One of the basic principles in understanding longevity is that the higher we are eating on the food chain, the more concentrated the toxins are in the foods we are eating. Cows, pigs, chickens, and farmed fish, for example, are eating corn, soy, alfalfa, and other grains that absorb environmental toxins, especially if they’re not organic. Additionally, their feed is often enriched with fishmeal, chicken litter, slaughterhouse waste, and other substances that concentrate toxins, and that industry has found profitable to use, promoting weight gain and milk production. The result is that with animal foods, we are consuming PCBs, dioxins, heavy metals, nuclear radiation, pesticides, herbicides, and a wide range of injected drug and hormone residues. These physical toxins tend to increase rates of cancer and weaken our immune system, reducing longevity. There are also naturally occurring toxins in animal foods, such as the primary protein in milk, casein, which we are not designed to digest, as well as other animal proteins that tend to be inflammatory and to acidify our blood and tissues. These substances, along with saturated animal fat, hormones, heterocyclic amines, and other naturally occurring substances increase risk for heart disease, strokes, diverticulitis, kidney and liver disease, obesity, autoimmune disease, arthritis, and other conditions that reduce health and longevity.
However, beyond these physical toxins that accumulate in animal-sourced foods, there are what we can refer to as metaphysical toxins that we may not be aware of. The animals who provide the flesh, dairy products, and eggs we are typically pressured into eating from infancy are confined, mutilated, abused, and killed in ways that lead to our consuming metaphysical toxins. I have heard the plaintive wails of despondent dairy cows whose calves are stolen from them at birth, and the squeals of pain and terror as pigs are sent to slaughter. In purchasing animal foods, we are both causing and consuming acute fear, despair, pain, sadness, and frustration. What is the result of building our bodies with these hormonal and vibrational realities? Further, all the cows, pigs, chickens, and other animals we use for food are killed at a small fraction of their natural life spans, when they are mere infants or children in human terms. What is the result of killing billions of animals for food when they are only infants? Destroying the longevity and health of others, do we destroy our own health and longevity?
We can see the answer to this in the decreasing longevity rates in the U.S., and in the vast profits accruing to the medical-pharmaceutical industry, which sells billions of dollars of drugs annually in three main markets: 1) for animals who are imprisoned for food; 2) for people who eat foods derived from these animals and consequently need medications for cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and other resulting conditions, and 3) the largest market of all, for people who are prescribed medications for mental conditions such as insomnia, depression, anxiety, panic, and dementia, and who, significantly, are typically buying and eating animal foods, causing insomnia, depression, anxiety, and panic in the animals whose flesh and secretions they are eating. The ancient wisdom holds true eternally: as we sow, we reap.
Longevity is not only about the quantity of years we live; it is also about the quality of our lives as well. As a composer and pianist, I have spent quite a bit of time over the years offering concerts to elderly people confined to nursing homes, and have thus been able to witness some of the effects of our food and medical systems. Many of us who in our later years are committed to these institutions are drugged into states where we exhibit little awareness and our capacities and functionality are tragically minimized. We may live for years in these facilities doing little more than watching television and staring blankly. These painful years add little to meaningful longevity, yet cows, pigs, chickens, and fishes continue to be killed to keep us alive, and as a culture, we fail to see how our abuse of these animals boomerangs and affects us all.
Looking more deeply into longevity, we are called also to address the bigger picture, and the purpose of our lives on this Earth. Why are we here, actually? If we live longer, what are we doing with the additional years? How are we contributing to our deeper purpose, and to the purpose of humanity? What role does our lifetime here have in the larger journey of our being as an expression of eternal consciousness?
No matter how we look at it, whether we live to be 60, or 80, or even, say, 110 years, which seems remarkably long to us, we will inevitably find ourselves at that moment when we leave our bodies, and this moment is unpredictable. The mere handful of decades we have here on our earthly adventure, relatively brief and precious as it is, opens ineluctably to a new experience after death that is strongly influenced by how we live our life here.
We are not merely physical objects, pieces of living meat with a brain and biological drives. This delusion of materialism is perpetuated by our animal-enslaving culture, which is based on eating animals and relentlessly reducing beings to things.
Despite the reductionist narrative of our culture, we are all manifestations of infinite and eternal consciousness. Though what we are can never, essentially, be born or die, our human life is significant, because we have the opportunity to learn, grow, express, and contribute as part of a boundless unity of being.
By questioning the official stories of our culture that promote violence and disease, and pursuing our lives as questing adventures of awakening joy, love, freedom, and respect for all expressions of life, we connect with our spiritual health and longevity, which is rooted in the timeless awareness that is the core of our true nature. By living this lifetime in alignment with vegan values, endeavoring to bless others and allowing them to fulfill their purposes, we sow seeds not just for physical health and longevity, but also for metaphysical health and longevity as well.
Our journey is far more vast than we can fathom, especially within the context of our cultural conditioning. The seeds we sow will produce after their kind, with consequences that reverberate throughout the entire web of creation, far beyond what we’re aware of here. The quality of these reverberations determines the quality of our lives not just as physical beings here on Earth, but as expressions of eternal consciousness in the far bigger picture into which our lives here unfold. This is the most significant longevity, and one through which the compassion of vegan living brings benefits to all of us, both here on this Earth, and also into our unfolding journey beyond the veils of this lifetime.
Will Tuttle, Ph.D, author of the international best-seller, The World Peace Diet, is a pianist, composer, Dharma Master in the Zen tradition, recipient of the Courage of Conscience Award and Empty Cages Prize, and vegan since 1980.