could only be asked by someone who has never been in a slaughterhouse.
Rebecca: Also plants literally live on their own death – the compost of their material allows other plants to grow.
John: Right. But the deeper issue here is that we are part of and partake of the bio-community. The question that I ask is, how can we live so that our participation can be for the greatest good and the greatest healing for all beings?
The validity of your question points to the fact that we all do take life to live. It’s a spectrum and we are all involved in killing. As soon as you separate the people into violent and non-violent and carnivores and non-carnivores and you stand in one camp and point a finger at the other in a judgmental way – you’re creating more violence. I think there’s been a great deal of vegetarian evangelism, with a lot of holier-than-thou or more vegan-than-thou kid of stuff. And it’s created a backlash because no one wants to be made to feel guilty or ashamed.
I feel that it is less violent to eat plants and of course it’s healthier. It’s interesting that because you’re consuming less plants by eating plants than you would be if you were eating animals, you’re allowing more of the biomass of the planet to survive. The ecological impact of meat production is horrendous, and of course the impact of large-scale, agri-business dominated, petro-chemical based, pesticide- saturated vegetable and fruit growing is not pretty either, but it’s not as bad.
Rebecca: Say that I’m someone who is reasonably aware of the way factory farm animals are treated. I’m a good person in general and I maybe even do a little charity work here and there but I still eat meat. When I’m presented with this information I say, that all makes sense but there are so many inequities in the world. I have to worry about whether my furniture is made from rainforest wood and whether my phone company is funding political extremists – it’s justanother thing to think about and it’s just too much.
John: There are a lot of people like that. I think that they would like the limited amount of leverage they have to be used effectively for the greater good. And I think we have found an acupuncture point, where with a minimum amount of effort, you get a maximum amount of benefit to the whole system.
I think that such a person would find their own purpose strengthened and validated if they understood that the ramifications of their food choices are incredible – to the suffering of animals, to the biosphere, to our own health and ability to function gracefully. The good that can come from conscious food choices is profound and by the same token the evil, even unconscious evil, that can ensue from food choices is also dramatic.
You mentioned the rainforest. Every fast food hamburger that’s made from rainforest beef represents the destruction of 55 square feet of tropical rainforest. The person you’re describing would never go out and clear a rainforest, but they would eat a hamburger, and in effect, by the laws of economics, their hands are on the chainsaws at that moment.
So, I think that alerting people to the consequences of their choices enables them to make wiser choices, ones that are congruent with their desires and heart’s purpose.
Rebecca: I find it easy to understand why otherwise conscious people would rather remain in the dark about this stuff.
John: We want to push it away because it is so painful. But we can do something about it. I’ve seen that when people do face the pain and experience the woundedness of our culture in this regard, they experience a deeply human, clear, thoughtful response to it all that takes them to a greater experience of self. The pain itself can be the trigger for the clarity about who we are, what we will support and what we will not.
David: John Allen talked about how in Biosphere 2, the consequences of their actions were very profound and very fast. If they put toxins down their sink they would find it the next day in their drinking water. We apparently don’t see the consequences until way on down the line.
John: We are a near-sighted species, which was fine as long as our numbers were within a certain range. But now there are so many more of us and the impact of what we do is multiplied and then multiplied again by our technological advancement. We are definitely called by the urgency of the situation we’ve created to a leap in consciousness that is now a survival imperative.
Rebecca: For most people it’s only when their own lives are at risk that they are spurred to change.
John: Yes, they hit bottom and then get humble. Whether we as a species are going to make it is still a very open question.
Rebecca: I noticed all the cruelty-free products you have in your bathroom. In your book you don’t mention vivisection but I’d like to know your opinion on testing products on animals.
John: In general, I do not condone research on animals. We don’t condone research on people who aren’t conscious of the implications and show me the animal that has signed a release form. (laughter) It’s part of that mentality that exploits.
David: Let’s say that the sacrifice of several animals could save the lives of many humans.
John: I’m not a purist and, as I said, in general I don’t condone it. I think that 99% of the pharmaceutical research is unnecessary and in many cases, cruel. Whether that one per cent would be valid and would be something I could support remains to be seen.
Rebecca: Can you think of an instance where you would condone it?
John: I can theoretically, but practically speaking as 99% of it is appalling to me I say, let’s clean that up first and then we’ll talk about the other one per cent and see how that can be done in a way that minimizes the suffering to animals and maximizes the value and knowledge to other beings. The way that most animal experiments are conducted makes for very poor science. The cardinal case is thalidomide. Had we not been so reliant on and therefore so trusting of animal experimentation, we would have gone through far more careful human testing and realized the dangers sooner.
The two primary medicines for childhood leukemia come from the rosy periwinkle that grows in the Madagascan rainforest which is being destroyed. The rainforests are the richest and most elegant ecosystems on the planet. I think that not only are there the medicines of the future there but also the healing agents for our consciousness – and we’re just marching in for cheap hamburgers.
The disrespect we have for the indigenous cultures because they are, in material terms, more primitive than we are, is an arrogance that could cost us our lives and one of the most disgraceful and shameful expressions of our culture.
Rebecca: What are some of the general major health differences, evidenced by scientific research, between meat-eaters and vegetarians?
John: The differences are staggering. The average vegetarian lives seven and half years longer than the average meat-eater. But it’s not only the length of life, it’s the quality. The average meat-eater has a cardiovascular system that is slowly clogging up, the arteries are hardening and tightening, the blood pressure is rising and the circulation is impaired and therefore the flow of oxygen and nutrition to all the organs is being compromised so there is a reduction in the quality of life, of consciousness, of flexibility.
The leading cause of death in the United States is heart disease, the second is cancer. People who eat the standard American diet stand over a 50% chance of dying from hardening of the arteries, whereas vegetarians have a 15% chance of dying from such a condition and vegans less than 5%. When they do autopsies on people who’ve had heart attacks, they take out what had been stuck in the artery blocking the flow of blood to the heart.
It’s usually shaped like a sausage and it’s gummy and thick. When it’s studied they invariably find the same thing; saturated fat and cholesterol. No one has yet come back from the lab and said, broccoli and brown rice! One hundred per cent of the cholesterol we take into our bodies and seventy per cent of saturated fat comes from animal fats.
There was an interesting study conducted at Cornell. They started out analyzing the life-span of smokers and they calculated the amount of time that smokers smoked a day. They compared that to the decrease in life-span attributable to smoking and concluded that every minute a person smokes, it costs them, on average, seven or eight minutes of life.
Then they expanded the study to meat-eating and its mortality statistics, and they worked out how much time a meat-eater spends eating meat.(laughter)Anyway, their analysis was that every time a person eats meat they lose eleven minutes off their life-span.
Rebecca: What mistakes do vegetarians sometimes make in their food choices?
John: One mistake is to think that if you change your diet, you’re now exempt from the laws of living in other ways, as if vegetarianism alone cured everything. It’s such a powerful, maverick thing to do, that people sometimes think that that takes care of things. It’s a holier than thou mentality which means that people just stop