Longform

Critics Claim Supreme Master Ching Hai's Followers' Restaurants Featuring Tasty Vegan Fare Front For an Exploitive Movement.

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"Supreme Master TV aligns really well with the vision of Loving Hut," spokesman Zhang said of channel's presence in almost all Loving Huts worldwide. That vision, he added, "is to promote vegan food to the public."

The Association's zeal for veganism screams from Ching Hai's books, from tabloid-y literature and DVDs offered free at Loving Hut franchises, from SMTV itself, and from the Associations' websites.

These media offer three basic rationales for veganism. There is the traditional argument proffered by several spiritual, ethical, and religious schools of thought that killing in any form is immoral and, therefore, slaughtering animals for food or clothing should be shunned.

Physical well-being is another prong of the Association's message, which argues that a plant-based diet is healthier and superior to those involving the consumption of animal products.

The last, and most important in Hai's teachings, is that factory animal farming contributes to global warming, which scientists warn will lead to cataclysmic changes in Earth's climate, if not reversed.

One need not have seen An Inconvenient Truth, the Oscar-winning documentary featuring former Vice President Al Gore's slideshow presentation on global warming, to be familiar with scientific pronouncements on the effects of a rise in Earth's temperature.

Dire warnings about melting glaciers, elevated sea levels, extreme weather, ocean acidity, and other fallouts from global climate change have seeped into the popular consciousness — the rebuttals of reactionary pundits such as Glenn Beck aside.

The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with Gore, has declared global warming to be the result of the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere via the use of fossil fuels, deforestation, and other forms of pollution.

Scientists caution that the world is getting hotter faster and that without drastic intervention, the process could reach a point of no return.

Ching Hai's Association uses such apocalyptic scenarios to bolster its emphasis on a vegan lifestyle. It cites a 2006 report from the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization, Livestock's Long Shadow, which says the livestock industry accounts for "18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions measured in CO2 equivalent," a higher share than caused by transportation.

Livestock flatulence and excrement produce large amounts of the greenhouse gases methane and nitrous oxide, according to the report. Forests are leveled and burned so the land can be converted to grazing areas. Herds of cattle can degrade the land they use.

The FAO also asserts that pollution of precious water resources results from "animal wastes, antibiotics and hormones, chemicals from tanneries, fertilizers and the pesticides used to spray crops."

For Ching Hai and her followers, such scientific evidence allows them to portray going vegan as a kind of silver bullet for the threat of global warming. In her book From Crisis to Peace: The Organic Vegan Way Is the Answer, Hai argues that eating meat is not only bad karma, it will lead to the destruction of the planet if it's not curbed.

"If meat eating is not banned or not limited, then the whole planet will be gone," she writes.

A plant-based diet will end world hunger and quickly cool the planet, she promises. She advocates "banning meat as smoking was banned," going to organic farming, and introducing vegan school lunches.

If mankind follows her dictates, she says it will achieve "Eden on Earth," world peace and harmony, an advance in human evolution, and a "leap into the golden era."

The consequence of ignoring Hai's edicts will be that Earth will end up like Mars or Venus, which she contends once had "water, life, and people similar to us." That is, until the Martians and Venusians "raised too much livestock," triggering an "irreversible greenhouse gas effect."

She even posits that there were at one time "four Venuses," two of which went bad from global warming.

Naturally, the FAO report does not indulge in such goofy sci-fi fantasies. Nor does it advocate banning meat. Rather the FAO report recognizes the economic and social complexity of the issue, without minimizing the risks of inaction.

The FAO study does note the influence of consumer demand for organic products and a "tendency toward vegetarianism in developed countries" as having an important role to play.

But its most significant suggestions are structural: improving the diets of the animals involved, more efficient production techniques, the realistic pricing of water, and other ways to mitigate the impact of global livestock farming.

The FAO report also recognizes the importance to the world economy of raising livestock, and it refers to livestock products as a "welcome addition to the diets of many poor and under- or malnourished people," for whom meat is a source of much-needed protein, vitamins, and minerals.

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons