One of the most important beliefs that Pagans hold is that life is cyclical. We are born, we live, we die, and are re-born. Death is not escapable. No one gets out of here alive. Mortality is part of existence, but all things return. Relationship is another aspect that defines Pagan attitudes about food. For Pagans, deity is immanent in the world. Every rock, every tree, everything that moves and breathes is sacred. Including what we eat. It is very common for Pagans to feel a deep kinship with both animals and plants. This creates an ethical dilemma that conflicts with the natural cycles of life and death, and is not easy to solve. How does one eat one’s brother? Industrial farming is repugnant to anyone who takes the time to look. But even more so to a Pagan who claims kinship to all living things.
Veganism –the practice of eating no animal products at all - has been one solution to the relationship problem, although, as with the general population, vegetarianism – not eating animal flesh, but consuming dairy and eggs - is more common. For physiological reasons, veganism is extremely difficult to maintain, and generally requires far more asceticism than is generally acceptable in Paganism. Vegan Pagans don’t get much sympathy in a religion where enjoying one’s food can include exclaiming over bacon and groaning over a chocolate confection. Although most Pagans still eat a standard American diet, vegetarianism is common. I have yet to go to a Pagan event that did not have some sort of vegetarian option for food.
Another aspect that defines Paganism is the sacred earth. Modern Paganism was deeply influenced by the environmental movement, and as a religion based on the seasonal cycles of nature, we honor the health of the planet. Sadly, modern methods of meat production are bad for every living being directly involved with, or anywhere near the process. A great deal has been written about these issues and it is not my intent to re-cap them here. Nor is it my intent to convince anyone to be a vegetarian. Our ancestors ate meat, and every culture seeks access to more if they do not have a ready supply. This is not a failing, it is part of being human.