In the world of yoga and meditation, there’s one area where I always tread lightly. It comes up at parties and potlucks, restaurants and get-togethers. Sometimes I try to avoid it, but one way or another, it always makes itself known. When it’s time to order food or partake in a buffet, my dirty little secret comes out.

I eat meat.

This might not seem like a big deal to you, but when many of your friends and colleagues are vegetarian or vegan, the topic of meat eating can push a lot of people’s buttons. But I think the time has come for us meat-eating yogis and yoginis to speak up.

Here’s my story. I’m what I like to call a “minimal meat eater.” I eat meat a few times per month, usually on weekends. And when I do partake, I do my very best to ensure that the animal that I’m eating was ethically cared for. In other words, I want my chickens, cows, and pigs to have been fed healthy food and given a chance to live in a sustainable environment (i.e. free range / grass fed).

There are many reasons why people choose not to partake in meat, and I can’t begin to cover all of them here. I’m also not a politician, dietician, or animal rights activist, so my purpose isn’t to push my practices on anyone else.

The reason I’m sharing my meat eating tendencies is to shed light on the fact that, in my opinion, you don’t need to be vegetarian to be a yogi. And, in an effort to practice yogic principles such as compassion and acceptance, I think we can all do a better job of being more accepting of the various viewpoints on this topic.

My decision to be a minimal meat eater is based on a few things:

  • Personally, I think my body needs meat. An Ayurvedic doctor once asked if I was vegetarian. I said no, and he said thank god. He went on to explain that my doshic constitution (which was highly vata deranged at the time) needed meat to feel grounded. Many years later (now that I mostly have my vata derangement under control), I don’t crave meat as often. But when I do, I listen to my body and give it what I feel it needs. Nowadays, I mostly crave meat when I’m feeling ungrounded, and after my monthly cycle is complete.  My point here is to:

    Listen to your body and trust what it needs. @BethanyButzer (Click to Tweet!)

  • I realized that my body feels best when I eat meat between two to four times per month. This realization came from experimenting with a few different meat-eating models (including vegetarianism and veganism), and being honest about what works best for me (regardless of what other people think). Your body is your body – don’t let other people pressure you about how you should feed it!
  • Chicken and pork don’t do anything for me. There’s no ethical message behind this one. The simple fact is that I find chicken boring, and pork makes me feel gross! So when I do eat meat, it’s usually beef. And I like it.
  • I believe that all beings deserve to be treated ethically, and we need to be more aware of where our food is coming from. Think about buying meat at the grocery store. Many times, you don’t know where the meat came from, or how the animals were treated during their lives. In an effort to support the ethical treatment of animals, I do everything that I can to buy my meat from local farms. And before my fork and knife hit the plate, I say a silent thank-you to the animal for providing me with nourishment.
  • North Americans don’t need to eat meat as often as we do. It’s important to keep in mind that meat is an industry. So, in the same way that commercials try to convince you to buy a particular car or wear certain clothes, we are also being pressured to consume food that plays a role in our economy (i.e. agriculture and farming). However, research suggests that reducing our red meat consumption and increasing our intake of other sources of protein can lead to a longer life.

When I tell people that I’m a minimal meat eater, they usually pose a couple of questions, such as:

What about protein?

The number one question that people ask relates to where I get my protein. There are lots of other sources of protein out there besides meat! Think lentils, tempeh, fish, beans, nuts, and even kale. Check out this awesome infographic by Kris Carr about sources of plant-based protein.

One important nutrient that’s hard to get when you don’t eat a lot of meat is vitamin B12. My solution here is to supplement, and get my blood tested regularly to make sure my B12 levels are adequate. I currently take 1,000 mcg of B12 per day (in a tablet that dissolves under my tongue) and that seems to work just fine for me.

Where do you buy local meat when you live in a city?

Back when I lived in a smaller town, I was able to drive directly to a farm to pick up my meat myself. When I moved to Boston, I researched a few farms that are within one to two hours of the city, and realized that it would be challenging to drive out there regularly. However many of these farms sell their meat at farmer’s markets in the city, so that’s where I’m getting my meat these days. Trust me when I say that your view on eating meat changes radically when you actually have to visit the farm where the animals live. Once you’ve seen a “bad” farm, you will do everything in your power to find farmers who treat their livestock with compassion.

A note on price. Local, sustainably and ethically raised meat is usually more expensive than the meat that you find in the grocery store. However, I gladly pay $9 for a pound of ground beef when I know that the cow was treated well, and that I’m putting something wholesome into my body. Plus, think of it this way – when you only eat meat once or twice per week as opposed to every day, the higher cost of ethically raised meat balances itself out.

What if you live with a partner who eats meat?

My husband loves meat. He’s Eastern European, and basically grew up on ham and sauerkraut. However, I do most of the cooking in our household, and most of what I cook is vegetarian. This took him a bit of getting used to at first. However now that he’s experienced the benefits of eating meat a little less regularly, he doesn’t seem to miss it. Plus, if he wants to add meat to anything that I’m cooking, he’ll just fry up a chicken breast or some sausage on the side and add it to his portion. Easy!

Isn’t being a minimal meat eater just a cop-out?

Some hardcore vegetarians or vegans might think that I’m purposely sitting on the meat-eating fence, hanging out in the middle of the pro- and anti-meat debate so that I won’t have to take a stand on either side. This is similar to when people try to argue that you can’t be bisexual – you are either gay or straight. Personally, I think that meat eating, like sexuality, exists on a continuum. Your preferences and choices around meat can be fluid and flexible, shifting over time based on your body and your needs.

I don’t feel like I’m copping out. Instead, I believe that I’m choosing what’s right for me at this time. Who knows, perhaps someday I’ll feel the call to become completely vegan. But until that day, I’m definitely not going to say no to a perfectly grilled steak on the BBQ (especially when paired with a glass of red wine!).

What about you? Are you vegetarian, vegan, a minimal meat eater, or something else? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. is an author, speaker, researcher, and yoga teacher who helps people create a life they love. Check out her book, The Antidepressant Antidote, follow her on Facebook and Twitter, and join her whole-self health revolution.

If you’d like tips on how to create a life you love, plus some personal instruction from Bethany, check out her online course, Creating A Life You Love: Find Your Passion, Live Your Purpose and Create Financial Freedom.

Image courtesy of Prasanth Chandran.