Climate change is a really hot topic these days, and for good reason. Without a Planet B, we risk depleting this one and endangering our entire species.

That means many of us are trying to find the best way to take care of this Earth, while still nourishing ourselves and our families. We have concerns about our impact on the environment—nutritionally, environmentally, ethically and globally.

One of the primary changes occurring globally in response to this issue is changing diets to be more “plant-based” or vegetarian. In fact, the Baha’i writings mention the potential benefits of a vegetarian diet:

Truly, the killing of animals and the eating of their meat is somewhat contrary to pity and compassion, and if one can content oneself with cereals, fruit, oil and nuts, such as pistachios, almonds and so on, it would undoubtedly be better and more pleasing. – Abdu’l-Baha, from a letter written to an individual Baha’i.

Having been a vegetarian for about seven years now, I dealt with many internal dilemmas as to how I could best care for my body and our Earth concurrently. I struggled to make sense of the fact that, though I was following what I understood to be a healthy diet, I was exhausted, sick, depressed and lacked mental clarity. I needed to eat at least every two hours, since meals of grains and beans were never filling enough for me. Previously being very active in my Baha’i community’s activities, at the peak of my illness, I had to take a two-year break because anytime I wasn’t in class, I was sleeping or eating.

The Baha’i teachings tell us that good health and longevity are essential to serving humanity. Then why shouldn’t I strive to have optimal health, even if I might have to consider going against my dietary beliefs?

When I look back at it now, I realize that changing my diet to one that includes nutrient-dense, ethically and sustainably-raised animals was actually not against my beliefs at all. Then and now, I strived the best way I knew how to live in alignment with nature’s laws:

Meat is nourishing and containeth the elements of herbs, seeds and fruits; therefore, sometimes it is essential for the sick and for the rehabilitation of health. – Abdu’l-Baha, from a tablet to an individual.

After learning about how we absorb various nutrients in my nutritional biochemistry classes, I noticed there was a consistency: plants and animals contain similar nutrients, however, the nutrients that exist in plant form have many more barriers to absorption and utilization than nutrients coming from animal sources in their active forms.

Soon after changing my diet, I came across this quote from Abdu’l-Baha, and after much meditation and reflection, I was encouraged that this view of nature’s circle of life is the perspective that I should strive to live in alignment with:

Reflect upon the inner realities of the universe, the secret wisdoms involved, the enigmas, the inter-relationships, the rules that govern all … In the physical realm of creation, all things are eaters and eaten: the plant drinketh in the mineral, the animal doth crop and swallow down the plant, man doth feed upon the animal, and the mineral devoureth the body of man. Physical bodies are transferred past one barrier after another, from one life to another, and all things are subject to transformation and change, save only the essence of existence itself—since it is constant and immutable, and upon it is founded the life of every species and kind, of every contingent reality throughout the whole of creation.

Whensoever thou dost examine, through a microscope, the water man drinketh, the air he doth breathe, thou wilt see that with every breath of air, man taketh in an abundance of animal life, and with every draught of water, he also swalloweth down a great variety of animals. How could it ever be possible to put a stop to this process? For all creatures are eaters and eaten, and the very fabric of life is reared upon this fact. Were it not so, the ties that interlace all created things within the universe would be unraveled. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 157.

This quote helped me to understand my own health journey and that of my patients. The ties that interlaced my being became unraveled when my body came to a point where it could no longer function as it needed to. Through reintroducing meats to my diet, I was able to restore my body to balance, now having the energy, vitality, and mental space necessary to serve my community.

It is clear that if we wish to improve the state of our environment, we have to consider the sustainability of our every action. How is our food raised, fed, distributed, prepared, and processed? Are we eating only plants that were grown in a monocrop agricultural system which in itself requires all of the “-cides” to survive? The use of pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, etc. are only necessary because of the lack of diversity existing in the ecosystem.

… Diversity of hues, form and shape, enricheth and adorneth the garden, and heighteneth the effect thereof … – Ibid., p. 291.

In nature, there is biodiversity: plants, animals, insects, fungi and microbes all work together to build a healthy ecosystem. So, are we trading the lives of animals for the life of our environment? I understand I’m asking some difficult questions that we might not have all of the answers to, but I think they deserve some consideration.

brown-bears-salmon

I believe we can nourish our ecosystems while nourishing humanity. This solution is currently in process, specifically through sustainable management of grasslands. But we cannot wholly address this issue unless we consider the spiritual component: How can we live in a way that we have the wellness required to serve others, but live minimally enough that we don’t use more than what we need?

I challenge each of you to begin changing one habit you might have as it relates to sustainability. Perhaps if you choose to eat animals, try using other parts of the animal that was already killed for food. If you choose to eat only plants, I urge you to obtain your nourishment from plants grown in a sustainable manner.

My hope is that my personal, professional and spiritual experience can help those of you questioning your current dietary practices. I always find that observing nature can help us answer our questions.

The opinions and views expressed in this article are those of the author only and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of BahaiTeachings.org or any institution of the Baha’i Faith.

28 Comments

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  • Craig Koller
    Jul 14, 2017
    The fledgling process of "growing" meat from biopsied cells will hopefully replace the slaughtering of animals (especially the odious practice of factory farming). Plant-based meats and dairy replacements are also getting much better with new innovations arriving every day.
    While I see younger people and Baha'is making a more definitive move to a plant-based lifestyle, I definitely feel older Baha'is making a more gradual transition to vegetarian and vegan practices as well. I don't believe in condemning folks for their centuries-old habits, including hunting and fishing, but at the very least I believe a plant-based alternative should be provided ...at Baha'i events and an acknowledgment that this is recommended by the Master.
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  • Essan Afshari
    Jul 13, 2017
    This article is a good excuse for those Baha'is who know killing animals is wrong and feel guilty about it and are looking for a justification to continue with their social and cultural habits of animal exploitation. Abdul-Baha says we should be kinder to animals than people. There is no way we can be kind to a sentient being by hoisting it up and slashing its throat. You wouldn't do that to family members, would you? And, again, we have to be kinder to animals than we are to family members. Harming, exploiting and killing animals is wrong according to ...Baha'i teachings and principles, and it's time we Baha'is became sincere and admitted that fact and went vegan. Please watch the award-winning Cowspiracy and What the Health on Netflix.
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  • Jul 01, 2017
    Wow! You picked a hot topic Anisa! I salute you on how you so lovingly and patiently responded to all your (sometimes heated) comments. I know all our hearts are in the right/same place. I am a vegan to preserve my health as a cancer survivor, whereas my daughter, at this time in her life, must eat meat to retain her health (as you). We both loathe the killing and hurting of animals, and yet, until we reach a point in science where she is able to get the nutrients she needs, my daughter must unfortunately consume meat. I do ...believe, as Abdu'l-Baha said, that in the future we will find a way to live healthfully without it. I appreciate your loving writing style and wish you health and love.
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    • Essan Afshari
      Jul 13, 2017
      Kathleen, you are not vegan; you have a plant-based diet. Vegans are so because of ethical reasons, namely that animals are not here for our exploitation, and do not belong to us to use as we wish. They have every right to be here just as we do. You loathe the killing of animals because you know it is wrong and unethical, and you would never be able to do it yourself. No one needs meat and animal products to be healthy in the 21st century. We should think about the victims instead of just about ourselves. Please watch What ...the Health on Netflix.
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  • Melanie Price
    Jun 30, 2017
    Anisa have you read through the newest AMA resolutions passed, that hospitals should be providing plant based food only, in order to promote healthy recovery to patients, and to completely remove meats and dairy products? There are more resolutions along this line too. If you google Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, news release for 21st June, 2017, you can read about this for your independent investigation.
  • Melanie Price
    Jun 30, 2017
    You should read through this. https://www.pcrm.org/media/news/ama-passes-resolution-hospitals-should-provide-plant-based-meals-and-remove-cancer-causing-processed
  • Tuula Pystynen
    Jun 30, 2017
    Thank you Anisa for your reply. Unfortunately raising animals in inhumane conditions is a norm, those conditions are considered normal, in every country on this planet, and if you buy meat, dairy or eggs, you are keeping that inhumanity running. Every day you can read news of what new atrocities have come into the open in the farm industry and slaughterhouses in the so called "civilized" countries, not to mention the absolutely horrendous transportations of the animals in killing heat or freezing cold without even water, days and days, which is also a normal procedure. It's a standard, it's a ...norm, and you simply cannot have "humane" meat or any animal product – that is an oxymoron and an advertising gimmick just to keep up the ignorance.
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    • Essan Afshari
      Jul 13, 2017
      Yes Tuula, there is nothing that one can say that justifies the continued exploitation, harming and killing of animals. The article forgets one major subject: the victims.
  • Melanie Price
    Jun 28, 2017
    I disagree with animal-exploitation. There is nothing which justifies the brutality of the meat, dairy and egg industry. Nothing in this article proves meat is more "nutritious" than plants. This is absurd according to science. Nutrition.org has numerous videos that teach how absurd it is. Any statement which says so without scientific proof, should in my opinion be removed altogether from a Bahá'í inspired site and discussion. Of course it won't be removed because so many are looking for a justification to continue their carnism just as slave owners once did. They will just say "we are free to express ...our opinions". It's a pity the animals can't express theirs. So much for the request of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá's to be kinder to animals than to man.
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    • Essan Afshari
      Jul 13, 2017
      Poignantly put Melanie; I agree with your points completely. Looking at some of the comments here, some people are just going to use this article as an excuse to continue to exploit, harm and kill animals.
    • Anisa Woodall
      Jun 29, 2017
      This is the beauty of indpendent investigation of the truth! Obtaining our information from unbiased sources and evalutating the research for ourselves instead of depending on "expert opinions" is the best way to derive truth from information.
      Since this article was not intended to explore the science behind the nutritional benefits of animal foods, I didn't include that information (the word count max wouldn't allow for it). It was simply to provide an alternative view for those who have read the Writings of 'Abdu'l-Baha and feel the dilemma of needing to include animal foods for health reasons.
  • Tuula Pystynen
    Jun 28, 2017
    'Abdu'l-Bahá also says, "The feelings are one and the same, whether ye inflict pain on man or on beast. There is no difference here whatever. And indeed ye do worse to harm an animal." And He warns us of being selfish. If we do not care about the plight of the animals that are bred solely for the pleasures of humans, aren't we then being selfish? Because then we only care about our own comfort. He tells us to treat animals better than our fellow men. Keeping someone cramped in a small crate, taking away its babies right after they ...are born, moving it days in inhumane conditions without even water and forcibly killing it is not treating it well. If you think it’s fine, think if it was done to your dog. Are we selfish or are we hypocrites?
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    • Essan Afshari
      Jul 13, 2017
      The truth you speak of Tuula is what most people try to avoid and not think about. The fact is the consumption of animal products is cruel, unethical and barbaric, and there is nothing can say to justify it, because it is simply wrong, pure and simple.
    • Anisa Woodall
      Jun 29, 2017
      Hi Tuula, Thank you for your response. In no way am I promoting the raising of animals in inhumane conditions, nor am I promoting the consumption of animals for selfish reasons (i.e. "pleasures of humans"). There is a clear difference between feeling healthy enough to contribute to society in a positive way and eating an excess of inhumanely raised animals purely for personal gain.
  • Stuart McKenzie Hall
    Jun 28, 2017
    I don't want to keep going on about this, but I'd recommend watching Cowspiracy if you have not already. So called sustainably raised grass feed beef actually has an even larger environmental footprint than factory farming, which is astonishing to consider. The protein conversion ratio of animal products is so inefficient, that we could currently feed the worlds human population several times over on just the high quality plant foods currently fed to animals to raise them for slaughter, not to mention all the water consumption, which is arguably our most precious resource. In my humble view, ...there is no sustainable way to produce animal products for our consumption. We need a massive change globally, on that I'm sure we agree
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    • Melanie Price
      Jun 30, 2017
      'Cowspiracy' is brilliant, as is 'What the Health', 'Forks Over Knives', and 'Earthlings'. I will discuss any pro-meat-eating opinions with anyone after s/he watches these 4 videos. And for those who have and wish a bit more background proof/ scientific evidence, be sure to read Michael Greger's best-selling book "How Not To Die".
  • Stuart McKenzie Hall
    Jun 27, 2017
    Thanks Anisa, like any topic that is controversial it's difficult not to polarize an audience and there will be a great diversity of opinions, peoples own experiences and anecdotal evidence will vary greatly due to our diversity. It's great that you encourage sustainable choices, and in that phrase is the key. Healthy choices is also a huge topic. Simply considering the empirical evidence of which there is a vast amount, meat and animal products causes a great deal more harm both to human health and the environment than those that have suffered as a result of ...a plant based diet. To cite one example, heart disease, our biggest global killer, is essentially caused by consuming animal products and the resulting atherosclerosis.
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    • Anisa Woodall
      Jun 27, 2017
      You're right, it is definitely a controversial topic to address, but that's why I think it's so important. We may disagree on our interpretation of heart disease research but, like you said, animal products cause a great deal of harm to the environment when produced in an unsustainable manner. The majority of those following a plant-based diet depend on the monocrop system for the majority of their calories, which also is unsustainable and causes poor health outcomes. My hope is that we can all make the most sustainable choices available to us while concurrently optimizing our health.