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In several different places throughout the Baha’i teachings, Abdu’l-Baha speaks about the bodily differences between carnivores and humans. He points out that human teeth are shaped to grind grain or to bite into fruit, not to tear meat apart. Unlike a lion or an eagle, humans do not have to eat animals to survive. Our digestive tracts are also very different from carnivores, and aid us to break down and absorb food thoroughly.
So how does this diet Abdu’l-Baha suggests – simpler, less meat, more grains and fruits and vegetables – connect to the spiritual principles of the Baha’i Faith? In my view, the major Baha’i principles relate directly to this style of eating that Abdu’l-Baha encourages. Let’s take a look.
One of the fundamental principles of the Baha’i Faith is the independent investigation of truth. As intelligent, responsible human beings, we have a duty to investigate and search for truth our whole lives, so we can integrate what we learn in the material world into what we know from spiritual laws and principles.
We, especially those of us in the Western world, live in a meat-heavy society. But the Baha’i writings encourage us to move forward, away from current societal standards. Are we willing to investigate the truth as it relates to ourselves, our individual lives, and not simply reflect the values of society around us?
Another Baha’i principle–unity and the oneness of humanity—asserts that all of us belong to one family. What does that have to do with what we eat? It means that our food choices have a profound effect on other people, often with negative results.
If we really accept all people as one people, and we believe in the unity of the human race, then we would not want our actions to harm our brothers and sisters around the world. In fact, we would do everything we can to protect and assist them, wherever they live. In all our actions, including what we eat, we must consider how our actions can promote the oneness of humankind.
The Baha’i writings also ask us, as citizens of one world, to show kindness to all creatures, especially including animals. Consider what happens to animals “produced” in our farm factories. Raised in overcrowded and inhumane conditions from birth, they end their lives in horrific slaughterhouses. We even buy our meat in “pieces” so we don’t have to think that some living creature died, often under terrible conditions, for us. Remember that, then listen to these words of Abdu’l-Baha:
Regarding the eating of animal flesh and abstinence therefrom, …he [man] is not in need of meat, nor is he obliged to eat it. Even without eating meat he would live with the utmost vigour and energy. …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… it would undoubtedly be better and more pleasing. – Abdu’l-Baha, from a letter written to an individual Baha’i, Lights of Guidance, p. 295.
Does this mean Baha’is always refrain from eating meat as a hard and fast rule? No, it doesn’t:
…eating meat is not forbidden or unlawful, nay, the point is this, that it is possible for man to live without eating meat and still be strong. 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. There is no objection in the Law of God to the eating of meat if it is required. So if thy constitution is rather weak and thou findest meat useful, thou mayest eat it. – ibid, Lights of Guidance, p. 295.
Do science and religion agree in respect to these new dietary recommendations? Science has definitely caught up with what Abdu’l-Baha first taught in the early 1900’s. But sadly, since that time, our diet has worsened regarding the consumption of meat. After World War II until the present time, our meat intake has skyrocketed–and a number of health problems now plague us as a result. Science has proven that a diet which contains less meat and has more grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables, results in less obesity and a decrease in heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and cancer, among other illnesses.
What does your body look like on the inside? How are you nourishing it? This is more important than your physical appearance. Taking good care of our health enables us to serve humanity more fully, as Abdu’l-Baha tells us.