It can be hard to be vegan. Not because I want to eat meat or dairy, but because it can be hard socially. It is intimidating to go against the status quo.
Foremost, there is the societal pressure that we need to eat animal products. USDA dietary guidelines advise that we need meat and dairy to thrive and be healthy. My children are taught in school that healthy nutrition includes meat and dairy.
I remember before the pandemic, my daughter brought home a food pyramid she made at school. It had pictures of a Thanksgiving turkey, fish, yogurt and a glass of milk. I explained to my daughter we should revise the pyramid to reflect our beliefs and lifestyle. We removed the pictures of the animal products and replaced them with pictures of plant-based sources of protein, calcium and iron.
Secondly, vegans are often ostracized for their beliefs. A few months ago, my cousin sent me an article discussing why society “loathes” vegans. I have seen friends post on social media memes criticizing or mocking vegans. I have been invited to dinner and told that I am not “normal” and that I need therapy for my vegan beliefs. Food is often what brings people together; unless you are vegan.
My religion, however, provides me with support and strength in my personal decision to be vegan.
Baha’is are not forbidden from eating meat or animal products. Most Baha’is are not vegan or vegetarian. I recently wrote an article about raising my Baha’i children as vegan, and it triggered a few Bahais who pointed out that the Baha’i Faith does not forbid eating meat. This is true. I never said it does.
But the Baha’i teachings do provide guidance on eating meat from a scientific and ethical approach that align with my vegan beliefs.
The Baha’i Writings and the Scientific Approach
One of the tenets of the Baha’i Faith is the harmony of science and religion. Examining our teeth and anatomy, the Baha’i teachings explain that the food of humanity is not meat, though it may be eaten if required:
The food of man is cereals and fruit. Some of the teeth of man are like millstones to grind the grain, and some are sharp to cut the fruit. Therefore he 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– Abdul-Baha, Lights of Guidance, page 296
[T]he teeth of man are not carnivorous. . . The human teeth, the molars, are formed to grind grain. The front teeth, the incisors, are for fruits, etc. It is, therefore, quite apparent according to the implements for eating that man’s food is intended to be grain and not meat.– Abdul-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, page 170
All the teeth of man are made for eating fruit, cereals and vegetables. These four [canine] teeth are designed for breaking hard shells, such as those of almonds. But 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.– Abdul-Baha, Lights of Guidance, page 296
This guidance in the Baha’i Writings provides me with perspective and confidence as I follow a vegan lifestyle and raise my children vegan despite societal pressure, food pyramids, and USDA dietary guidelines. I am healthy. My children and I do not have “weak” constitutions. I know my children can grow without eating meat, and I have seen them thrive on a plant-based diet.
The Baha’i Writings and the Compassionate Approach
Moreover, the Baha’i teachings explain that it is “better,” “more pleasing” and “preferable” to avoid killing animals if possible.
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.– Abdul-Baha, Lights of Guidance, page 296
[I]f man can live on a purely vegetarian diet and thus avoid killing animals, it would be much preferable.– Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, page 297
As a vegan, I try to avoid the unnecessary killing of animals and the exploitation of animals to the greatest extent possible and practicable. I teach my children that animals are sentient beings, capable of pain and suffering. In fact, the Baha’i teachings discuss the capacity of animals to suffer and encourage us to be kind to animals:
It is not only their fellow human beings that the beloved of God must treat with mercy and compassion, rather must they show forth the utmost loving-kindness to every living creature. For in all physical respects, and where the animal spirit is concerned, the selfsame feelings are shared by animal and man. Man hath not grasped this truth, however, and he believeth that physical sensations are confined to human beings, wherefore is he unjust to the animals, and cruel. And yet in truth, what difference is there when it cometh to physical sensations? The feelings are one and the same, whether ye inflict pain on man or on beast. There is no difference here whatever . . . It is essential that ye show forth the utmost consideration to the animal, and that ye be even kinder to him than to your fellow man.– Abdul-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdul-Baha, page 158
The Baha’i teachings encourage us to train “children from their earliest days to be infinitely tender and loving to animals.”
As I strive to teach my children kindness and compassion to animals, I also seek to live a lifestyle that aligns with those ideals from the food we eat to the products we use and the entertainment we enjoy.
The Food of the Future
Lastly, the Baha’i Writings explain that the food of the future will be plants.
When mankind is more fully developed, the eating of meat will gradually cease.– Abdul-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, page 171
The time will come when meat will no longer be eaten. Medical science is only in its infancy, yet it has shown that our natural diet is that which grows out of the ground. The people will gradually develop up to the condition of this natural food.– Abdul-Baha, Lights of Guidance, page 296
Could it be that we are reaching that “time” discussed by Abdul-Baha over 100 years ago? Medical science is beginning to understand the correlation between meat and dairy and chronic diseases. We are facing a climate emergency. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change cautions that eating animals is a factor in the climate crisis and encourages a transition to eating more of a plant-based diet.
I recognize that access to fresh fruit, vegetables, legumes and grains can be limited in certain parts of the world or for certain impoverished communities. However, for most people, a plant-based diet is accessible. Plant-based alternatives such as tofu, tempeh, and plant-based milks are becoming more widely available.
Food is also political, and we need more effort by country leaders and governments to make plant-based foods more accessible and affordable; rather than using tax dollars to subsidize the meat and dairy industries.
Ultimately, my decision to be a vegan was a personal decision. Baha’is are not prohibited from consuming animal products. The Baha’i Writings, however, do give me strength and courage in my decision to be vegan.
This blog post is in memory of my sweet dog Kula. She passed away one week ago, just one month before her 10th birthday. She brought so much love and joy to my life. She was my fur baby. She changed my perspective of animals. She inspired my vegan beliefs. Her life changed my life and saved some animal lives. She will always stay in my heart.