how do you go from carnivore to vegetarian?

IMG_3403_c_scFrom committed carnivore to loving meat free Mondays to going vegetarian or even vegan – what are the psychological steps? Stubborn refusal to gradual understanding and finally the lightbulb moment? Me, I’m currently in limbo.

After a stint eating the most incredible vegan raw living food for five days at Fivelements, Puri Ahimsa in Bali, among other things I was taught to be more mindful (click here for my blog on being mindful at Fivelements). I talked to many of their practitioners, and they all advised me to step down from my life’s sprint-speed treadmill in various ways. But it was the lovely Michael Hallock, my wellness liaison, who literally sat me down with a tray of fruit and taught me, look by look, sniff by sniff, touch by touch, taste by taste and chew by chew how to dissect the act of eating. We practiced wonder and gratitude when it came to food; to its appearance, smell, texture, taste and its actual presence.

IMG_3365_scIt sounds easy but even while I was there, surrounded by nature and tranquility and nothing more stressful to do than turn up to a yoga lesson, the habit of eating at sprint-speed took a lot of effort to override. One lunch I found myself mindfully gobbling. I was being mindful but I just couldn’t slow myself down. By the end of my stay I could start my meal slowly, but as soon as my attention wandered I was hovering between a jog and a sprint, and was, ironically, ever mindful that I was about to leave this bubble of slow-motion living for my warp-speed city life.

I arrived home in Hong Kong and my dreams of continuing the vegan lifestyle and cutting out the things I love but already know I shouldn’t eat (gluten, sugar, dairy), let alone eating slowly and mindfully, were blasted to smithereens by various events. And yet, between the canapés and glasses of champagne, the meats and the desserts, I slipped in some more mindful moments when no one was looking.

IMG_3325_scAnd here’s the thing. I’ve mindfully chopped and prepared and eaten some great salads. I’ve mindfully and gently cooked some greens and I’ve mindfully whizzed up some inspired soups and a banana, coconut water and almond milk smoothie or twenty… But I have discovered that it’s very, very difficult (possibly impossible?), to eat mindfully when you have meat on your plate. How can you be truly, ethically, thankful for your food when it has given up its life for you to eat it?

I’ve never craved a 100 percent vegetarian lifestyle, despite all the great arguments for it. I have, however, gradually cut down on my meat (and fish) eating. I consider a vegetarian meal a victory (preferably also loaded with gluten-free brownie points) and they do occur more often than they used to. And yet I’m still clinging to my carnivorous habits, selfishly for the taste, indulgently for the social fun they accompany, and fearfully for what my life might become should I tip over the edge into a meatless existence.

IMG_3307_scBecause when I left Fivelements I spent half a day in Ubud where there are numerous health cafés who talk the gluten-free-vegan-soy-kombucha-nuts-and-seeds-speak fluently. However, although the situation is improving, elsewhere at people’s homes, on regular high streets and in malls and airports, you really need to bring your sustenance with you if you’re committed to eating something even remotely tempting that is vegan or vegetarian.

And I’m painfully aware that being vegetarian or vegan would require super-mindfulness back home in Hong Kong: in the preparation of food before leaving the house, in the locating of a Tupperware box that still has its lid, and eventually in the refusing of more indulgent offers than a salad or vegetarian dish, a bowl of comforting dhal or virtuous sticks of carrot with albeit delicious homemade hummus.

IMG_3241_600The legacy of Fivelements is holding a mirror up to my face and I’m seeing myself clearly. Inevitably I don’t like what I see – a person who actively doesn’t want to become vegetarian. I’m shocked as I hate the thought of being even partly responsible for killing living things, and especially being part of an industry that mass farms living beings in unhealthy, miserable and hormone-filled, sardine-like conditions just for my palate’s pleasure.

Now when I think about tucking into a roast, my previous unmitigated lip-smacking at the thought has become a little tarnished. Perhaps I’m beginning to teeter. I’m certainly nearer the edge than ever before. I believe that cutting down on eating meat, mindfully, is better than not doing anything at all. And it’s better for my overall health anyway. But for now, while I’ve always admired the vegetarian view from my meat-eating perch, I’m still not sure I want to live 24/7 in the green and blessed land that is vegetarianism.

IMG_3247_c_scFivelements, Puri Ahimsa‘s award-winning food, seen in my photos here, is curated by the wonderful Executive Chef Made. The Ubud-based retreat has recently launched its new half day, 3-, 5- or 7-night culinary retreat Cuisine for Life, which teaches you the whys and hows of raw vegan living foods cuisine, sending you home with some of Fivelements’ most popular recipes.

And don’t miss our previous Fivelements blogs on mindfulness and Asia’s top retreats.

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