Veganism, Plant Sentience and the Sacredness of Life
I read somewhere recently about reasons to become a vegan. The reason that stood out for me, “Plants are not sentient.” This brought all kinds of emotion for me, and started me thinking and thinking about the debate about eating animals.
I started to investigate and research the meaning of sentience and found out all kinds of interesting things.
First, I offer a bit of background on my perspective on plants and what I am teaching in my shamanic herbalism programs. I have been practicing and teaching shamanic herbalism for almost twenty years. I am connected with a spirit teacher who shares an ancient shamanic herbal perspective from the British Isles. Very very old teaching. In this perspective, the plants are the wisdom teachers. They are in our ordinary reality and in a reality of expanded consciousness as well.
Before I began my apprenticeship with this teacher, I had some intense experiences with the plants where they spoke to me and gave me songs. The first experience was while I was still a school teacher and the second was just after I had completed an apprenticeship with Susun Weed. These experiences were life changing for me and because it was early on in my path as a shamanic herbalist, I was a little discombobulated by what I was experiencing.
When I met my teacher and she began to teach me about this ancient healing tradition of the plants, I started to see more fully what I had experienced back then. With her guidance, trees spoke wisdom, small blades of grass offered reverence, roses taught everything. The earth became a place of magic and wonder for me and I was nourished completely by it.
One of the definitions of sentience is that it is a being possessing consciousness. Another definition is that it is a living being subject to illusion, suffering and rebirth. (A buddhist definition) My experience with plants is that they possess expanded consciousness and that they have the ability to transcend illusion and suffering. So perhaps they are not sentient but enlightened beings.
This is all in relationship to an Eastern perspective in which I am not strongly versed. What I do know is that plant consciousness is unique and vast. What I have experienced is that plants are teachers. They can see what is within us and mirror that. They can offer wisdom for us through a variety of channels.
So then back to this idea of veganism. That we should not eat meat, kill animals for food because it is cruel. And that it is okay to eat plants, kill plants for food and one might extrapolate, be cruel to plants because they don’t feel anything or know what is happening to them.
Here is my experience with food related to all of this.
Animals are protectors and companions, they are beautiful creatures and deserve to be treated with utmost respect. The food industry’s treatment of animals has been horrible at times. And then there are the people that care for and love their animals and give death to them and eat them. All done compassionately.
Plants are wisdom teachers. They nourish and they heal. Plants are compassionate beyond what I have ever experienced with any other beings. Plants have been treated horribly by the food industry. They are grown in large monocrops, they are ripped from the earth, they are sprayed and killed with poisons. And there are those that grow and care for plants with love and blessing.
I know it is so much more complex than I describe. But I feel a simple look at food and what we are eating from a consciousness perspective doesn’t require a great deal of intellectual and political rhetoric.
When we eat animals, we give death. When we dig a plant up by the roots, we give death. The more connected we are with the life of our food, the more life force and energy it will provide. When you have given death to an animal that you love and eat it, it is an intimacy that allows the animal to become a part of you. It is the same with plants. When you cut a few kale leaves off the plant and cook them and eat them, the ones you grew and tended from seeds, when you have communicated with this kale and you know what it has for you, well, all I can say is that you become one with these beings and there is no longer a separation of harm.
I have some beautiful dandelions in my garden and I will harvest the roots this fall for vinegar and tincture. I will talk to them and receive wisdom from them and I will ask their permission to gather so I know which ones are for me. And I will offer gratitude for their nourishment. We have done the same with our goats.
There is beauty in eating food from the land. There is no separation between the animals and plants and us.
When we eat like this we begin to see the sacredness of all of life. And the food of which we partake completely nourishes us.
May it be in Beauty.