My newest obsession? Catching up on the hilarious and surprisingly moving reality series, "Meerkat Manor", which has had several seasons so far on Animal Planet (spanning 2006 to 2008).
In case you haven't heard of this show, I found a really wonderful description of it, found on pazsaz.com:
"Meerkat Manor premiered on Animal Planet on June 9, 2006. With all the love, squabbling, self-sacrifice and rivalry found in any family, a group of meerkats struggles to survive in Africa's Kalahari Desert. Don't let their cuddly appearance fool you though - there's a good reason these meerkat families are called a "mob." Meerkat Manor was filmed with the assistance of Cambridge University, which is conducting a 10-year study on meerkats. From family quarrels to love affairs to backstabbing worthy of a Shakespearean tale, these fuzzy reality TV stars pack a huge dramatic punch."
As a vegan, I have completely opened myself up to the hearts, minds, and bodies of the creatures on this Earth. I have tried to tread lightly and with a compassionate hand as I make daily choices, whether it's what to do with the tiny ant I find on my bathroom floor, or what I have for lunch. Animals have become as important to me as the people who inhabit this world of ours, and I am a better human for it.
So, how does my vegan lifestyle connect to a reality show about meerkats? Well, for one thing, watching these little furry beings has shown me that animals are not unlike their human counterparts.
1) Need each other for companionship and protection (so much so, that without a group to live amongst, a meerkat's chances of survival are slim),
2) Care for each other through grooming and snuggling,
3) Occasionally will feel betrayed by a loved one,
4) Have egos,
5) Live according to a social hierarchy, with a dominant female and/or male at the head of the family,
6) Nurse their babies,
7) Get jealous,
8) Babysit each other's children,
and the list goes on...
and the list goes on...
The funny part about all of this is that meerkats are no different than cows in their protective and nurturing qualities. The biggest difference between the two animals? Meerkats eat mainly bugs for survival, whereas cows are natural vegans.
I've been reading a wonderful book called Yoga and Vegetarianism by Sharon Gannon, and in it, she writes:
"Some meat eaters defend their choice by saying that it is natural, because animals eat one another in the wild. When people bring this up as a rationale for eating meat, I remind them that the animals that end up on our plates aren't those who eat one another in the wild. The animals we exploit for food are not the lions, tigers, and bears of the world. We eat the gentle ones - vegan animals who, if given the choice, would never eat the flesh of other animals, although they are forced to so on today's farms when they are fed "enriched feed" containing rendered animal parts."
Watching meerkats in action has taught me that it is a silly and sad notion to assume that animals have any less intelligence than humans, simply because they don't speak our language. As Alicia Silverstone discussed in The Kind Diet, every single animal on Earth is needed to keep our world healthy and whole - right down to the worms who enrich the soil.
So, today, if you are still finding animals or their by-products on your dinner plate, try to think for a moment about that animal. Whether it's a small prayer for the animal who gave its service and/or life to be a part of your meal, or a moment of awareness, I encourage you to devote some time to recognizing the connection between your meal and the animal who existed before it.
And I will leave you with this last little offering from Sharon Gannon (also taken from Yoga and Vegetarianism):
"You can only abuse and exploit others if you feel disconnected from them and have no idea about the potency inherent in your own actions. If you feel connected, you know that it's you, as well as other living things, who will suffer from the suffering you inflict... Don't wait for a better world. Start now to create a world of harmony and peace. It is up to you, and it always has been! You may even find the solution at the end of your fork."