Friday, January 5, 2007

The world's most famous flexitarian

It just occurred to me that the Dalai Lama is probably the world's most famous "flexitarian."

Throughout his long public life, people (or at least vegetarians) have tended to either assume that the presumptive buddha of compassion is vegetarian or to feel disappointed, confused or betrayed when they learn he isn't.

The DL did at least try to become vegetarian as a young man in the 1960s. But as I've written elsewhere, he "developed jaundice (hepatitis), and was ordered by his doctors to eat meat again. This is not known to be a complication of vegetarianism and may have been coincidental or the result of an unbalanced vegetarian diet: reportedly, the Dalai Lama had subsisted mostly on nuts and milk."

In the last few years, the Dalai Lama has sent signals that he's trying once again to go veg. In 2004, without using the "f word," he effectively came out as a flexitarian in a Reader's Digest interview. Here's how the Q & A went:
RD: Your assistant says you are half vegetarian. How can one be “half vegetarian?”

Dalai Lama: [Laughs.] In the early 1960s, I became a vegetarian, and for almost two years I remained a strict vegetarian. But then I developed hepatitis, and I returned to my previous diet; for a while it would be vegetarian one day, nonvegetarian the next.

My kitchen is now totally vegetarian. But that doesn’t mean I am completely vegetarian, for when I visit places, occasionally I take nonvegetarian…that seems to help reduce the size of my stomach.
The Dalai Lama's adoption of a semi-vegetarian or "flexitarian" diet has coincided with a growing vegetarian/vegan movement among Tibetans in exile and an equally gladdening tendency for the Dalai Lama to advocate vegetarianism to his followers, Tibetan and Western. But as with all of the Dalai Lama's moral teachings, there's a humble, patient and forgiving element of "flexibility" to it. If you can't/won't "go veg," go veg -- as often as you can.

Syd Baumel
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