Mindful Consumption Can Save Mother Earth

Thich Nhat Hanh at Blue Cliff MonasteryIn 1985, I heard Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, “If the West stops drinking alcohol by 50%, there would be enough food to feed the world.”

I never was a big drinker, and this statement made sense to me. After his lecture, I no longer shared wine of beer with my 49er or tennis buddies. I no longer had wine with friends at restaurants.

At first, they thought this was weird. When they asked me about it, I would repeat Thay’s words, and express my own true feelings about them.

Later, I learned about the fifth mindfulness training, mindful consumption. This training states,

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I am committed to cultivate good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming. I am committed to ingest only items that preserve peace, well-being, and joy in my body, in my consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family and society. I am determined not to use alcohol or any other intoxicant or to ingest foods or other items that contain toxins, such as certain TV programs, magazines, books, films, and conversations. I am aware that to damage my body or my consciousness with these poisons is to betray my ancestors, my parents, my society, and future generations. I will work to transform violence, fear, anger, and confusion in myself and in society by practicing a diet for myself and for society. I understand that a proper diet is crucial for self-transformation and for the transformation of society.

Mindful consumption has been a major supporting practice for me and it is a major theme of Meditation Practices since the beginning.

Recently, I learned of a letter that Thay wrote to the monks, nuns, and lay people in his community.

In this letter, he wrote about how mindful consumption can save Mother Earth: global warming, land degradation, climate change, water supply, and vegetarianism.

He reported,

UNESCO reported that each day about 40,000 children die because of hunger or lack of nutrition.  Meanwhile, corn and wheat are largely grown to feed livestock (cows, pigs, chickens, etc.) or to produce alcohol.  Over 80 percent of corn and over 95 percent of oats produced in the United States are for feeding livestock.  The world’s cattle alone consume a quantity of food equivalent to the caloric needs of 8.7 billion people, more than the entire human population on earth…

In 2005, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) began an in-depth assessment of the various significant impacts of the world’s livestock sector on the environment.  Its report, titled Livestock’s Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options, was released on November 29th 2006.  Henning Steinfeld, chief of FAO’s Livestock Information and Policy Branch and senior of the report, in the executive summary, asserts that: “The livestock sector emerges as one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global.  The findings of this report suggest that it should be a major policy when dealing with problems of land degradation, climate change, air pollution, water shortage, water pollution and loss of biodiversity.  Livestock’s contribution to environmental problems is on a massive scale and its potential contribution to their solution is equally large.  The impact is so significant that it needs to be addressed with urgency.” [Read more…]

He tied this data into his comments about the other topics.

About land degradation, he wrote that “Presently, livestock production accounts for 70 percent of all agriculture land and 30 percent of the land surface of the planet.”

The livestock sector also has a major impact on the atmosphere and climate change as well as on water scarcity and water pollution. For example, “More than half of all the water consumed in the U.S. is used to raise animals for food.  It requires 2,500 gallons of water to produce a pound of meat. Meanwhile, it takes only 25 gallons of water to produce a pound of grain.”

The United Nations recommends “The environment impact per unit of livestock production must be cut by half, just to avoid increasing the level of damage beyond its present level.”

Thay recommends that we avoid alcohol and eat a vegan diet. Even vegetarian diets which allow for milk, milk products, and eggs require outrageous amounts of grazing lands to produce, so a vegan diet is preferred.

To do all of this requires a lot of work and cooperation. The livestock producers, fast food restaurants, and other political interests will certainly try to stop any global efforts we make.

We have to take on a little bit of it at a time. We can do this by reducing our consumption of alcohol to celebrations and perhaps once a weekend. We can reduce our meat consumption to maybe once a week or twice a month.

Most effectively, we can spread the word about how mindful consumption can save Mother Earth and our children’s children. Each of us can do a small part to practice the fifth mindfulness training.

If you don’t think you can have an impact on the well being of Mother Earth, please take a while to read the whole letter. Think about it for a while and plan a small step that you feel comfortable doing. Then, please share what you plan to do.

I am extremely interested in your feelings and thoughts about these matters.

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