Recently I was at the conference of the National Ayurvedic Medical Association (NAMA) in Seattle. All the meals served were vegetarian, though most did not follow Ayurvedic principles (ahem...creamy tomato soup...?). There seems to be a bit of confusion over the consumption of meat in Ayurveda. Many believe it to be a standard principle. It is true that many Vaidyas (ayurvedic doctors) and practitioners are vegetarians due to their Hindu faith, following the precepts of Yoga, or modern medicine influenced ideas about health or concerns with environmental impact or the quality of meat supply or all of the above. There are no doubt plentiful reasons to follow a vegetarian diet.However, Ayurveda is not a vegetarian practice. Like neti pots, pranayama, and chakras-- vegetarianism is a concept that modern Ayurveda borrowed from Yoga or Hinduism. Ayurveda precedes Hinduism as we know it and traces it's roots into the Vedic world of 5000 years ago. Meat (and other animal products) were certainly eaten by those who could afford them, and are still used in Ayurvedic medicine and health-care. The qualities and uses of meat (everything from peacock to lion) are discussed in detail in the Samhitas.
In general meats are sweet by taste (earth and water element), energetically heating ,heavy (hard to digest) and oily (unctuous). Meat will reduce Vata, increase Kapha andPitta. Meat also increases shukra dhatu (reproductive vigor), increases strength, and increases urine (nope. can't explain that).
- Ideally the meat we eat lives in the wild, or as wild as can be managed these days (ranch raised).
- The best meats come from desert regions: goat, deer, rabbit, maybe ostrich. These meats are lean and dense-- indicating they are lighter to digest and yet very nourishing. As a fan of goats I will also say that they do not tolerate the kinds of chemicals, drugs, hormones that are found in other livestock. They just keel over and die rather than be polluted. So the goat you find in a Mexican or Halal market will be pretty healthy as a rule.
- Animals that spend their time in swamps or water will be heavy and quickly lead to obesity, diabetes, and other Kapha disorders.This category includes pork and water buffalo.
- Beef is heavy and when eaten by those with even slightly weak digestions will cause agni to be extinguished.
- Chickens are stupid, and eating them will make you stupid (OK this is actually my personal feeling). Their meat is aphrodisiac, heavy to digest, and will lead to obesity. I have also heard chicken is tamasic-- leading to darkness and lethargy in the mind.
For those of us with meat-eating ancestry, who grew up with meat on the table, eating meat is satmya (what we are nourished by). We will feel better if we have some occasionally and if we find ourselves in a sick or weakened state meat broth is often just the right thing to rebuild strength.But please consider these statistics: in 1970 the average American ate a total of 168 pounds per year of Beef, Chicken, Pork, & Turkey. This was when the move towards vegetarianism was first coming on the scene. In 2005 the average annual meat consumption per capita was 185 pounds. Lot of good that movement did in the face of Burger King.
We live on a world that can nary afford us to be wasteful of resources and meat production is immensely wasteful. Thank the gods that India is 80% vegetarian and China still thinks of meat more as a flavoring than anything else.
It is clear that being a responsible global citizen means we keep our meat consumption to a minimum. Hard core vegetarian politics have done nothing to slow the consumption of meat (the killing of animals for food) in the US. I feel another tactic would work better.
- Use meat in a way that respects your body and the lives of the animals that die for your nourishment.
- Use meat as a medicine when weak
- Have meat extra nourishment when doing a lot of physical work
- Add meat as a minor element in dishes to add flavor (salt pork yum!)
- Make meat a food for celebrations and special occasions, not everyday eating.