Some Thoughts About Food, Ahimsa, and Consciousness

By Kristine Kaoverii Weber | April 19, 2024

COMMENTS

a group of people sitting around a table eating

​Trigger warning: this post discusses food choices and also contains a photo of a pen of pigs.

People often ask me about the best diet for yoga and the first thing I say is that I can offer some thoughts, but not any hard or fast answers. I think food choice is at once highly personal and also deeply connected to everyone else and everything else. We have to make our own decisions, and there’s also a moral imperative to consider other people, beings, and future generations in those decisions.

From the time we’re born, food is presented to us as a source of comfort. So, whatever foods you were given as an infant and child can affect the way you think about and react to food as an adult. It’s highly personal – you literally are what you eat – start messing with someone’s ideas around food, and you start messing with the core of their identity (which is why I felt the need to put a trigger warning on this post).

I think it’s why some people react strongly against any food advice, including the traditional yogic vegetarian diet. They were not raised that way, and it doesn’t support who they are or what they need from food. It’s not comfortable. But everyone can practice yoga, regardless of their diet. My Indian teachers told me to practice yoga, see how it affects you and how it makes you change. They were clear – don’t be dogmatic about anything.

As for the collective aspect of food – we are dealing with climate crisis, water shortages, peak soil (the idea that the soil is becoming more and more depleted), the widespread lack of food equity amongst the global majority, particularly the global south, and animal rights. So, yes, what we eat affects others, in ways that are so deeply interwoven and systemic that it’s hard to fathom.

a group of people sitting around a table eating

If I take all this into consideration, what the heck is left to put in my mouth? The topic of food can get very confusing, very provocative, and very anxiety provoking. 

I believe ahimsa can help.

Ahimsa is the first principle of the first limb of yoga, and it’s typically translated as “non-violence.” But this is somewhat inaccurate. My cat left me a vole present on the doorstep the other day. I picked it up thinking it was some random piece of mulch from the yard, but it was actually a dead animal. Eeek.

Animals kill violently – sometimes for food and sometimes out of instinct. Nature is inherently violent.

Rather than non-violence, Ahimsa actually means non-harming – which is about intention. My cat didn’t plot to capture and murder the vole, she was just following her dharma, her purpose in life, not intentionally defying ahimsa. She can’t, she’s a cat. She doesn’t have the capacity or the brain structure to be able to discern the morality behind her actions.

And even though most humans have the potential for discerning the morality behind our actions, we don’t, or can’t, always take advantage of it – that requires time, basic needs getting met, and conscious awareness.

a vegetable garden

When it comes to food choice, if I can bring the intention of non-harming into my choices, rather than non-violence, it makes the choices more palatable. There’s more room for contemplative discernment. I don’t love the idea of killing any animal or plant in order to eat it so that I can live; however, it is the order of the universe, so how can I find harmony in the reality that I have to eat?  

I find it helpful to think about food choices in terms of consciousness: I have the luxury of choice around food and I realize that many don’t, so how does what I choose to eat/devour/destroy help to expand consciousness – my own, as well as consciousness in general?

Consciousness is what initiates and sustains life, matter is crudified consciousness, not the other way around. The more conscious we can become in terms of the way we live our lives, the better it is for the planet and for future generations. The more consciousness we can collectively generate, the more we can contribute to the reduction of suffering, and the better shot we have at sustaining this planet.

Everything has consciousness, but the playing field is not level. My cat may have a little more than the vole she killed, she has more than the blades of grass she ate yesterday to deal with the tummy distress of her hunting habit. My cat probably has more consciousness than an egg or an apple, or many politicians. A pig or a dog probably has more consciousness than my cat. I would not consider eating my cat, even though I believe I have more consciousness than her, and fortunately I don’t think I will ever find myself in that predicament. I prefer to, and have the luxury of being able to eat lower on the consciousness chain. 

a pen filled with pigs

Sometimes I eat foods that help me do things like write a blog or a manual, or teach something about yoga philosophy. I’ve necessarily destroyed some consciousness in my food choices, and perhaps I’ve built some through my actions, that’s my intention at least, that would be my hope. When students tell me that they’d like to be vegetarian but they don’t feel well unless they eat meat, my answer is: well, that’s how you are preserving consciousness – your own (and BTW I’m not a nutritionist, I’m a yoga teacher).

Many people argue that since there is consciousness in everything it doesn’t matter what you eat. Also, there are lots of arguments to be made against industrialized farming, even if it’s organic, and the problems caused through transporting food, even if they’re vegetables.

But since there’s an inherent inner conflict – the bio-imperative to survive vs the desire to reduce harm, and since there is only so much control I can exert over where my food comes from, I find the idea of ahimsa as the preservation of consciousness helpful in guiding my choices. How can I chose wisely, without making myself crazy, and contribute to both the expansion of consciousness in myself, and in the world?

All the advances in tech that humans have made in the past few hundred years are external. We need to catch up internally. Advances in consciousness are even more important than advances in tech. If we are going to survive and even possibly to thrive, it will be consciousness, not tech, that saves us.

I’d love to hear your thoughts – and I would request that you consider ahimsa as you write them. Thank you.

 

Please check out my pre-recorded course, Chakras Beyond the Rainbow: Rethinking New Interpretations, Reclaiming Traditional Wisdom (subtleyoga.com)

CHAIR YOGA FOR YOUR BRAIN & NERVOUS SYSTEM

SUBTLE® YOGA FOR ENHANCING TRAUMA RECOVERY

Five Ways Yogic Meditation Benefits Your Brain – eBook

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