Sunday, September 27, 2009

Psychedelics and Nutrition: Carnivorous Cultures vs. Fungal Cultures

One of the positive side effects of psychedelics is their ability to improve one's nutritional habits. Albert Hofmann relates in his book LSD: My Problem Child how extraordinarily his sense of taste was enhanced after his first LSD trip. The experience of great excitement one gets when biting into carrots or lettuce after a psychedelic experience -- sensing their rich sweetness -- is tantamount, for me, to eating for the first time after six days of fasting. Suddenly, each fruit and vegetable regains its original heavenly taste, as though we are experiencing, for the first time, the real taste of food.

Psychedelic Eating
Psychedelic experiences tend to change our relation to food in many other ways. Ayurveda and other spiritual traditions recommend performing a ceremony prior to eating: contemplating the source of your food, and conveying thanks for having given its life so that you can live.

Ayurveda also teaches us to dedicate our full attention to the food we are eating, in a manner befitting the act of sacrifice, while receiving the life of the food: not to talk while eating, not to watch television or read the newspaper, to eat in meditation, in concentration. Mindless eating is a sort of barbarism, like mindless murder.

Psychedelic experiences tend to change our relation to eating in a way parallel to that recommended by a number of spiritual traditions. Devouring food during a psychedelic experience, or shortly thereafter, bestows wholly new dimensions on the act of eating. I remember a special moment when, before consuming a grapefruit, I saw its glowing vivaciousness for the first time. I held it for minutes, which seemed like eternity: fondling it, inhaling its rich scent, feeling it alive and pulsating in my hand. I remember the moment of peeling its skin, which reminded me of defloration -- only much enhanced since our intercourse was totally unique and would happen only once, and end with our complete and irrevocable unification. The red flesh of the grapefruit was exposed for the first time to the light, and while I stripped away its skin, I intently watched its composition -- tens of thousands of miniature succulent fruit pieces interlaced into what seemed like a huge crimson wing, composed of myriad translucent membranes.

That feeling of endless intimacy that I shared with that grapefruit is difficult to describe. I felt as though it was the first time in my life that I was actually seeing what I was putting into my mouth, and this tremendously enhanced the experience of eating.

I ate together with friends, and the act of sharing the food reminded me of the act of grokking, which Robert A. Heinlein so famously describes in his book, Stranger in a Strange Land. I was not only eating the food, I was becoming one with it. The concept of eating finally received its full meaning -- as a mystical ceremony, an act of uniting, a sacred deed accompanied by the categorical imperative to completely change and give full respect to the food that I eat.

Pyschedelic Nutrition

I do not mean to claim that every person who will use psychedelics will change his nutrition. Of course, you can use psychedelics and still eat indiscriminately. One of the common impulses after a psychedelic experience is to run directly to the nearest hamburger stand. You can fall victim to it once, or even for many years, but a serious user of psychedelics will often start receiving messages which call upon him to:

1. Stop destroying your body with harmful nutrition. -- Malignant nutrition is the continuation on a personal level of the ecological pollution caused by the human race.

2. Stop taking the lives of others. -- Develop a moral basis to your nutrition. Start eating consciously -- because barbaric eating is the basis of barbaric existence.

Eventually, although many might disagree, the use of psychedelics is -- in my eyes -- incompatible with eating meat, or to be more exact, with eating the industrial meat grown in cattle concentration camps and consumed today in larger doses than at any other time in our civilization's history. A person who is in close contact with the mushroom (or other psychedelics) will eventually receive, again and again, that same message which calls upon him to forsake this path. He can ignore it once, twice, or even a hundred times -- but with many people, the message will eventually be heard. One stops eating meat or limits meat consumption one way or the other; I have seen this happen many times.

Amusingly, even those opposed to the use of psychedelics are aware, in some distorted way, of their influence on our eating habits. This Anti-LSD film from the sixties tells the story of a girl who takes an LSD trip for the first time and goes to a hot dog stand, ready to shove a hot dog voraciously into her mouth, but after she drowns her hot dog with ketchup and mustard she hears a voice. Suddenly she sees the hotdog as a living creature, and the creature begs her not to eat her and take her life. For the makers of the film, this awakening sensitivity is clear evidence for LSD having driven the poor girl crazy.

Carnivorous Cultures and Shroom Cultures

This brings me to the modern meat-addicted consumer society. While the mushrooms ban the eating of meat, carnivorous society bans the eating of mushrooms. Eating meat and eating mushrooms present, so it seems, two basically opposed cultural alternatives.

While the psychedelic alternative signifies the potential for a society based on awareness of our body, our ecological surroundings, and our fellow people, the meat society is a society based on:

Destruction of the Body -- Eating red meat is, according to many clinical studies, one of the prime factors contributing to cancer, heart problems and many other medical complications.

Ecological Damage – The UN has already declared that the gigantic mass of cattle which is being grown on planet earth, and the great amounts of methane gas emitted by these animals, is one of the chief reasons for global warming.

Economic Damage -- Caused by the growing medical expenses to take care of millions of meat-stuffed citizens suffering from cancer, heart problems and other medical complications caused by the excessive eating of meat.

Moral Damage -- The meat society is based on the mass-killing of life kept in concentration camp conditions. This society, based on sin, cannot help but be a basically violent society -- and this is without getting into the more abstract interpretations the various spiritual traditions give about the negative influence of meat-eating.

In comparison to the millions who die because of meat eating, the number of deaths caused by psychedelic mushrooms sold in Amsterdam during the years of legal purchase amounts to no more than a few dozen. (These tragic cases could have also been easily avoided, since in the vast majority of cases, users were hurt because of the inherently false capitalistic model in which the mushrooms were sold, which meant that people consumed mushrooms without deep knowledge, and while violating the basic laws of the intelligent use of psychedelics.)

Despite this overwhelming data, our society prohibits psychedelic mushroom eating and allows, or even advocates, the eating of meat. For the carnivorous society which sanctifies the values of war and carnage, the harmonious values of the mushrooms are an intimidating alternative which must be suppressed at any price, because they might raise questions about the entire carnivorous civilization, and its values of force and authority.

Eating meat and eating mushrooms are more than just two nutritional options -- they are cultural alternatives, different modes of thought: of relating to the body, to nature, to the other. As long as our society chooses to fortify the former by supporting monstrous corporations dedicated to the raising and killing of cattle, and ban the latter with billions of dollars spent on the “war on drugs,” it cannot pretend to be surprised about the bad shape in which our planet and culture find themselves.


Dor said...

Why do you choose to extract the negative symptoms of meat eating and raise them as easy to abuse strawmen? None of the problems you mentioned are inherent to meat eating (including red meat!), and parallel the argument you cry against when it comes to mushrooms.

I am very disappointed by this argumentation tactic that does very little to explain why you think eating meat is bad, why you think psychedelically-enhanced individuals will ultimately realize this, and what this all has to do with morals.

Regarding the moral argument: What is the qualitative difference between eating meat and eating a fruit or a vegetable? Why can I not deflower a chicken the same way you do to a grape? Why do you allow yourself to walk the earth, breathe, or live at all, for that matter?

I must say I enjoyed the post until that point, though. :)

Ido Hartogsohn said...

Dear Dor,

The main point of this article was about the way psychedelics can enhance our awareness to what we eat and the way we eat it.

From a medical point of view, meat eating is probably not entirely mistaken. However excessive consumption of meat has been linked again and again to higher disease rates (see, for example, the china studies) while excessive cattle growth has been linked by many to ecological problems.

However, the main reason I think eating meat is highly problematic, is because it involves the murder (and much worse, withholding any possibility for a worthy life, through the cruel atrocities of the meat industry) of animals.

The qualitative difference is that a vegetable and a fruit don't have a brain, or complex neuronal systems, and don't exhibit feelings and other complex behavior patterns ,for that matter. This is why they don't "suffer" in the same way that we think about suffering, when you pick them (Although they too, naturally feel something). And they certainly don't suffer while growing, as do cows or chickens, who are force-fed and raised in tiny cages in which they can't move all of their lives.

You can also eat a chicken in a very aware way. It is probably better, then just eating it thoughtlessly, only this does not solve the other problems raised here.

Again, I wish to point out that idea of this article was not to support a vegetarian way of life, (Which I personally find laudable - but still it is a topic i'm really no expert for) but the idea of psychedelically enhanced awareness to food.


Dor said...

"The main point of this article was about the way psychedelics can enhance our awareness to what we eat and the way we eat it."

I understand and appreciate that! I would not bother replying otherwise. I chose to because I think this bit detracts from your point.
My only disagreement is with your assertion that meat eating is some sort of an inherently negative action and that one can understand this through enlightenment/mindfulness.

"However excessive consumption of meat has been linked again and again to higher disease rates (see, for example, the china studies) while excessive cattle growth has been linked by many to ecological problems."

What sort of excessive practice is non-harmful?

Why do you believe a chicken has the capacity to suffer more than a plant? The fact that it possesses a "complex" brain does not necessarily transform it into a conscious creature, one capable of suffering. Indeed, I have seen robots which displayed similar "complex behavioral patterns" and even "emotions" and I'd venture to say that they still do not "suffer" or "feel" anything in the human sense of the word, or anything close to it.

It seems to me that a psychedelically-enhanced mind would realize that the anthropomorphizing humans partake in when it comes to animals is an illusion and that there is no inherent difference in distinguishing the "life" of any part of the universe to sustain oneself, whether it's a molecule of oxygen, a seed from a plant, or a chicken.

Ido Hartogsohn said...

Hi Dor,

I think we can bring it all down to the moral issue. And I believe you are going on a very dangerous road when you equate chickens, cows and plants.

Animals are not robots that have been programed to mimic human emotions. They are directly linked to us, and exhibit similar emotions to humans, because these emotional patterns which exist in humans, first evolved in the animal kingdom, as any ethology, or evolutionary psychology book will tell you. You could of course question the existence of consciousness in animals, but then why stop there? you could also question the fact other people have consciousness or emotions and that we should be mindful of them. (That is then called psychopathology).

True, life is life is life. Man, animal or plant. And still, while at a ground level, all life is equal, at another level different species exhibit different characters and different value (Ken Wilber discusses this better than I could in his history of everything). The life of a human being is not equal to that of an ant, and the same goes for a cow. Yes life always feeds off life, but one has to draw the line somewhere and decide what we will eat and what we won't eat, unless we absolutely have too (Some people would also eat other people, when necessity arises). The place you would draw the line will never be an exact place, you could always argue about it. I don't know what would be setting the line too high, but the current status of our carnivorous society based (again this has to be said) on unimaginable atrocities performed on animals seems to be obviously wrong to me.


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