Thursday, January 31, 2013

Cause and effect, karma, etc.

The belief that positive actions produce positive results and that negative actions produce negative results is a concept that spans religions and cultures. Examples of this can be found in the Jainist, Buddhist and Hindu concept of karma (which, incidentally, is now a common word in English and many other languages), in the Christian concept of "you will reap what you sow", and in many other belief systems. Even religions that don’t have a concrete word/description for this concept, still often believe that doing positive things (such as charity, helping other people, praising God, etc.) will lead to some kind of reward, whether it be in this life or the next, and that doing negative things will lead to some kind of punishment.

I believe that this this concept is equally valid in relation to the way we treat animals, and that the killing, hurting, or mistreating of animals are all negative actions that will have negative consequences. I believe that eating animals should be avoided because the killing of an animal should be no more acceptable than the killing of another human; that using the fur, skin, and other parts of animals should be avoided for the same reason; that we should not abuse or exploit animals any more than we should another human being. I believe that we should use the moral foundation that many of us already have relating to the treatment of other humans, and expand this to include as many animals as possible; that the only reason people don’t do this is because they have been conditioned to think that they have the right to mistreat and kill animals, conditioned to be blind to the fact that animals, just like us humans, have feelings, albeit maybe simpler ones, and should be respected. The belief that we, as humans, have some kind of "right" to abuse animals is, for me, a big lie, one that’s keeping us on the wrong path, both as individuals and as a society. Having said all that, the opposite is also true: Every action that involves helping animals have a healthier, less stressful life, any action that saves an animal from death or suffering, will have positive consequences. This is why the act of helping is so important.

It’s hard to break free from a way of thinking that our families and culture have told us is correct our whole lives. It’s much easier to just stick with the way things are instead of going through some major upheaval. Still, in order to progress as human beings, we have to question any kind of action that causes the suffering and death of innocent sentient beings. This realization is an important one, the implementation of which should lead to positive actions and, subsequently, to positive consequences.

Friday, January 11, 2013

COOL PLACES AROUND THE WORLD: Vega Bar (Wroclaw, Poland)

Located right on the central square (Rynek) of Wroclaw, this tasty and affordable cafeteria-style restaurant serves vegetarian and vegan versions of mostly Polish and Central European food, along with a variety of fresh and bottled juices and other non-alcoholic beverages. Apart from the great food, this place's claim to fame is that it was the first vegetarian cafe in Poland.

Address: ul. Sukiennice 1/2 (Rynek), Wrocław, Poland


Vegetarian/Vegan: The entire menu is vegetarian/vegan.

Vegetarianism/veganism vs. freedom of choice

In many parts of the world, there are more and more vegetarians and vegans, and most people, even when they don't really know much about our diet, do accept the fact that someone can choose to live meat-free. The problem, I find, arises when someone like myself tries to spread the word about the benefits of a plant-based diet. Why, some would say, would I want to impose my beliefs on other people? Isn't vegetarianism/veganism just a choice, just like eating meat is a choice? Since the freedom to choose one's lifestyle is a very important one for most people, they often get very defensive whenever they feel someone tries to take that freedom away from them. The first thing to consider here is why someone chooses to go meat-free. If one chooses a vegetarian/vegan lifestyle for dietary reasons alone (and there are indeed health benefits to doing so), and we ignore all other aspects of the issue, then yes, this becomes a question of a simple lifestyle choice. Another popular reason why people go meat-free is the whole negative environmental impact of the meat and dairy industry on the planet, namely the misallocation of resources and land, the pollution tied in to various factory farms, etc. This is a valid concern, so encouraging people to become vegetarian/vegan for this reason is no different than encouraging people to recycle, to not buy clothes made in sweatshops, etc. As with any environmental issue, one is still free to choose a path that causes more damage to the environment, though most of us would agree that a path that ensures a sustainable existence for future generations is the better way to go. The third reason why people go meat-free is because of respect for the life of other animals. Those of us who truly care about other animals do our best to respect the life of other sentient animals as much as we do human life. While we consider human life to be very precious, we would never equate being human with the right to exploit and kill other species for our benefit. When someone begins to value all life, then it becomes as important to raise consciousness about our injustices towards other animals, as it is to raise consciousness about our injustices towards each other. While someone who has not progressed to the same level of compassion might not understand this, for someone who has opened their minds and hearts to the suffering of all creatures, this becomes perfectly clear.

Having said all this, eating meat, ultimately, is still a choice. We are all free to choose to act in a way that either encourages or minimizes violence in the world. Still, injustices do have to be exposed and discussed. This is how societies progress. While we, as a society, have come to the realization that other forms of violence are wrong, and will punish murderers, rapists, child-abusers, hooligans, etc., we, more often than not, still stop short of including our abuse and killing of animals in the equation. I think it’s important to challenge and change the belief that humans have some sort of inherent right to exploit other animals. This can help create a world where there is less violence, one in which all of us, humans and animals alike, suffer less, and live together in a more harmonious way. As long as this is done in a respectful, informed way, I believe there is nothing wrong with encouraging people to take steps towards a fairer relationship with other sentient beings.