BY ERNEST BELL, M.A.
From The Vegetarian News.
“HE who drinks beer thinks beer,” and it is equally true that he who “eats flesh thinks flesh”. The mind is unavoidably tinged by the medium through which it works, the body: and you cannot be too careful to sustain the latter by the purest means available. Were not the savage mares of Diomedes said to be fed on flesh? If this is only a legend, it is, like many ancient legends, based on a truth which we may see exemplified in our own experience. the character of a dog may be largely altered by the food given him.
No one would think of feeding his dog on farinaceous food with a view to make him savage – flesh, and by preference, flesh with the blood in it, seems instinctively, so to speak, to be the food which one would supply to feed the savage and so-called animal propensities. No one is free until he has his mind and body under complete control, and here again I must leave you to decide which is likely to be the free and self-controlled man, and which is the slave – the one who lives on the bloodless foods, or he who takes the highly stimulating and exciting flesh foods.
There is, too, another side to this question of freedom which we may call the subjective side. How can any
1A thinking mind be called free and at peace, when he knows that however tasty the meat may be, there lurks at the back of it all the horrors of the cattle traffic and the slaughter-house? How often we hear people admit that they are afraid to think of these things, and what can we think of the freedom or peace of that mind which admits that i can continue its present course only by carefully shutting off from its thoughts the terrible practices by which alone it can be carried on?.
What again can we think of that condition of mind which deliberately condemns a large class of fellow-men to a shocking and degrading trade? Here again we often hear the remark, “I am sure I should be a vegetarian if I had to kill the meat myself” – the speaker thereby admitting the real horror of the practice, but at the same time, in a cowardly spirit, trying to shift the responsibility and the degradation on to other people. This is not the act of a free and independent spirit, but of a slave to prejudice and self-indulgence.
Until you have freed yourself from the meat habit you cannot know the joy and satisfaction one feels that none of this misery and degradation can be laid at your door. You can see the herds of patient beasts driven through the streets with compassion for their hard lot, but with no disquieting consciousness that it is in any measure for you that they are going to their horrid doom. You, at any rate, are amongst those who recognize their kinship, and have no part in their degradation and torture for your selfish ends.
Our third condition for a healthy mind was one always striving after high ideals – and here again I think the vegetarian can claim the advantage. Holy men in all ages and countries have had this in common, that they have advocated the non-flesh diet as one of the first steps to the holy life. The testimony is valuable as evidence, though, in many cases, the habit has been carried out in a perfunctory manner and the real significance missed.
What is really a means to more spiritual life has been too often degraded into a method for mortifying or tormenting the flesh, like the sack-cloth clothing and the scourge, as though there were any virtue in outraging ones nature. Thus we find to-day that the man or woman who parts from meat for one day in the week is regarded as rather exceptionally holy, but the one who goes without for seven days is considered to be little better than a fool. But this we can afford to smile at. If, as we believe, there is any spiritual gain in abstaining for one day in the week, then there should be sevenfold gain in following the better way all the week.
Vegetarianism is not a fad. It is a great and essential part of the religion of humanity. It is a step into a higher, because a less selfish, plane of life. It makes progress possible, and both individual and social development is at present seriously blocked by the meat habit and all that it implies and involves.
As long as we treat other living, sensitive creatures with like feelings as ours only as carcasses for the market, and meant to be consumed, we must shut our eyes to the real kinship of all living things, and thus lose an essential factor in learning to understand, even in some degree, this mysterious world in which we find ourselves. Social progress is blocked no less than individual development. In a dozen ways this barbarous habit, inherited from savage ancestors, stands in the way of practical reforms which are much needed.
The vivisector, the sportsman, the trapper, the fashionable lady with her sealskins and her murderous millinery, all justify themselves by the plea that animals are used for food, and may, in like manner, be utilized for our other wants and pleasures. The argument is difficult to answer, though all feel that these cruelties cannot be right. Nor could it be right or even possible in an ideal state that any of its members should be doomed to the degrading work demanded by the meat-eater.
If there are any who have not yet joined us, and would rise above this barbarism – to them I would say, “It is quite easy, and soon becomes altogether delightful. The first step, the second step, and the last step is the wish to do it. If you are filled with gloomy forebodings, if you think you are to undergo a severe ordeal, and are sure that you will succumb, you will certainly make a failure of it.
But if you really wish it, if you feel that it is right and the best way, you will soon overcome any difficulties there may in the way. It is not what you eat so much as the spirit in which you take it which is important. As Edward Carpenter has said, “It is not the food which vitalizes you, but you who vitalize the food.” In the vegetable world is a wide range of wholesome foods, enough to support the ponderous strength of the elephant, and the hard muscles of the gorilla, the speed of the antelope, the brain of a Plato, Pythagoras, and a Newton. ARe you not content with this?.
Let me ask all of you who have any upward strivings whether you are not doing yourself a great wrong in clinging to the barbarous habits of your savage ancestors, and in shutting your hearts to a new and beautiful means and aid to bodily health and spiritual progress.