It was a normal day at work, with a typical salad for lunch, but I found myself captivated. The raw spinach was spectacularly emerald green, the leaves so crunchy that they effortlessly held up the handfuls of sun-gold tomatoes (the nearly candy-like variety that grows in plenitude in summer gardens). I noticed the sprinkle of pumpkin seeds folded into the empty spaces, hiding alongside yellow and green bell peppers. And as I stared down at my plate, I was surprised to feel an obvious sense of warmth that started somewhere near my heart and ended at my tear ducts. As I pondered this new sensation and my unexpected glee, I couldn’t deny the familiar feeling of pooling tears.
I know, that probably sounds insane, but it’s true. Feeling sentimental about, and spiritually attached to, my food was never something I experienced as a meat & cheese eater.
I had 15 years to weep over the beauty of meat, and not once did I.
I had 22 years to weep over the beauty of cheese, and I may have, but that’s because I was addicted: I wept over the $35 spent on goat cheese the same way a drug addict may (or may not) feel guilty about stealing a television to pay for the next hit. But still, I never felt gratitude towards cheese. Instead, I felt like I was in an unstable relationship; I had to cram in as much time with cheese as I could before it left me.
Turns out, I left it.
Something strange happens a while after you stop eating animal products. You look down at your plate one day and feel this sense of awe. I mean the real, true meaning of awe: with reverence and a mix of wonder and fear.
I remember looking down at a meal I was eating one day at work, and I smiled. I smiled down at my spinach like it was my sweet child, or more than that, like it was my loving Mother. You know, the type of Mother with a capital M. The vivid green on my plate — and the deeper knowledge that I was living, surviving, thriving on food that involved no violence, no death, no flesh or fluid of a living being — started to fill me with this undeniable inner peace.
Again, I know it sounds insane.
When I first became an Angry Vegan (you know, those first few years of being vegan where you want to murder everyone to make them see they could be more compassionate?), I saw this image on Instagram that said, “When you consume violence, you become violence,” and I remember internally doing a fist pump, nodding my head vigorously and saying, “Yaaas!” really obnoxiously.
It was a good motto for an Angry, Yet Compassionate New Vegan. It sounded enlightened. But months after that, maybe a year later, when I was smiling down at my spinach at work, that phrase came to me again, bubbling up from my subconscious, and I felt taken aback. Damn, it’s real! When you consume violence, you become violence. When you stop consuming violence, you find inner healing.
I had spent 15 years of my life eating the bodies of animals that I claimed to love, and never did I feel gratitude for my food beyond a simple, “Thanks for cooking, Dad!” I definitely never felt awe.
But here I was, two years out from having no animal products in my body, and suddenly the thought of spinach growing, someone picking that spinach, and that spinach making up my lunch was making me tear up. It’s beautiful, really, how we can plant a seed in the ground, and it gives us endless food if we just take the time to nourish it, to learn the ways of its growth. We can pick it and it grows again. No blood, no sounds of death, no skinning or boiling or scalding away the hair.
Just Seed. Soil. Water. Sun.
After the teary-eyed spinach incident, that feeling didn’t go away.
Sometimes, when I am cutting up a bunch of kale and watching it sauté with fresh garlic and onions, I feel it again. That warm wave of awe and gratitude sweeping through me. It’s a quiet sensation. I can experience it as I cook, my roommate and I laughing about what Kanye tweeted, and he never knows that inside my mind, it is there — this quiet, calm, buzzing sensation of complete awe at what our planet is capable of.
Let me get something straight: I don’t mean to say this in a way that makes me seem like a new-age yogi that can levitate because I eat a plant-based diet. I don’t think eating plants automatically makes you a better, kinder person. But it does make you experience sustenance is a new way.
When I experience this inner swelling of the heart (like when The Grinch’s heart swells with love, not in a heart disease kind of way), I almost always feel a residual sadness that so many people don’t get to have this relationship with the food they eat. In a time when access to food is so critically linked to socio-economic level, a time when hundreds of thousands of families must feed themselves and their children McDonalds every day, I know that most people are not in a situation to have one single second to consider the miracle of the food they are eating. Because of eating plants I’ve learned one of the most important lessons of my life: food is a pathway to peace, gratitude, and compassion for our planet, but most of our society is systematically blocked from ever experiencing it.
Gratitude is hard to find in industrialized animal agriculture. We either know the gory details and don’t want to think about them, or we are naive to the truth of our food. We’re always removed from the reality of our food, especially when our food is an animal. Gratitude can only be experienced when we acknowledge the process of what it is we’re grateful for. When our food is a direct result of death — especially the death of animals killed in our industrialized food system — it’s not pleasant to think about the inspiring process that allowed the food to end up on our plates. Undercover footage of how farmed animals come to their end becomes a gruesome monster we know exists but that we never, ever want to see. Our bacon ranch burger tastes much better without images of tortured animals drizzled on top.
Our desire to enjoy the taste of food without acknowledging the underlying process of violence is why it’s extremely rare for people to express amazement at how what’s on their plate came to be. As a society, the majority of us miss the chance to acknowledge that our planet naturally provides what we need and that it is worth protecting, day in and day out.
Edible plants are a spectacular display of Mother Nature, and it is easy to see that the bright, vivid colors of tomatoes, berries, kale, squash, corn, radishes, broccoli and more are made to attract human hands–and hearts.