PILGRIMAGE, SPIRITUALITY, AND FOOD

i have done many ‘pilgrimages’ over the last 15 years, although I am not in the least bit religious, or what they like to call ‘spiritual’, but I do like the challenge of a long distance walk. It challenges physically, psychollogically, and emotionally, although this is more to do with the sheer endurance of walking day after day, with no end in sight.

I am currently walking the camino Frances (Camino de Santiago) one last time, having done it 6 times before, as it is as good a challenge as any in the winter in the northern hemishphere, and cheap dormitory style accomodation in ‘albergues’ is plentiful.

There are not many people walking at the moment, with this considered the ‘off season’ for pilgrimages!

Most people like to do their pilgrimages when it gets a bit warmer! Although it is a lot warmer than the north of scotland where I spent Christmas and New Year.

Over the years I have met people from all over the world, all walking this famous long distance route for 7their own reasons. They all have their own stories to tell, their own life experiences, and are as individual as humans anywhere, despite their common purpose in walking – the bond that glues the camino tribe together.

Many people are walking this path for nothing more than the challenge, but there are many others whoare walking on pilgrimage to the tomb of St James the Apostle in Santiago de Compostela, but at the end of the day 99 percent of them tuck into their pilgrims menu of chicken, pork, fish, octopus,and devour more than their fair share of ham and cheese baguettes, for ‘susssttinence’…and ‘proteeeeiiiin!’, despite the fact that I am walking the same path and have to survive on a diet of olives, chips, patatas bravas, and the occasional pasta with tomato sauce.

You see, I am what people call ‘vegan’, a very dirty world in an industrial, animal based, food supply system, where the animal is seen as a neccessary but expendable source of what every believes they need – ‘protein’.

This is spain, where meat eating is a learned obsession, but also in every other country in the world.

I have to put up with insults every day, with people telling me that they have teeth for eating meat, (not like a lion’s that’s a meat eater!) or there’s more food for normal people, or I’m stupid, or I’m missing out on essential nutrients and minerals by not eating meat, fish, drinking milk, or eating cheese!

I tell them that I havent had any of these for over 17 years, and if I don’t need it and can walk thousands of miles neither do they!

I almost dread meal time coming up where I have to explain that I don’t eat animals, or any by-products, and then have to endure ridicule!

I say that it’s interesting to be ridiculed for trying to do the right thing, to create a better world, to avoid suffering, but no one pays any attention!

Every day I listen to people telling me about how they love nature, and animals and then stuffing their faces on animal flesh! They just don’t seem to make any connection to the grilled flesh they are eating and the beautiful animals in the field (or the sea).

Ignorance abounds!

And every day i become more disappointed in people who on the surface appear to be ‘good’ people!

I stopped eating animal products late in life, in 2002, but before that, I was like all these other pilgrims, and didn’t think about what I was doing. I dutifully consumed kilos of chicken, beef, salmon, pork, etc, all because it was just a program I was running. My parents ate meat, they served me meat, and I ate it.

It was only through a flash of insight through being in love with a vegetarian that I made the connection to the living animal, enslaved at birth, and groomed for murder!

I suddenly saw their final moments on this earth, filled with fear, ony to be horrifically murdered and then parts of their body displayed in shop windows, on shelves wrapped in plastic, or even worse, contained in a tank alive with their claws bound, ready for the next ‘customer’ to select them as their ‘dish of the day’!

Every time I see people doing this I feel a mix of sadness and intense anger, thinking why can’t these idiots see what they’re doing and change… but they don’t.

There again, I am in a minority! And like all minorities, are seen as a complainer, and out to cause trouble!

But let’s get back to these lovely pilgrims, especially those who believe in god, or who are doing the pilgrimage as a way to uncover hidden depths in themselves…For them, the pilgrimage is all about themselves, and nothing will get in their way, especially the need to satiate their hunger for flesh!

On the path to enlightenment or deeper knowledge, there are several steps which the human must take, two of which are the development of empathy and compassion, and letting go of the ‘self’ and desire.

EMPATHY DEFINITION

“The ability to identify with or understand another’s situation or feeling”

COMPASSION DEFINITION

Deep awareness of the suffering of another accompanied by the wish to relieve it.

DESIRE DEFINITION

To wish or long for; want.

SELF DEFINITION

One’s consciousness of one’s own being or identity; the ego.

HYPOCRISY DEFINITION

The act or practice of a hypocrite; a feigning to be what one is not, or to feel what one does not feel; a dissimulation, or a concealment of one’s real character, disposition, or motives; especially, the assuming of false appearance of virtue or religion; a simulation of goodness.


It’s funny, but most people find me easy to get along with, humorous, and a helpful person, but as soon as I tell them that I am vegan, the hackles on their back go up (like my dog hari!), they close down,they become defensive, they construct arguments for meat eating instantaneously , and then begin to view me suspiciously, as if I am going to attempt to enrol them in a cult! How very bizarre!

Five minutes ago they were ultra friendly, now I am some kind of pariah!

People don’t like to be challenged, or to made feel like they are doing something wrong, and I can understand that, but what I can’t understand is people who are on a deep and meaningful personal journey, which entails much suffering, to not understand that they themsleves are contributing to the suffering of others, especially ‘god’s creatures’, (for those who are religious) who have as much right to live their lives, free from fear, to experience the wonder of existence, on this beautiful earth.

There is so much violence amongst the human species, that you would think that people on a ‘spiritual’ journey, could make the connection that being alive is the most incredible opportunity to do something good for yourslef, your neighbour, and the species you share this amazing planet with, spinning somewhere in space.

And to the people serving the animal flesh, for money, maybe now is the time to embark on your own spiritual journey, and create empathy and compassion with all that exists…

But I’m sure my voice will not be heard. So i will continue to be saddened and disapointed with 99 percent of the human species until my life comes to an end. What a pity…

Alan

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