Recently, Russell Simmons was on the show and mentioned that, like Ellen, he is a vegan. Ellen asked him to share why, so he wrote this piece. Please take a few moments to read it.
I was raised eating meat just like most other Americans. I believed that finishing my dinner and gulping down my milk would make me grow up to be big and strong. I was given a familiar message that kids (and parents!) are still being spoon-fed today. Never once did I consider exactly what I was eating or what happened to the animal before it reached my plate. Of course, I did have my vegan friends around me, such as my assistant, Simone Reyes, and good friend Glen E. Friedman always pounding me with reasons to join their team, but it wasn't until about fifteen years ago when I began taking yoga classes at Jivamukti Yoga Center in NYC that I became vegetarian. I credit the teachings at that school with many of the life-altering changes in my life. The teachings of my gurus, Sharon and David Life, are responsible for me not only having a newfound respect for my body, but for changing my eating habits and quieting my mind through meditation. Up until this time, a hamburger was something stuck between two buns -- not a cow, a wing was something you dipped in BBQ sauce -- not a chicken, and milk was something you drank as a human, never realizing it was only meant for a calf.
Yoga continues to teach me many things, perhaps the most important is the concept of non-violence in EVERY aspect of your life as a global citizen of the world. The more I opened myself up to the idea of the full scope of exactly what non-violence translates to, the less interested I became in consuming the energy associated with the flesh of an animal that only knew suffering in his/her life and pain and terror in its death. The more I learned about factory farming and the cruelty animals raised for food must endure before they are led (or dragged) to slaughter, the more I realized that I could not, in good conscience, be a contributor to such violence.
The practice of yoga raised my consciousness to exactly what eating meat meant -- not only to my own health, but to my karma and the world at large. Then about ten years ago, I began to live my life in what many vegans refer to as "fully awake." I became a full-on vegan and have never looked back. To me, what Sharon and David were teaching was simple and made sense. What we do to others has a karmic effect on our own lives. If we want to be free and happy, then we should not cause others unhappiness or enslave them. Sharon says it best, "You begin to understand Patanjali's sutra, Sthira Sukham Asana, which means that our connection (relationship) to the Earth and all other beings (what the word asana means) should be mutually beneficial, should be coming from a consistent (Sthira) place of joy (Sukham)."
Being a thoughtful vegan makes our time on this Earth more peaceful and joyous, because you get to have a hand in promoting and increasing the happiness, good health and well-being of others -- both animal and human -- rather than being an instrument of their suffering and death.
I am a father. I want my children and their children to have a healthy Earth to live in for many years to come. The impact on the Earth from eating meat is mind-blowing. Every year in the U.S., more than 27 billion animals are slaughtered for food. Meat consumption is poisoning and depleting our potable water, land and pure, clean air. More than half of the water used in the United States today goes to animal agriculture, and since animals on factory farms produce 130 times more waste than the human population, the result is polluting our waterways. Animal excrement emits gases, such as hydrogen sulfide and ammonia, which poison the air around farms, as well as methane and nitrous oxide, all resulting in the number one cause of global warming. This needs to stop.
I grew up in Hollis, Queens and always make it my job to never forget where I came from and to always give back to my community. So, of course, I am particularly saddened that in poor urban communities the cheapest, most accessible food is fast food, which is also the most likely to increase the risk of developing various diseases and illnesses, including heart attacks, strokes, cancer, diabetes and obesity. That is why, whenever I can, I use my voice to speak out for healthier food options to be offered in vending machines, local markets and inner city classrooms. Slowly but surely, I am seeing change happen. I'm not alone. My longtime assistant, Simone Reyes, is a grassroots animal rights activist who works closely with PETA -- and collectively I do believe we are making a dent in the way animals are perceived. We used our reality show to frequently drive home the message of animal rights.
I am very hopeful that as more and more videos make their way across the internet of what happens behind closed doors of slaughterhouses, and filmmakers continue to make films such as "Earthlings," "Food Inc.," etc., the more educated people will become about their food choices. I am optimistic that through education, people, especially parents, will be able to make wise decisions about what pollutants they want to avoid putting into their children's bodies and take responsibility as humans for our part in the destruction of Mother Earth.
Every day, more and more people are turning vegan, more children are looking at a rib and making the connection that it came from a suffering animal and more people are loving themselves and the Earth they live on just a little bit more by saying no to meat and dairy. By switching to a vegetarian diet, you can save more than 100 animals a year from this misery. But we have a long road ahead of us before everyone's consciousness is open to making these changes. Until then, we spread the word, we show the videos and we say a silent prayer for the animals that continue suffer in a world that is not their own.