/ 15 December 2016

​They say if you really love something, let it go

Friday editor Milisuthando Bongela.
Milisuthando (Photo: Delwyn Verasamy/ M&G)

When I stop eating meat seven weeks ago, it is not because of grand ideological reasoning. No weight-related motivation. No pressure from vegans or vegetarians. I am simply under the influence of some new spiritually developed friends who, at the time of our meeting, lift me by the shoulders, shuffle me to the left where a different perspective is revealed and then put me down.

When they enter my life, it is to expand my understanding of consciousness beyond the station I have been parked at for quite some time, which is political consciousness.

I’ve always wanted to stop eating meat. The sense of pernickety accomplishment that non-meat eaters, like non-TV watchers, exude verily entices me despite not really liking it.

But I’ve struggled to trust that I, a lover of all meat, can pull it off. In my ideal life, I am a vegan. But in this life, my equal and unabated love for butter, cheese and eggs won’t let me make that commitment yet.

It is surprisingly easy to stop eating meat, which I’ve been eating more than once a week for 30 years. By that I mean I don’t have to fight any urges. Once I start understanding nature differently — to revere it — my consciousness of its complexities, its determination, beauty, neutrality and immense power changes my relationship to it.

The base principle in my transformation is about understanding the connection between my human consciousness and nature’s consciousness. The simple idea that the plant is a conscious life force that has the ability to affect my emotions as much as my emotions can affect it. Wow. I ingest a plant and it makes throb the thing that yells “I want to live’’ when I hold my breath for too long. What of the consciousness of an animal that has not been sacrificed and spoken to kindly before its journey into my body?

I still don’t actively make a decision to stop eating meat. Something pulls me. During the pulling, it simply stops making as much intense sense to eat meat now that I’m in the presence of these new somethings.

In the midst of this, another friend gets me hooked on Planet Earth II. I watch the nature of nature in amazing dimensions on this brilliant series and my human impulses are further reshaped and put into wonderful perspective. I respect the seas that animals have to part just to eat every day.

On some evenings I play back the wisdom I recorded on my phone, spoken by one of the novel forces in my life. He talks about the root link between umhlaba (land), hlabela or hlabelela (to begin a song, to sing) and hlaba (to ritually pierce a sacrificial animal or to stab). They are siblings. Meaning wakes from where I have slumbered.

Five weeks pass and my mother comes to visit. She is here for the massed choir festival at the Standard Bank Arena, which I can see clearly from my balcony. She has not seen my new place where I have been living for three years. She usually stays with my aunt in a real suburb. I want her to be proud. I buy new things. New bed pillows and the food she likes. Full- cream milk. I borrow a tray from my neighbour. My excitement warms my small apartment. She has come with her good friend, a warm and beautiful woman I’ve known since I ever was.

On the first night, I cook a mushroom and thyme pasta that repeatedly silenced my friends three weeks ago. After I serve them, Mama and her friend do more talking than eating. They eat, but a little too politely. Good thing I bought a rotisserie chicken for this situation. I bring out the chicken and it returns boney and full of their stories. I taste a bit of the skin and indifference lingers on my tongue. The spicing is exactly as I remember it.

On the second night I really want to please them so I bring home three pieces of a lamb and, before fetching them from the arena, I begin cooking. This stew had won over a lover’s heart once. I’m hoping the meat will speak for my heart. My mother sends a text, as I prepare to leave the house. “Don’t worry cc, we can order pizza tonight.’’ I pretend not to have read the text when we come back home to the aroma of the stew. They are hungry. This time, the plates return with no stew on the top but a little too much rice. I’m not displeased. And when I taste the stew, I taste the absence of my heart in it.