A growing misconception seems to be taking hold both within and outside of the Pagan community. This misconception is that in order to be a “real” Pagan, or a “true” Wiccan, then you must be a vegetarian/vegan. This is grossly incorrect, and I have personally seen the effects of this misconception among Pagans. I witnessed the trouble one young woman went through for being Pagan and a meat-eater. She was verbally attacked over the Internet and so many harmful, hurtful, foul names were hurled at her that I ached for her pain. And all because she had decided to share the fact that she is no longer a vegetarian because her body couldn’t maintain that lifestyle. The attacks on her were sickening, disappointing, and shocking, and made me ashamed to call myself a Pagan because those attackers also claimed to be Pagan and actively used Paganism as the argument in their attacks.
Vegetarianism and veganism and any other diet choice is a personal choice. It is not a mandated part of Paganism that a human cannot eat meat. In the traditions of Paganism I am aware of (which range from Asatru to Wicca to Heathenism [and some Native American traditions]), denial of meat is not a rule. It is not a principle of these traditions that any member must not eat any animal. Some may say that members may only eat animals killed in an honorable fashion and in a way that utilizes all the useful parts of the animal. But no tradition I can think of bans meat as a food.
To be honest, I can think of no tradition that would do so. To do so would put into place a rule that would not only potentially cause harm to a member, but also disrupt a natural balance. What would happen if a member were to join, become a vegetarian, but then find that their body cannot sustain that way of life? Is that member then kicked out? That hardly seems very respectful or loving. As for a natural balance being kicked out of place, well, our bodies are designed to eat meat. It is natural to eat meat. Eating meat does not make a person an unnatural creature.
I doubt that the gods (whichever ones you work with) would really care what you had for dinner last night. I doubt they would truly care whether you ate prime rib or had a salad. In my admittedly limited experience, the gods don’t give a damn about that sort of thing. They do care that you are healthy and able to work with them in a healthy manner. Out bodies are complex and affect all parts of life–if your body is unhealthy, how do you expect to have a healthy relationship with the gods? For example, you can’t exactly participate in a ritual if you have the stomach flu, and if you’ve gone about nutrition in the wrong way and deprived yourself of nutrients by ignoring what your particular body requires, then you do yourself a disservice as well as the gods.
Vegetarianism and veganism are not bad things. But those kinds of lifestyles are not for everyone. Not everyone can physically maintain it, even when taking supplements and vitamins to compensate for the lack of meat. I have a friend who was vegetarian for many years, but even this very problem caught up with her. She wishes she was still a vegetarian, but her body simply could not keep itself healthy despite her best efforts to maintain the lifestyle properly.
Most paths of Paganism include the ideas of respecting yourself and respecting the natural world. If you are respecting yourself and your body, and what your body needs, then (to be blunt) what the hell does it matter what you eat? Even better is if you can eat meat in a way that respects the natural world. The meat you consume once belonged to a living, breathing, moving creature, a creature that gave its life to feed yours. We all owe a debt to the animals who give their lives for us, yet few of us pause to think about this. My advice is to either 1) learn how to hunt and hunt your own meat so that you are assured that nothing goes to waste and the kill is honorable, or 2) buy organically from a meat co-op, the farmer’s market, or a similar setup. Again, you are assured that nothing is wasted and the kill is an honorable one.
My personal view is that if humans weren’t meant to eat meat, we wouldn’t have canine teeth–teeth specifically meant for tearing. That being said, I also think there are right ways and wrong ways to go about meat consumption. The meat packing industry is cruel and inhumane. But hunting and swift kills, and honoring the spirit of the animal who has given his life to sustain yours, is acceptable and humane. A quick kill with honor, and not wasting the gift given to you, is far more humane than the meat industry today.
The horrors of the meat industry should be a motivator to bring about change. It does not mean anyone necessarily has to become a vegetarian. Being Pagan and eating meat is not a crime, nor is it wrong. Eating meat does not make me less of a Pagan, and the same is true for those who choose not to consume meat. It is a personal choice, and no one should be attacked for making a choice that speaks to their own soul.