’s happening all the time. The World Peace Diet is confrontational while being non-confrontational – it creates solidarity and unity by helping people look deeply into their culture in ways they never have before. When people read and discuss this book together, magic happens. Sharing appropriate videos and vegan food are helpful components in the process.
Thanks so much for the question.
Will, if all humans have a fundamental core of compassion for all living beings, what is your opinion on why some people make the connection more readily than others ?
To me, that is a real mystery. I honestly don’t know. It must have something to do with spiritual and psychological and emotional ripeness and maturity. I do think it’s best to use our intuition and focus our precious energy on those who are more open to the vegan message and not waste time/energy on those who are deeply resistant to it.
Thanks for the question!
What were your main goals in writing the World Peace Diet, and how long did it take you? Also, what sort of research was required and how did you deal with witnessing the violence involved with the systematic abuse of animals?
The main goals in writing the WPD were to bring our culture’s routine abuse of animals from the periphery to the center – to write a book that would, for the first time, give the “big picture “ of our routine mistreatment of animals for food, including the health effects, environmental effects, and animal-cruelty effects, but also the psychological, spiritual, cultural, anthropological, and historical dimensions of the picture as well. I wanted to create the ultimate vegan manifesto – a book that would connect all the dots of our unsolvable dilemmas, and show how they all are manifestations of the underlying mentality and practice of routine violence toward animals. I wanted to help people look more deeply than they ever had into our culture, and thus, into themselves, and through this, to create a foundation for authentic healing, both personally and socially.
It took a lot of research – I’ve been a vegetarian for 35 years and vegan for 30 and put in at least 25 years of research into the WPD – a lot of my Ph.D. research at U.C., Berkeley, was foundational to the book, back in the 1980s, and besides the outer research of reading thousands of books and articles on our culture, there was the inner research. I spent many thousands of hours in meditation, making an effort to extract my consciousness out of the brambles of conditioning. I lived as a Zen monk in Korea, at a monastery there that had been vegan since 1350, taking a vow of silence, and meditating from 3 am to 9 pm every day. I realized directly that, at the core, I am not a thing that was born and will die; that what I am is consciousness and that I am essentially free, awake, and of the nature of love, creativity, and joy.
This isn’t something just from books. I feel it is true of all human and non-human beings. We are all sacred manifestations of infinite life, and we are born, however, into a culture of profound blindness that treats us all as pieces of meat, basically. We forget our essential purity, love, freedom, and peace, and become armored slaves who inflict violence on others because of our conditioning. I realized that the main way our culture enslaves people and the Earth is through getting everyone to participate in eating the flesh and secretions of brutalized animals. The outrage and despair that we all feel at witnessing human violence toward animals is, for me, the fuel that drives vegan activism and deepens my resolve to purify my consciousness of the mentality of exclusion, violence, and materialism that our culture inflicts on all of us, and that is the driving force behind violence toward animals.
I hope this somewhat answers your question.
How do you reply to people who argue that it’s necessary to use animals in vivisection as a means to advance human health?
This is simply the grossest ignorance. Our innate wisdom knows that as we sow, so shall we reap. How can we ever reap health, freedom, and happiness for ourselves by sowing seeds of disease, misery and confinement for the millions of helpless animals vivisected by the military-industrial-medical-pharmaceutical-agribusiness complex? The proof is in the pudding – there are more untreatable diseases than ever, and we are sicker than ever in history. The vivisection complex profits to the detriment of all of us. This is of course a huge question, but it boils down in the end, I believe, to this.
In which way does our mistreatment of animals hinder us from reaching our potential, both spiritually and physically?
This is the message of The World Peace Diet, and I feel I’d have to quote the entire 300 pages to you to answer it! Basically, whatever we do to animals, we also end up doing to ourselves. It’s the boomerang effect. When we harm others, we harm ourselves more than we could ever harm them. We numb ourselves, armor ourselves, and become merely ironic in our quests for meaning, purpose, happiness, understanding, and freedom. Our spirituality is thwarted by violence toward others. Eating the physical and metaphysical toxins in animal foods is, as we are beginning to understand, profoundly detrimental to our physical and psychological (and cultural and environmental) health.
Thanks for this question.
Being vegan is easy but living in a world that isn’t is the tough part. Everyday I feel like I am literally surrounded by death. My question to you is: how do you get through life seeing the death that surrounds us every day, from the food on peoples’ plates, to the clothes they wear. How do you see it without letting it break your heart over and over?
For me, it is essential to combine vegan activism with spiritual practice. I think that we can all contribute to the veganizing of our world. Nothing is more important than this, in my view. If I don’t work to spread the message, it’s easy to get bitter and cynical. How do we do this effectively is the question! I think there are three main steps:
The most important first step is to actually go vegan. That means eliminating the purchase and use of animal-based foods such as flesh, milk, eggs, honey, etc., as well as leather, silk, wool, and also all forms of animal-abusing entertainment such as zoos, circuses, and minimizing all products tested on animals or with animal ingredients such as cleaners, pharmaceuticals, etc. None of us can be utterly perfect in this probably, in the sense that there is even some animal fat in the recipe for car tires, etc., but to make an authentic effort to minimize the cruelty we cause other living beings is the essence of what veganism is, as defined by Donald Watson, who coined the word.
The second step is to make every effort to root out of our consciousness the mentality that drives the animal agriculture industry. What veganism is, in essence, is ahimsa, nonviolence, and it is a mentality of radical inclusion – of including all living beings within the sphere of our compassion, without exception. The only way that we can hyperconfine, mutilate, and kill cows, pigs, chickens, fish, and other sentient creatures is by the active and ongoing practice of a mentality of exclusion – excluding them from the sphere of our natural concern and caring. Veganism is the antidote to this, and it means practicing the opposite mentality – a mentality of inclusion. Anger is an emotion and mentality of exclusion, and so we find that our yearning to reduce animal suffering requires us to grow personally – psychologically, emotionally, spiritually – and to purify our consciousness, removing the ingrained exclusiveness, disconnectedness, materialism, and violence that our culture has ritually injected into all of us through its indoctrination of children to reduce beings to things. There can be no authentic social change without authentic personal change.
The third step is to get creative and intuitive – to uncover the unique gifts that we have to offer the world, to help our culture evolve to greater wisdom and compassion. I agree with Buckminster Fuller who recommended that instead of fighting outmoded institutions (which strengthens them), to create new ones. I can think of nothing more effective than spreading and educating vegan living, and there are countless ways to do this. There is nothing more subversive to our culture’s enslaving mentality of meat-eating and the numbing this requires than going vegan and creatively and effectively spreading the word. I believe that our words and actions will have weight with other people to the precise extent that we are actually living what we are promoting. Gandhi had it right about being the change we want to see in the world. Otherwise, we are hypocritical, and people know this, either consciously or subconsciously.
The average American, for example, is killing at least 110 animals annually through their unquestioned food choices (probably a lot more); when we help convince just one person to go vegan, we are effectively saving thousands of animals from unspeakable cruelty and death. Of course, we can never “make” anyone change, but I’ve found that the deeper I am actually living the vegan ideal of radical compassion for all, the more deeply & effectively I’m able to plant the seeds. So I recommend doing the inner work, radically questioning everything this culture teaches and injects into us, and planting seeds in lots of people, as often as possible, and then just letting go. We really need to learn to let go and not be attached to the outcome of any effort we make. We can plant seeds of kindness and inclusion with a pure heart, through community outreach, writing, music, art, teaching, cooking, speaking, organizing, whatever our gift may be. Then keep letting go, and make sure we take time every day to connect meaningfully with the beauty of this Earth and nature, and ourselves, and others, and make sure that joy is flowing, and appreciation for this precious gift of a human life—to awaken and to bless others.
This is the bubbling spring of joy within – eternal and essential. The positive evolution of our culture will come, I believe, not through violence and struggle but through love, joy, and celebration. The coming step is more and more people celebrating veganism – this is what attracts people to our movement, and it will snowball.
Veganism is nothing to be proud of – it is simply coming home to our true nature, and looking with eyes that see beings rather than seeing things. It’s a huge shift, and I’ve found I need to practice it not just with animals, but with everyone I meet, either directly or indirectly through the media. It’s an ongoing spiritual commitment, and the real adversary is never other people, it is myself—the fears, delusions, and inner disconnections that keep me enslaved to the illusion of essential separateness. All life is fundamentally interconnected, and our welfare is interconnected with the welfare of others. We will awaken to this or perish as a culture, without ever knowing why.
Thanks for this question – I hope I’ve been able to answer it a little bit, and I realize every answer brings new questions.
Suppose someone works for a restaurant or as an event planner for large groups of people and is responsible for serving non-vegan food. Suppose that person then becomes vegan. How should he or she deal with having to do things that are inherently disagreeable yet part of the job? Are such people failing as vegans if they continue to do their job? What if quitting and finding a vegan-friendly job is not really an option in this economy?
Thanks for this. I don’t, as a policy, engage in discussing abstract hypothetical questions because they just reinforce the male-dominated, legalistic, disconnected dimension of ourselves that is actually the driving force behind violence toward animals and people. Every situation is unique, and the feminine, intuitive aspect of ourselves understands this intuitively. So, no “what if’s” for me!
However, if this is an actual concrete situation, the basic orientation of veganism is the authentic yearning to minimize suffering to animals, and that would, for me, not allow me to freely work a job hosting non-vegan dinners. I would immediately quit such a job for sure. If I had to do it in order to “make a living” then I have just turned myself into a soul-less slave, and I would do everything in my power to resist this.
Veganism is profoundly confrontational because it is liberating. As vegans, our job is to confront others, basically. As Emerson said, “People long to be settled. Only to the degree they are unsettled is there any hope for them.” If there were some way that I could keep the dinner host job and use it as an effective platform to motivate people to go vegan, then I would perhaps continue the job. But if they tried to force me to recommend people eating the flesh or secretions of confined animals, then I would refuse and probably quit before I got fired!
Thanks for the question.
Western medicine and vivisection are intrinsical. As vegans, how can we best avoid it?
Excellent question! Personally, my spouse and I avoid doctors – haven’t used one or been to one in about 35 years, or to a drug store for pharmaceuticals or had health insurance. I think that it’s important to stay healthy – to absolutely take responsibility for our health mentally, and proactively not buy into the cultural mindsets.
We are being deluged with messages that pharmaceuticals bring health – so we must mentally deny these false claims and that is another reason I haven’t had a TV for 35 years.
Taking time every day to let the mind become silent and quiet helps free us from the programming – very important also. That is just what I wanted to add to the last question.
Vivisection only goes on still because too many people don’t realise that it’s actually medically fraudulent due to species differences.
Absolutely! The keys to health are a whole-foods, organic, vegan diet, and meaningful, authentic contact with nature, and cultivating a positive mental attitude, and exercise, and creative self-expression. Music and art and dance help alot I think.
Would you say the animal rights movement is divided between militant vegans and non-militant vegans? Direct action and non-direct approach, and do you believe one may support the other? For example, animals liberated from a lab, would not be freed in a non-direct approach, but in the non-direct approach people are going vegan, protesting, etc., eventually making changes.
I realize there are two approaches, as you say. For myself, I focus on spreading the vegan message as best I can because I believe we need a radical, fundamental change in this culture, and that will come when people change at the grass roots. We can all contribute, according to our predilections, but again, I emphasize the importance of understanding the roots of our culture, and doing the necessary inner work to be effective.
Thanks for all you’re doing to help raise consciousness in our culture. I believe that we tend to feel that we are being pushed by the past, and our past is quite frankly, pretty dark and brutal. I think that we can think of ourselves as being pulled by our future, and that our future, as more evolved, is enormously positive. I think that our culture will eventually become completely vegan, and that this is the future that is pulling us onward. Imagining our culture as a vegan is imagining a completely different culture. I meant to say imagining ouir culture as as vegan culture is imagining a completely different culture.
So getting to the root of human nature, agree! Will activism on all levels achieve that?
We all have ways to contribute and there is nothing more important than this work. Great I’m happy to respond!
Given that a corpse-munching baby is born every ten seconds in the USA, can we ever expect a vegan world when most of the animal rights movement avoids children and schools in their activism?
As most of us who have gone through public schools have experienced—whether or not acknowledged/realized—the “school cafeteria-industrial-complex” hiding under education’s declared day-to-day normalcy is intentionally and actively so well concealed, that it should be the imperative of vegans everywhere to set the children right by devoting their time and energies towards the next generation and schools so we can prevent the illness, instead of tragically treating the illness.
Thanks for raising the importance of working with children in these questions, whom I agree are subjected to horrific and relentless negative conditioning by the educational system, as well as by corporations and the medical-pharmaceutical industry. Reaching children is essential. The big problem we run into as vegan activists and educators is that when we make the effort to bring the vegan message to kids directly, we run straight into the gnashing teeth of parents and administrators, not to mention the corporations and banks lurking behind the scenes. For this reason I think we have to also work with parents and society as a whole to embrace vegan values and lifestyles. Children are amazing sponges, and soak up all the subtleties of the culture into which they’re thrown at birth, and so while it’s great to work with them directly because their natural compassion is still intact and they are all easy vegans, the slapback from parents can be vicious, because they feel threatened. The key, again, is building vegan community where we are and that will help everyone, especially the children, and to work with kids as part of this.
Thanks for the question.
Our children are products of our culture, so it’s important to spread the message to both parents and children and build vegan community.
Bless you all and I am honored to be part of this movement – thanks for all of your efforts on behalf of all beings!
Thanks again everyone — liberating animals, we liberate ourselves.
Animal Rights Zone (ARZone) is a voluntary, grassroots, abolitionist animal rights social network created in December 2009 with the aim of encouraging rational dialogue in the animal protection movement.