Lifting Dinner’s Veil

In the past year I’ve been trying to reduce the friction between my diet and my ethics. Among other things, this has meant becoming a vegetarian. I knew about the horrors of meat production when I was younger but I felt helpless to do anything about it, so I let the idea of forgoing meat gather cobwebs on the “things I’ll allow myself to think about someday” shelf. Finally I’ve been inspired to dust it off, and the change has relieved almost as much intellectual and emotional tension as did the sloughing of my old New Age belief set. Denial is a fascinating thing to observe in yourself once you’ve become aware of it.

I’ve noticed since I made the change that there’s a great deal of overlap between the vegetarian/vegan communities and the New Age community. Visit any vegan restaurant (if you can find one) and there’s a good chance you’ll find brochures and flyers pinned by the door for psychic readings, energy therapy and other healing modalities, pet communication, Wiccan meetups, etc.

Given their worldview, the desire for a meatless diet makes perfect sense. I certainly couldn’t fault them for it.

Scientifically there’s little dispute that animals like cows, chickens, and pigs have the capacity to suffer. The cognitive machinery that facilitates pain appears long before primates on the evolutionary timeline. Our suffering may have a certain richness or sharpness to it that they don’t experience — they’re spared things like existential angst and the anticipation of future pain — but they suffer nonetheless.

Belief in the supernatural will often skew a person’s perspective on animal suffering. It’s historically been the Judeo-Christian stance that an animal cannot suffer because suffering happens in the soul and animals don’t have them. Descartes famously argued that animals are mere automata. An animal exhibits the same behaviors that we exhibit when we suffer, but since there’s “nobody home” to do the suffering it’s all purely mechanical — mindless clockwork. I don’t think this belief is as common as it used to be, but you can still see echoes of it in the way we treat animals today.

Conversely, I find that occultists and nature worshippers almost invariably give animals far more credit than the rest of us do. For them, every animal has a spirit and a rich inner life. Animals can speak to you through mediums (with varying degrees of lucidity), sense and interact with beings from other realms, and they have special powers of their own such as the ability to heal people or predict events in the near future. It’s even claimed by some that dolphins and whales are the most spiritually evolved beings on the planet and they’re waiting for humanity to catch up. That animals can suffer greatly is entirely uncontroversial in these circles, in my experience. Nature is afforded so much intelligence that you’re more likely to hear debate over whether a tree is sentient than a cow.

So of course New Agers are frequently vegetarians. What I find baffling, actually, is that so many are not.

I’ve known many psychics who made a concerted effort every day to shield themselves from negative energy. They said that if they didn’t continually purge it from their lives it would lead to dulled sensitivity, emotional disturbances, and even physical illness. I can’t count how many times I’ve watched a psychic get suddenly overcome with the feeling that something was off, and then sense that the cause was negativity from a particular person or event attaching itself to him. Once he went through the steps to remove it all was well again. This was evidently something that you could become aware of out of the blue, like hearing someone calling you or smelling a familiar scent.

Ground BeefWhat I find interesting now is that most of these people ate meat three meals a day.

The average grocery store stocks its freezers with factory farm meat, and frankly I’m having trouble coming up with a more perfect negative energy delivery system than factory farm meat. What goes on in factory farms is outside of the scope of this blog and I’ll leave you to your own research, but here are a few highlights. Animals usually either spend their entire lives in cages slightly larger than their bodies or packed into a communal area with standing room only. They live on top of a layer of their own waste, breathing in ammonia fumes that factory workers can only tolerate for minutes a day without a respirator. They’re fed foods (corn, mostly, being dirt cheap) that their bodies aren’t built for. In the case of cows, a diet of corn is so destructive to their ruminant digestive systems that many of them are already slowly dying of liver damage by slaughtering time. Dairy cows are kept perpetually pregnant so the milk continues to flow until their bodies are used up. And don’t ask about veal… just, don’t. Cocktails of antibiotics are given routinely to animals on these farms because there will be significant losses otherwise — that they need antibiotics just to survive to adulthood should clue you in on whether suffering is occurring. And, if you can believe it, the factory farms of today are a huge improvement over the farms of the ’70s.

A lifetime of this sort of treatment is not the end of the negative energy the meat is bathed in. The killing floor of a slaughterhouse is a dangerous place. A person can only stay in a job like this for so long so new workers are continually streaming in, given minimal amounts of training. The injury rate is the highest of any industry. Shifts are long and intense, requiring constant focus just to avoid getting cut or mangled. Workers (frequently illegal immigrants with no other options) are treated horribly because so few will last anyway. Many leave with something resembling PTSD. By the time the meat is on its way to the grocery store, it presumably carries the residue of the suffering of both the animal and the poor souls who’ve prepared it.

Picking up negativity from your surroundings is one thing; ingesting it and building your very body out of something saturated with it is another. If it’s true that negativity can attach itself to physical objects then I would think that the meat aisle of the supermarket would be a red-hot flashing beacon of it, impossible to ignore by anyone with the least bit of sensitivity.

And yet the negativity-phobic psychics I knew were completely content to have this food on their plates. The reality of what transpired for it to get there went completely unnoticed.

I see a few ways that one might account for this:

1. We are mistaken that animals suffer (Descartes was right).

If they don’t suffer, then there are no negative emotions to spawn these problematic energies. I think this explanation is easily dismissed. These psychics were certain that animals have feelings and they picked up on energies from their pets all the time. Many gave readings specifically to make clients aware of how their own pets were feeling.

2. The act of lovingly preparing a meal for your family cleanses the ingredients and transmutes negative energies.

Perhaps, but your food won’t get that sort of treatment from the people behind the counter at Burger King. Meals prepared by uncaring strangers that the average psychic has eaten in his lifetime will easily number in the thousands.

3. To become aware of negative energies, you need to tune into them, and unfamiliar energies can do you harm for years before you ever notice.

I did hear explanations like this one now and again. One of your tasks in this realm is to learn how to gradually peel away the onion of negativity that surrounds you. We’re faced with so much of it that any particular source of it can get lost in the roar. But in this case this excuse just seems a bit too desperate to me. Few activities are as intimate as eating. And few objects we encounter in our daily lives should be so imbued with pain. A shoe produced in the worst of sweatshops is still just a shoe; meat is the very thing that suffered. I can’t imagine how a flash of anger from a nearby stranger could have such an effect on a psychic, whereas not one of thousands of meals ever called attention to itself.

Which leads me to the explanation I find most plausible:

4. The power of suggestion is responsible for the effects of ambient negativity, and nothing more.

The average American, psychic or not, has no idea where his food comes from. He has little reason to suspect that the cow he’s eating didn’t live a long, happy life on the pastoral farm depicted on the packaging. Or he’s just forgotten that what’s on his plate ever had eyes in the first place, as so many of us have. It’s an easy thing to do; the food industry has made sure of that.

As interesting as this psychic blind spot is, I can’t think of any obvious ways to develop a test around it. Many psychics are vegetarians or vegans for exactly the reasons I’ve outlined — meat tastes like violent death to them. But which came first, the knowledge or the taste? Even if they know nothing about factory farming, it doesn’t take ESP to figure out that an early death is probably an unpleasant one.

The only psychics we can attempt to test are the ones who relish eating meat. What happens when you show these people the graphic videos that animal rights groups like to circulate? What happens after they read a book or two on how their food is actually produced? And does the resulting change in their perception of their dinner really require ad hoc supernatural explanations?

I don’t think it does. If a psychic is bothered by energy at all, he shouldn’t have to be told where his food comes from in order to notice that it’s drenched with suffering, just as I don’t have to be told that a salt shaker was spilled into my meal in order to gag when it hits my tongue. That he must learn of the suffering before becoming attuned to it suggests to me that this is merely mundane psychology at work.

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