Dr. Will Tuttle 2011 Interview
Dr. Will Tuttle
26 March 2011
Dr. Will Tuttle, author of the number one best selling book The World Peace Diet, has been vegan for more than 30 years and is dedicated to travelling the globe in order to bring about world peace.
Dr. Tuttle has a Masters Degree in humanities and a Ph.D in the Philosophy of Education. He is a former Zen monk, the co-founder of the Circle of Compassion Ministry, and a recipient of the Peace Abbey’s Courage of Conscience Award.
Will is dedicated to creating cultural transformation and evolution by spreading a vegan message of “radical inclusiveness.” Dr. Tuttle appeals to the inherent wisdom and compassion in all people which he suggests is brutally suppressed by our culture’s relentless and routine killing of animals for food.
Dr.Tuttle suggests that rather than being adversarial toward others who purchase foods and products sourced from animals, we should appreciate that we, at one time, were just as indoctrinated into a culture which is systematically violent in its use of other animals. Through educational efforts we should try to help them to break free of the ideology which teaches people that using nonhuman animals is acceptable.
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.
Will has been an inspiration to a great many people and his example of advocacy, his adherence and commitment to ahimsa (non-harm) and his patience and encouragement have helped countless humans to become better advocates for other animals.
ARZone: In the last couple of decades, how much of a change have you seen in the perspective of spiritual people about the human relationship to nonhuman animals?
Will Tuttle: Excellent question – overall, I’ve seen a gradually increasing tempo of change among “spiritual people” about our routine mistreatment of animals in the 3 decades I’ve been a vegan and activist, and I’d say that while the percentages are still small, they are making an increasing impact on the masses.
For example, I’ve been actively involved in Buddhist groups, and for the past 20 years have been traveling full-time presenting lectures and workshops to people in progressive churches virtually every Sunday, and while it’s constantly frustrating on one level, I have to say that today the general consciousness—and level of conscience—is vastly different from what it was, say, 20 years ago. Veganism is on the map and recognized, and, I’d have to say, respected and seen as a noble (if somewhat unattainable) ideal by many people.
Curiosity and confusion are rampant, as is fear of change, clinging to past habits, and a reactive pushing back against what I believe is an ongoing awakening of human consciousness. This is to be expected, and is natural, but the awakening is happening I feel, and it will bring us ever onward, at an accelerating pace, toward vegan living (or our extinction or utter enslavement if we continue the trajectory of conventional Western eating/living/thinking).
I’m actually able to give lectures blatantly promoting veganism and critiquing our current animal enslavement system in Unity churches and in Unitarian Universalist churches. The entire UU denomination, in fact, has taken “Ethical Eating” as its study-action issue for the period 2008-2012, and so there is active gnashing of teeth and squirming about going on occasionally in these congregations, as they peek behind the curtain, which is I believe, a wonderful and necessary thing. There is the Halleluja Acres movement which is booming, and bringing a 100% plant-based diet to the awareness of hundreds of thousands of people who are conservative Christians.
The fact that veganism is being espoused by Ellen DeGeneres and other celebrities is also making a huge difference among people who consider themselves progressive and spiritual. We also now have Thich Nhat Hanh, who has enormous influence, requiring all his monks and nuns to eat a vegan (not just vegetarian) diet, and requiring lay students to not eat meat. Even the Karmapa, head of the Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism, has required all monks to be vegetarian, which was unthinkable 20 years ago, and the Dalai Lama continues to maintain Dharamsala as a meat-free zone. We also have Supreme Master Ching Hai and her community making tremendous strides in bringing the vegan message to the world through their worldwide vegan chain of restaurants, now over 200 strong! This was unthinkable just 5 or 10 years ago! And also through their Supreme Master TV internet television program, which is 24/7 broadcasting vegan-advocating programming with cooking classes, interviews, and other constructive programs in over 20 languages. PCRM is offering vegan cooking classes in communities throughout North America, and this is percolating into local churches, as well as the ideas in The China Study, which is growing every year.
So from the perspectives of health, environment, and compassion for animals, as well as spirituality, I see people awakening very quickly, especially in the last year or 2, and it’s happening more quickly than the mainstream media is letting on. A lot of the change is subterranean, and I think it’s the result of grassroots vegan activism and that it’s absolutely essential that all of us continue to … urgently advocate veganism in our communities throughout the world in whatever ways we can – there is literally nothing more benevolent or vital that we can do, in my opinion. Thanks for the question!
I used to live in Sonoma County, on the Russian River, (on Fitch Mountain specifically). It seems like such a unique community – how has it changed in the last decade or two, and is it a hospitable refuge for someone who is an animal activist? Is there an advantage to living in a progressive area like Northern California as opposed to say, Northern Texas? Advice for those of us forced to exist in inhospitable areas?
Well, there’s a vegan restaurant now (for about 4 years – Café Gratitude) at the foot of Fitch Mountain in downtown Healdsburg, so that’s worth celebrating! We are actually planning on setting up a modest World Peace Diet study and training center in the same building, with the hopes of building vegan community in Sonoma county, as part of our ongoing efforts to spread the vegan message. If you know any vegan activists who’d like to help with these efforts, please let us know!
As far as advantages to living in northern CA versus northern TX, that’s a tough question! The supportive cultural environment in northern CA makes it possible to create communities that help spread the message, and there are literally millions of tourists coming through, so the impact can be multiplied, as, for example, people from Texas do a wine tour and stray into a vegan restaurant, or interact with local people or publications that bring them the veg/vegan message, which they bring back home.
On the other hand, people in north Texas and Wyoming (etc.) also need to hear the message, but it’s much tougher being vegan in these areas, unless you’re really solid. My vegan sister just moved to Wyoming, and is the only vegan there (maybe in the entire state! … kidding), and it’s challenging, but she is also helping raise consciousness – just told me of a local girl, very sick from eating dairy, and is now, thanks to the Hallelujah Acres journal I sent her that she gave the girl’s mother, eating a plant-based diet, and healing!
So my advice would be if you’re in an inhospitable area where there is no vegan community — to create vegan community. Even in more hospitable areas — wherever you find yourself – I think one of the most benevolent and healthy things anyone can do is to work to build local vegan community. One way is through initiating a vegan meet-up, for example, every month, through Meetup.com. Another is to start a World Peace Diet study group with a vegan potluck, say every week for 8 weeks or something like that. We just finished an 8-week online WPD facilitator training on Thursday (3/24), and it’s very inspiring to see people acting on the ideas in the WPD, and actively building vegan community by sharing the vegan principles in their local communities in North America, Europe, Africa, Australia, and Asia – as the saying goes – we’re the ones we’ve been waiting for! This is the way to a positive future – bringing the theory and practice of compassion for all life into local neighbourhoods and towns by exemplifying the change and mentoring others.
It’s a process similar to lighting candles – once it begins to spread, it can spread very quickly, especially as more and more people understand the situation and the enormous stakes involved. This is an emergency rescue operation, essentially, not just for the billions of non-human animals brutally killed by our unthinking consumption, but for our Earth, wildlife, and all of us. In The World Peace Diet I try to show that if we do not change our essential orientation of dominating animals and nature, as a culture, our chances of survival are remote. Compassion for nonhuman animals is compassion for ourselves. Thanks!
The World Peace Diet was number one in Amazon in March 2010 for a period. Congratulations on this enormous achievement! Has this changed the ease in which you’re able to spread the vegan message, or made the message more readily accepted?
Thanks. Yes, that was a seemingly miraculous response from the many “factions” of the vegan movement, all of whom came together to help bring the vegan message to the mainstream – we had people in the raw food, vegan, vegetarian, macrobiotic, peace, justice, environmental, yoga, progressive Christian, Buddhist, etc., groups all emailing their lists and buying books to donate to their local libraries or to give to friends in order to help make a public statement in favor of … the vegan evolution and to help put it on the map of the mass consciousness. And to answer your question, yes, it has helped make it easier for… me to spread the vegan message in the sense that we typically get larger turnouts now for the lectures I give as we travel full-time around North America, and it’s also helped to make the message more readily accepted as well. As we all know, people feel that if many others think something is important and worthy, it must be so, and so they will be more open to the message.
The message of The World Peace Diet is extremely radical for our culture, and so I’ve not been invited to any mass-media outlets (though I think it will come with time…) We find it’s best with a message that cuts to the very core of our culture to go straight to the people – the grassroots, and bypass the venues that rely on funding from what I refer to in the WPD as the “military-industrial-meat-medical-media complex.” That’s where our strength lies, with the people, and where the transformation will happen. So we travel and put on about 150 events a year, spreading the vegan “gospel” as best we can to whoever will listen. Thanks for this question!
I ask this question from the point of view of an ardently atheist vegan who knows quite a few other vegan atheists. In addition to not believing in dieties, most atheists I know also reject the idea of spirituality, instead opting for a more empirical evidence-based view of the world. You’ve written in blog posts that “Veganism is actually a spectrum of psycho spiritual development,” and, “In this [being vegan] we fulfill the universal teachings that promote spiritual living.” And in the World Peace Diet, you write, “We could [if we were vegan] live in far greater harmony with the universal intelligence that is the source of our life.”
Could you explain what you view as the spiritual elements of veganism & whether or not you think there’s something intrinsically spiritual about veganism, or if you think it’s the inverse, that there is something inherently vegan about spirituality? And finally, what do you see as the place of skepticism, science, atheism, etc. in the animal rights movement?
Love this question – thanks so much. The problem is, I feel I’d need to write at least an entire chapter, if not an entire book, to adequately address it. Simply put, I’ll just say that I am very comfortable with atheism. Atheism is in many ways an intelligent reaction/response to what I refer to in the WPD as “reductionist religion” that promotes the domination of animals, nature, women/the feminine, and true spirituality. So I often feel that atheists are more spiritual than people who just unquestioningly adopt the religious beliefs of their cultural upbringing, especially if they are actively searching, and trying to improve themselves intellectually, morally, emotionally, and socially. My own training for the past 35 years is in the Zen Buddhist tradition, and as is well-known, Buddhism is an expressly non-theistic religion based on the 4 noble truths and 8-fold path, and direct self-inquiry rather than faith in any outside force or any kind of submission. The famous saying is, “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him!” – We are to rely on our own inherent wisdom, not anything outside of us, and as the Buddha said, “Be a lamp unto yourself.”
So, to me, veganism is a modern iteration of the ancient spiritual teaching, that lies at the core of all religions (though often obscured) of ahimsa, Sanskrit for non-violence. Nonviolence is the fundamental spiritual teaching of the ages – both theistic and non-theistic. As soon as I harm others for my own benefit, I sow the seeds of suffering for others, and even moreso for myself, and especially the seeds of bondage. I disconnect from my core wisdom through acting violently, and from the inherent joy of being that always shines at the center of consciousness (however it may be covered over). Veganism, as defined originally by Donald Watson back in 1944, is spirituality, and spirituality is veganism, in the sense that authentic spirituality is awakening from the delusion of separateness, and intuiting directly the interconnectedness of all life, and this leads inevitably to kindness and respect toward apparent others, who are now recognized to be related and not essentially separate. An urge spontaneously arises to bless others – there is no greater joy than the joy of wisdom, and of living in our life our unique way of blessing and benefiting others. Self-centered pursuits inevitably bring misery and frustration, as becomes increasingly obvious as we awaken. Just by chance, the VegInspiration For The Day that I wrote for yesterday, Friday, March 25, is – “Veganism is, I’ve found, a litmus test of religious teachings and religious teachers. To the degree that religious teachings do not explicitly encourage veganism, which is the practice of nonviolence and loving kindness, to that same degree these teachings are hypocritical and disconnected from their spiritual source.” I think this sums it up.http://worldpeacediet.com (this is the link – feel free to sign up for the daily VegInspiration!)
As far as your excellent question about the role of science, skepticism, and atheism in the role of the AR movement – it is similar to religion. Reductionist science and reductionist religion are, I argue in the WPD, the twin “bickering brothers” who are the sons of the herding culture, and do the father’s bidding: repress Sophia, the sacred feminine spiritual intuition within all of us that yearns to protect all life, and that knows directly the unity of all life, and sees beyond the delusion of materialism. Materialistic science and religion are born ineluctably in a culture that reduces beings to mere things: pieces of meat to be eaten, dominated, used, and owned as property for one’s own benefit. Veganism is a revolutionary mentality that naturally sees beings as beings, and is radical inclusion. Authentic science and religion, as servants of Sophia, are vehicles of liberation, creativity, and upliftment. However, materialistic and reductionist science and religion enslave nature, non-human animals, and all of us, repressing our inherent wisdom that knows that what we are, essentially, is eternal consciousness, manifesting perhaps through … an apparently physical vehicle, but essentially far greater than the “things” that we mistakenly identify with that were born and will die. If you want to enslave people, the best way to do it is to get them to enslave others, and to treat others as things. Then they will disconnect from their true power, wisdom, and confidence, and become easily manipulated and fooled into being consumers and cannon fodder. Science is in many ways the new religion, trapping people in materialism and powerlessness, and used by the wealthy elite to enslave and manipulate us. Like religion, science is easily co-opted by money and power, and does the bidding of the masters. To me, the way out is through our intuition – it is this “heart knowing” that brings most people to veganism I think.
I could say a lot more, but will leave it at that!
I’m of the impression that you spend a lot of your time travelling in a road vehicle. Considering the facts that apparently all tyres contain animal products, and more importantly whilst you’re travelling you must be accidentally killing huge numbers of very small animals, e.g. those who are insects, does your chosen lifestyle cause you any ethical dilemmas?
Yes, I understand exactly what you’re driving at, and love this question also.
Briefly, all of us have some kind of environmental footprint that we are responsible for, and my spouse Madeleine and I consciously endeavor to make ours as tiny as possible. This is one reason we live in our “rolling home,” which is only about 225 square feet of living space. We are very happy in it, now in our 16th year- the same one. We use microscopic amounts of energy, compared, anyway, to a typical couple living in a house. We get all our electrical energy from the sun – we have covered the roof of our rolling home with solar panels, and installed a large array of batteries. We use a tiny fraction of water (an 80-gallon tank of water lasts us a whole week at least), and also of propane for our refrigerator, hot water, and cooking – a 7-gallon tank lasts us usually a couple of months.
We migrate slowly north in the spring and south in the fall, so we use a tiny fraction of energy for heating or cooling our living space compared to the typical house. In Florida in winter, for example, we don’t need to heat, and in the northern states in the summer, we don’t need air conditioning – our fans are enough. So the only energy we really use is in driving, and we put only about 15,000-18,000 miles per year on our pick-up truck (about 1/3 of it actually towing our home), which is actually less than the average commuter puts on their vehicle going to work every day.
Of course all our food and purchases are vegan and organic, and lots of the food we eat is local as we travel and share fruits and veggies from friends’ gardens. We are also not users of medicines of any kind, and practice spiritual healing, with the happy result being that we never go to drug stores for any things that might be tested on animals. We haven’t been to doctors in over 30 years, nor had a TV in 40 years. Madeleine buys organic linen and cotton and makes a lot of our clothes, napkins, etc, and we have a hand-powered washing machine that uses no detergent, just “wash nuts” from trees. Living in a tiny space like we do, we just cannot buy things – there is no place to store them. just “wash nuts” from trees. Living in a tiny space like we do, we just cannot buy things – there is no place to store them. If I want to get a new book or pair of pants, I have to give away a book or pair of pants. In fact, one of the things I’m glad of is that The World Peace Diet is printed on 100% post-consumer recycled paper.
Nevertheless, you’re right, we do occasionally need to buy tires and other necessities for traveling, like diesel fuel and brake fluid, and oil, and certain plastic products, etc., which directly or indirectly harm nature and animals, so we have to be sure that our traveling and life is for a purpose that justifies this. We are also killing insects when we drive, though we avoid driving in the evening if possible when most insects are out. Virtually all of our travel is to spread the vegan message to people—that’s pretty much all we do, day in and day out—and so we deal with the inherent dilemma of living in our culture as best we can. I remember teaching college ethics courses back in the 1980s in the San Francisco bay area, and one of the basic questions I posed to students was: Is it possible to live a completely ethical life in an unethical culture? The only answer we could ever come up with is no, not completely.
If you want to see a few pictures of our rolling home: http://willtuttle.com/gallery.htm Thanks for the question!
In your book, you talk about the “herding culture” as it relates to the onset of widespread domestication of various nonhumans through the world beginning about 10,000 years ago and the systems of domination, patriarchy & subjugation it brought with it.
Archaeological evidence from Belgium suggests that the first nonhuman domesticated was the wolf (by way of transformation into the dog) and it’s not controversial that in some ways this happened as a result of a process that was mutually undertaken by and (some might even say beneficial to) both species, at least initially. The actual process might have been something of a “co-evolution”. Given all this, is there a difference between the domestication of other animals for food and other uses compared to the domestication for companionship? Also, do you believe, as Prof. Richard Ryder does, that some nonhumans actually enjoy the “jobs” they do for humans (such as the work done by border collies)?
Excellent question – I’m pretty suspicious when we look back into history and pre-history to justify and rationalize behaviors that dominate others. For one thing, we really don’t know what happened in the past – we don’t even know what happened on 9-11! What we have, like with 9-11, are official stories that are dictated to us to justify the power structure and existing status quo.
People in the U.S. South in the antebellum era often spoke of how black people enjoyed their work and their lives as slaves on the plantations. The fact is that we have stolen the most precious qualities and essences from animals that we force to live with us by breeding them – we have stolen their purposes and their sovereignty.
I believe that this is especially true for “food” animals, but also true for “companion” animals as well. Our efforts today I believe should be to allow animals to live their lives as they have for millions of years – in the beautiful natural world. We have stolen their habitat, primarily to grow grains to feed enslaved animals and to graze them, so our task in spreading veganism is to free up land that is enslaved to growing feed and for grazing, and let it return again to wildlife habitat. This is also true for oceans, lakes, and streams, which have been fished and polluted into devastation. We are called to make every effort we can to let animals return to their homes by ceasing to breed them for our own purposes.
The beautiful adventure that this will be, I think we can hardly comprehend. When we create a vegan culture, and nonhuman animals are living their lives freely in nature, we will finally be ready to begin to understand them and ourselves, and enter into relationships based on a level of respect and intuitive harmony that we simply cannot fathom today due to the widespread indoctrination and dumbing down that our culture forces on all of us. Thanks.
I think most of us hope to achieve the abolition of speciesism and exploitation, but there is much debate about which methodology will have the greater impact. Could you please explain your thoughts on the incremental reform of exploitation? Do you feel that regulating the treatment of other animals is helpful in leading to the end of speciesism? If so, would you support “humane” animal products like “free range” and “humanely raised and killed” animals?
Another toughie! Personally, I am not inspired by campaigns to regulate or improve the lives of enslaved animals, mainly because I believe those campaigns fail to strongly question the enslavement itself. However, I do not feel it is my place to criticize those who feel that it does lead to a greater awareness on the part of the public of the cruelties animals endure at our hands.
I do not support “humane” animal products, and speak out as best I can against them, both in writing, and in the lectures I give – there are invariably people who have a friend who has chickens as pets and want to know if it’s OK to eat their eggs, for example. Even in these situations, I tell them I feel that there is institutionalized violence – it is a form of himsa (violence) to believe that one “owns” another living being. If the friend “owns” the hen, she (the hen) is being confined against her will, and is not able to live her life as she did for millennia in the jungles of southeast Asia, and is in an artificial, manipulated, inherently abusive environment. Even the most apparently benign situation, if there’s ownership and money involved, are exploitive, in my opinion, and that’s the perspective I express.
The campaigns to regulate treatment of other animals are good at fund-raising for the larger animal protection organizations – that’s the main reason for their continuing popularity I believe – and if they can use these funds to promote vegan living, that’s a good use of those funds, I think. Some, like PETA, Farm Sanctuary, and Mercy for Animals, do a lot of vegan education work along with their regulatory reform campaigns.
But as for myself and my own efforts – they lie with spreading the vegan message of radical inclusion and compassion for all life.
Do you think it’s possible to convert the world to veganism by moral argument alone? Or will we need to develop in vitro meat?
Hmmm… Thanks – perceptive question it seems to me. I think moral example is the key tool that we have, and moral argument or conversations are a part of that. While speciesism and our cruel domination of animals is mainly expressed through our routine eating of them in terms of numbers, there are countless other ways as well. We already have wonderful meat analogs available that are plant-based, so I personally doubt that the masses will go for in vitro meat if they won’t go for tempeh steaks or veggie burgers.
Ultimately, though, I don’t know how it will play out. It’s certainly far better for people to eat in vitro meat than confined animal flesh, and it may play a role in weaning people from their addiction and indoctrination, and to see the underlying absurdity and violence in eating animal foods directly. To get to the roots of our cultural violence, I believe we must stop our routine violence toward animals for food and other products, and mature spiritually so that our motivation is compassion, not just self-centered health and environmental concerns. Thanks.
Some people say it doesn’t matter why people become vegan just as long as they do. Whilst others say that using arguments which ignore the injustice of nonveganism, is akin to asking people not to commit rapes and murders because they may injure themselves, or to suggest that killing innocent victims in gas chambers is wrong because it pollutes the environment. Do you agree with these criticisms?
This question actually follows from the one before quite nicely! Yes, I think that the motivation that is lasting is the ethical justice-oriented motivation that is rooted in seeing nonhuman animals as beings, not inferior things or property, and another way to say this is a motivation based on compassion and respect.
For me personally, this was the reason I originally went vegetarian back in 1975 – because of learning about and understanding the suffering to animals required for meat, and 5 years later, in 1980, for cows and hens for dairy products and eggs. However, I’ve met countless people who initially were drawn to vegetarianism for health (or environmental) reasons, and then after getting off of eating meat, were able to open for the first time to the ethical motivation, because they were no longer eating animals. So it seems very difficult for many people to make the ethical connection while they’re doing (by paying for) the actually killing. I think it’s important that people realize the significance of “upgrading” their motivation from personal health to compassion for others. Virtually all the people I’ve talked with who’ve told me that they “were” vegans but aren’t any more say they were vegan for health reasons.
Many raw foodists, for example, are vegan because they’re eating raw foods, but they’re doing it for health reasons primarily, or for more energy, purity, longevity, etc., and when that doesn’t work or the cravings set in, they don’t typically just switch to include more cooked plant-based foods and stay vegan. Instead, they almost always, it seems to me, start eating animal foods of some kind again, because they were never in it for reasons of compassion, so why not?
I believe that veganism, in contrast to diets and most raw or specialist food regimens, requires no will power. Animals are not food – there is no desire to eat them. Even non-vegetarians understand this clearly. For example, an American doesn’t need any will power to keep from eating dog meat – dogs are not seen as food in this culture. But when I was in Korea I saw that many men there felt they needed to eat dog to be healthy, and so, since they did eat it regularly and it was a part of their culture to do so, it took quite a bit of will power for them not to eat it. We must never underestimate the power of cultural programming. It’s everything! The only reason people are eating animal flesh and cow mammary secretions is the massive indoctrination we all receive at the hands of every institution in our culture. We must never underestimate the power of cultural programming. It’s everything! The only reason people are eating animal flesh and cow mammary secretions is the massive indoctrination we all receive at the hands of every institution in our culture.
It’s also important to recognize, I think, that most of the folks who move from eating a typical diet to a vegan one do so in 2 basic stages – first, they move to vegetarianism, which is actually doable to them, and it’s typically quite a public event. Veganism is almost inconceivable to the typical omnivore. Then, from vegetarianism, the move to veganism is more private. As activists and educators, it’s helpful to be aware of this so we can plant seeds effectively. Veganism is almost inconceivable to the typical omnivore. Then, from vegetarianism, the move to veganism is more private. As activists and educators, it’s helpful to be aware of this so we can plant seeds effectively. I find it important to remember the cardinal teachings – that we can’t change others; we can only change ourselves, but we can plant seeds, and the more we are living the truth that we are espousing, the more skillfully and deeply we’ll be able to plant those seeds. And secondly, not to be attached to the fruits of our actions. Just do our best, and let go of the results. We never know! We are part of something far greater than we can imagine. Thanks!!
I see on page 7 of The World Peace Diet that you have encountered the suggestion that “plants feel pain”. Do you have a standard reply to that – and would you care to share what it is?
It’s amazing that this still comes up with such frequency. Later in the WPD, in the chapter Some Objections Answered, I go into more depth with this concern.
There are many possible, and valid, responses. The most effective I believe is to simply observe that if the person is so deeply concerned about plants feeling pain, they must of necessity be a vegan, because we cause far less killing of plants than we do when we animal-sourced foods from animals who must be fed huge amounts of plants that they inefficiently convert to flesh and milk. And that the driving force behind deforestation is animal agriculture. We’re cutting down approximately 1 acre per second of Amazonian rainforest every day right now, and the driving force behind it is eating meat, dairy products and eggs: growing soybeans to feed imprisoned chickens, cows, pigs, and factory-farmed fish.
There are other points, such as the fact that most of the plant foods we eat do not require the direct harming of the plants, especially fruits, nuts, and many seeds, vegetables, legumes, and even grains, especially if done small –scale. In addition, there is of course the question of whether plants can feel pain, since they’re not mobile and thus don’t need apparatus for that.
I virtually never need to mention that the question is on its face absurd and immensely insulting – for example, if a man were to attack his neighbor’s dog with a knife, and be brought to a court of law because of it, and he were to use in his defense the same rationale – that stabbing a dog and stabbing an apple are the same thing – he would very possibly be locked up in an institution for the criminally insane. OK – thanks for this inquiry!
It seems clear from sections of your book – and the references, such as just about everything that Carol Adams has ever written – that feminist thinking is important to you. However, you also cite resources from The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PeTA), and a more anti-feminist and appalling organisation than that is unlikely to be found. Do you think that animal advocacy would benefit from PeTA being consigned to the dustbin of history?
I definitely understand your perspective. However, I basically don’t agree that PETA is so terrible; I think there are definitely indiscretions and misjudgments, but also a lot of excellent undercover investigation and vegan education and support for local groups spreading the vegan message, etc. I love that PETA is now financially supporting Bob Linden’s Go Vegan Radio, for example.
I’m also not comfortable passing judgment on other vegan activists who are doing their best to bring about positive change for animals. I know quite a few people who work at PETA and they have basically struck me as good-hearted and committed people doing their best with the urgency of the situation that animals face and the enormity of the task of turning this cultural ship around.
This is a really huge question, actually, and I feel somewhat overwhelmed by the enormity of it, and also feel that ARZone has done quite a bit of discussing of PETA over the years and I don’t know what I could really add in this case. I am sympathetic to the position that PETA is harmful in its over-the-top, nude, etc., ads and campaigns, and also in its non-Winogradian approach to dog and cat overpopulation. Thanks!
Your book, World Peace Diet, is such a sensitive book which delineates in particular the control of feminine reproductive cycle as part of the necessary domination of gender which takes place in dairy operations. I was surprised, therefore, to see that you had Ingrid Newkirk, who exploits female sexuality to garner attention towards PETA, as a speaker at one of your workshops. How does this align with your espoused values?
Actually, this was an event held in Cincinnati last October, the World Peace and Yoga Jubilee, that, while it is an annual event initially inspired by The World Peace Diet, isn’t put on by me but by local activists in Cincinnati. It was their decision to invite Ingrid to speak, and she gave a short and powerful lecture advocating compassion to animals and a screening of the PETA video “Chew on This,” which is a good pro-vegan film.
Again, I think PETA’s doing a lot of good work, and while I’m aware of many of the arguments (but probably not all) against PETA, my focus is on promoting vegan living in the communities I’m traveling to, and not so much what the various organizations are up to and the ins and outs of the critiques we offer each other.
The Jains talk about Anekantva, the doctrine that we all have a piece of the picture, and Gandhi was influenced by them. He once wrote, “It has been my experience that I am always true from my point of view, and often wrong from the point of view of my honest critics. I know we are both right from our respective points of view.” Hope this helps!
I understand that there is a certain distasteful aspect to criticising other advocates however, some do real harm to the movement and from a rights-based position, PeTA does a major disservice to animal rights the things you praised about them appear to me things they are able to do because they are rich – not a good organization.
Yes, I understand. I really don’t know what to respond, actually. There are major differences in perspective, and I can see both sides, but I’d rather not wade further into it!
You write about teleology and how each of the smaller parts of an intelligent system is necessary for the larger part to fulfill its purpose. Are you writing metaphorically, or do you think that every thing and being has some ultimate purpose, and if so, for whom is that purpose fulfilled?
Yes, I am not writing only metaphorically, but also actually.
Yes, I think if we look carefully and deeply we’ll always find that every thing and being has a telos or purpose it is intended to fulfil, – and not just one ultimate purpose, but myriad purposes that are part of the larger purpose. In general, it has to do with serving the larger wholes of which every whole is a part (Arthur Koestler’s ‘holon’ idea), as I discuss in the WPD.
When we step in and steal the purposes of other beings by enslaving them and stifling their natural tendencies, we commit violence not only against their purposes but against our own purpose. Ultimately, we lose our purpose, and what we create, at a mass level when this becomes widespread, is a culture where people, having lost their purposes, become easily manipulated, and perversely define their purpose (and self) through consumption.
Thus, the massive violence of enslaving animals for food and stealing their purposes leads inevitably to a culture of consumerism, and if we look carefully, I think we’ll see that consumerism is the de facto religion of Western culture, and it is being spread throughout the world as McDonald’s and Smithfield spread the practice and mentality of routine violence toward nonhumans for food.
Ultimately, whatever we do to animals, we end up doing to ourselves and each other. This is another important lesson that we can see; that our violence toward animals boomerangs – sowing obesity and osteoporosis in animals, we reap the same, sowing family devastation in them, we reap the same, sowing domination of the feminine principle, sexual violence, toxic foods, mandatory vaccinations, slavery, etc., we always eventually reap the same. This comes back to the fact that we have perverted our telos into consumerism.
The question is: What is our purpose, as human beings? It’s amazing to me how few people think deeply about this question! It’s another taboo, along with thinking deeply about food, our most intimate connection with nature and with our culture. Thanks for the question, Tim!
You were a recipient of the Shining World Hero Award from Supreme Master Ching Hai, could you briefly explain what this award signifies and what it means to you?
Actually, there are many people who have been given this award. It was a nice gesture on their part, and was appreciated of course! I feel that the SMCH association is doing excellent work, overall – they should be getting a lot more awards than me!
How does your background in music and Buddhism help to sustain you as you research and speak about such unspeakable horrors that happen to animals? Any advice for the average-joe activist?
Yes, I really feel that I have been greatly blessed by my exposure to both music and Buddhism. Being able to play the piano is enormously satisfying as an emotional expression, and I think it really helps me to maintain some semblance of emotional health in the midst of so much suffering.
And as far as the meditation and Buddhist Dharma teachings – they have been extremely helpful also. For the past 35 years, every day begins with meditation and so that has set a tone of connecting with a dimension of consciousness that isn’t programmed, and I’ve found that to be most helpful.
Maybe I’ll add a little more. For the average Joe – I’d suggest, as part of your vegan activism to find your unique avenues of creativity, and also connecting with nature. And some form of meditation is very helpful I think, overall — some way to connect with the present moment beyond the barrage of conditioned thinking, virtually all of which has been programmed by a culture of separation and disconnectedness. For me, I think it was the time in silence that helped me extract my consciousness from the brambles of conditioning at the hand of my culture — doing the inner work is essential.
Veganism as an outer practice is just barely the beginning of what we are talking about with ahimsa, nonviolence, and compassion for all life.
I believe lack of proper introduction to the concept of veganism holds back what foothold our movement could have, in your travels in your rolling home have you noted any change more recently in the portion of the general public who have heard or who have a proper understanding of what veganism entails?
I am happy to say that the word vegan and the concept of veganism seems to be spreading quickly. Also, it is interesting to note that just a few years ago, vegetarianism was strongly preferred as a word, overall, and people were embarrassed or ashamed of the word vegan in many ways, but now the word vegan seems more hip and trendy than vegetarian. Things are changing for the better. The crucial point that veganism accounts for motivation (it’s not about personal health, for example) still is mostly ignored. I think we have a lot more educational work to do on this, to spread the meaning and message to the general public.
Given that animals are sentient whereas plants are insentient, if we could be confident that the effect would be fewer animals being killed, would you advocate the killing of carnivorous plants?
This seems like such an intriguing question. Haven’t considered it really – off the bat, I’d say that no, I wouldn’t advocate killing carnivorous plants. It seems like putting ourselves above nature, somehow.
It seems to me much of your work focuses on anthropocentric arguments, e.g. veganism for the benefit of human health, veganism for the benefit of the environment, rather than focusing on challenging speciesism and to help the primary victims of nonveganism – i.e. those who are nonhuman animals. Do you agree with my assessment? And if you do is the reason for this strategical or are these your primary concerns?
Excellent question! Actually, I understand why you might think that; however my primary interest is in stopping violence toward animals, for everyone’s sake. There is an old Buddhist story about the Buddha trying to lure children out of a burning house — when he just tells the truth, they don’t believe him. So he puts toys out in the yard and says, “Look, kids, some fun toys here!” — In many ways, we must use some appeal self-interest in order to help people make the connections that their violence toward animals isn’t only devastating to the animals, it’s devastating to them and to everything they hold dear.
I feel that this is essential in order to deepen people’s motivation, and create a broad-based movement. Ultimately, compassion toward animals is compassion toward ourselves, and it’s important for people to see as big a picture as possible I believe. OK – great question – I could go on and on, but it’s getting late!
Thanks, Will! ARZone appreciate, very much, you giving us your time today. Thank you!
Thank you all for the efforts you’re making, and for the excellent questions! Nothing more important than this to be discussing!
Thanks to ARZone also for providing this innovative forum for so many perspectives.
Let’s get out there and spread the word and be the change! Love to you all.
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