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Ethical Eating

"Most of us are far removed from the fields where our food is grown. Separating us from our food... is a vast globalized distribution system controlled by multi-national corporations...." (from "One Man, One Cow, One Planet - How to Save the World") What does yoga tell us about how to eat or what we should eat? Going back to the Yamas of the Yoga Sutras, the first yama, "Ahimsa" says we must practice non-violence, but what does that mean? Many yogis interpret this to mean we must be vegetarian, or vegan, so that we do not kill any animals (although we sometimes also kill plants in order to eat them.) Some suggest we should only eat fruit-bearing plants so that we do not kill even plants, and only eat that which they give freely. I have also read interpretations by yogis that say the principle of ahimsa must first be applied to ourselves and we cannot do violence unto ourselves. Some people may need to eat meat to be healthy. Ultimately, we should not do violence to the Earth that sustains and provides for us in order to eat. Some ethical guidelines we can all follow include: reducing our consumption of meat (if we choose to eat it), knowing where both our meat and our produce come from, and if at all possible, being involved in the process. Along with Industrialization, we came to accept (over time) the industrialization of our agriculture - large farms producing mass quantities of food - often in inhumane and unsafe conditions. Not just for animals, but also for our soil, water and air. Some of us no longer cook our own food, but buy pre-prepared meals or eat out at restaurants and fast food chains. Most of us buy our food from grocery stores where we never see the process of the food actually being grown, and, even if we are shopping at Whole Foods, the food is often shipped from far away, packaged and out of season. Across the world Big Agribusiness, like Monsanto, are genetically engineering seed and forcing farmers to buy their seed, promising large yields and insect-resistant crops - but they are more importantly trying to control the market by forcing these farmers to buy seed from them that is trademarked. This is causing some farmers to go bankrupt and others to commit suicide, and it is also destroying our food supply. (Check out this article by Vandana Shiva, Indian scholar and environmental activist: ) Most of us barely pay attention to what is going on in the world of Agribusiness because we are too busy in our daily lives, or we just don't care. Once we have accepted these things, it's hard to go back and reconnect with the Earth and to a more harmonious way of doing things. I had the good fortune to experience healthy eating from food I raised myself at a young age, and I even got to work on an organic farm after college. When I got married I gave my (then) husband 2 books: "The Good Life" by Helen and Scott Nearing and "5 Acres and Independence" by M.G. Kains. I had hopes that we would grow our own food. Unfortunately our marriage ended, along with my dreams of having the space to farm. However, last weekend, I got to visit 2 farms in Maryland that I've been wanting to visit for a long time. The first, Habanera Farm, is an organic herb farm in Tyaskin, run by 2 women: Chris Himmel, an ordained minister and spiritual wellness consultant and Henriette den Ouden, herb grower and clinical herbalist with an M.S. in Herbal Medicine. Habanera hosted an open house at their farm, including a tour of the various medicinal plants they grow on the farm, and plants and herbal teas for sale. Afterwards, I went over to Sharon Carson's Natural Gardens, a Biodynamic farm in Delmar, MD where I stayed overnight in a cabin on the farm. It was late afternoon when we arrived and she gave me a tour of the farm. We let the horses out to pasture, she showed me the bunnies she raises for food, we checked for eggs from her chickens, and she shared stories about the fruit trees, vegetables and herbs growing on her farm. I also got to meet Freda - guardian of the property. After the tour, I helped weed a plot under her cherry tree to clear the way for them to be harvested and we fed the bunnies. The next morning we got up early to prepare for her Biodynamic Celebration and spraying of the farm (watch video of this on her website, listed below, for more information on this process). Our friend, Valerie joined us and the 3 of us did the ceremonial stirring of the first preparation, and sprayed it on her 5 acres. Then we picked fresh black raspberries from the farm and sat down to eat a breakfast of homemade granola, organic yogurt, fresh berries and Sharon's healthy cookies made from nuts and dried fruits. Later in the day, Sharon and I picked greens from her garden as well as wild greens like dandelion, sorrel and purslane, and I made a salad for company in the afternoon. We were joined by several others, including 2 of Sharon's children, Henriette and Chris from Habanera Farm and several other friends for the second stirring. Everyone brought food and there was a delicious feast of homegrown, home cooked food after the second spraying. It was a joyous weekend for me - being out in nature and working to help make fresh, wholesome food - not chemically treated. There is truly nothing more nourishing to the body and soul then seeing where your food comes from and helping to prepare it in community. So how can we eat ethically? Grow food in your backyard if you have one. Save non-GMO seeds. Know your local farmer. If you do eat meat, support small farmers who raise animals humanely. Visit the farm to know that their animals are treated fairly and they aren't using chemicals on plants. Volunteer or barter services if you are able. Learn about the native plants that grow around you in your local area, and you will have a whole new respect for Mother Earth. She provided us with everything we needed before we lost our connection and forgot about wild plant food and medicine - before we didn't have time to prepare meals anymore, and we accepted mass produced food sold in plastic containers and metal cans. Those who are poor and live in cities are often completely dependent on whatever they can get to eat from a grocery store (often times they have to travel far on foot or by bus just to get to a store). Another thing we can do in our inner cities is create community gardens from abandoned plots (which many folks are already doing), and invite the surrounding community to participate in growing and harvesting food. Most of us have at one time or another in our lives bought whatever was convenient when we have been under difficult or stressful circumstances. We have to eat to live and we sometimes don't have or make good choices. I've certainly been there. I've bought the cheapest canned food I could find when I've been desperate. However, after eating that food for awhile, and then tasting homemade fresh food, you realize the huge difference in taste and in your own health. Here's to your good health! Namaste.

For more about Habanera Farm, Chris and Henriette, visit: For more about Sharon's Natural Gardens visit:

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