New Contemplations Before Eating

As a spiritual family and a human family, we can all help avert climate change with the practice of mindful eating. Going vegetarian may be the most effective way to stop climate change.
Being vegetarian is already enough to save the world. 

– from Thich Nhat Hanh’s 2007 “Blue Cliff Letter”


climate change heal preserve planet

We can eat in such a way that “stops contributing to climate change, and heals and preserves our precious planet”

Dear Spiritual Family,

Thay has just announced a new version of the Five Contemplations before Eating, after receiving a letter from scientists recommending replacing “global warming” with the more appropriate term “climate change.”

This change is a chance for us all to reflect deeply on what we buy and what we eat. What we buy and eat can contribute to climate change, or it can help stop it. Eating is a chance to nourish our own body with the wonders of the cosmos, knowing that we are not destroying the earth by doing so.

In Plum Village communities around the world, we practice not only to be mindful of the food, but also of our spiritual friends sitting with us. Sharing a meal together is not just to sustain our bodies and celebrate life’s wonders, but also to experience freedom, joy, and the happiness of brotherhood and sisterhood, during the whole time of eating.

New Contemplations before eating:
This food is a gift of the earth, the sky, numerous living beings, and much hard and loving work.
May we eat with mindfulness and gratitude so as to be worthy to receive this food.
May we recognize and transform unwholesome mental formations, especially our greed and learn to eat with moderation.
May we keep our compassion alive by eating in such a way that reduces the suffering of living beings, stops contributing to climate change, and heals and preserves our precious planet.
We accept this food so that we may nurture our brotherhood and sisterhood, build our Sangha, and nourish our ideal of serving all living beings.


Polar bear on receding ice (2013)

Plum Village practice centers and retreats have always been vegetarian, and since 2007, they have also been vegan. In October 2007, Thay wrote his famous “Blue Cliff Letter“, where he explained why the community was turning vegan to nourish compassion and help save the planet.

“Dairy and egg products… are products of the meat industry,” he wrote. “If we stop consuming, they will stop producing… According to the University of Chicago, a vegan causes approximately 1.5 fewer tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere each year than a meat-eater does.”

Thay recommended that “lay communities should be courageous and give rise to the commitment to be vegetarian, at least 15 days each month. If we can do that, we will feel a sense of well-being. We will have peace, joy, and happiness right from the moment we make this vow and commitment.”

Since Thay wrote that letter six years ago, the UN has again called for a global shift to a meat-free and diary-free diet.

Just a simple monk!

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18 comments on “New Contemplations Before Eating
  1. Cynthia says:

    I have decades in the field of environmental science and engineering. While I applaud every effort made to make positive changes for our environment, I can tell you that going vegetarian or vegan will not make any significant impact on the state of our environment as it stands. A more proactive approach is needed, we must actively work to reverse the damage that has been done. Simply stopping more damage from being done will not be enough. We must clean up the mess that has been made. A great place for the average person to start is to lessen their dependence on fossil fuels and their byproducts, plastics, corporate farming, household chemicals, and industrial products whose companies pollute the environment. Lessen the demand for these products, lessen their production. For those of us who can, we should use for clean and renewable energy. I realize it is not economical in most parts of the world, but every dime we take away from the corporations that are destroying our planet, the better off we will be. For those of us who can, we should develop ways to reverse the damage that has been done, the most important at this time is a way to clean up our oceans, which sustain and regulate much of our planet’s atmosphere, and ecological balance. We must stop deforestation, which also regulates our planet’s balance. These things will make MUCH more difference than going vegetarian.

  2. Cynthia says:

    I agree with being mindful of what we eat and where it comes from. I don’t agree that vegetarianism is going to save the planet, or that it will make much of a difference in the long run. I majored in environmental science and engineering, and have decades in the field. I can tell you that just changing how we live now will not be enough. Simply stopping more damage from being done is not going to be enough. We must take a more proactive approach. What people eat is not as much of a threat as our dependance on fossil fuels and their byproducts. Clean and renewable energy is the first step to making a change. We must start focusing on how to clean up the pollution, on ACTIVELY reversing the damage. Lessening our dependence on plastics, fossil fuels, corporate farming, and household chemicals is a great place for the average person to start. We can refuse to give our business to those industrial corporations that destroy our planet. For those of us who can, we can start developing ways to reverse the damages, on environmental cleanup. I’ve been working on several projects with little funding, if I can do it, anyone can.
    While I applaud every effort to make a change that will positively impact our environment, I can tell you that it is far too late to just make simple changes. It is time for the world to take responsibility for the damage that has been done, and work to fix it.
    I hope that all who read this will be willing to step forward and make these changes.

  3. It seems that anytime someone speaks of alimentation there are “weeping and gnashing of teeth”. To my mind the question need a story context. (See more on my blog #yogainviaggio ).
    Is the nowadays world out of mind (is it like to be in hell)? Is vegetarian community really enough to save the world (paradise)? Or Does one need the other?
    As far as I know as The introduction of meat, dairy products (even sugar ecc) into the diet is very recent (e.g. 1950, less than 3 generations of human beings), it will last unless 60 years to go back. In the meanwhile freedom to those who want to show the way, and I ask for compassion towards who is not eating like I wish for him, for his family and for his society. Personally I feel lucky to be the child of a open minded vegan father who has given me the possibility to choose. I am so grateful to my husband who is leting me understand what is compassion and mindfulness applicated to alimentation. When I think to all the children who have no choice, I feel to say to you and to tnh:
    1- concentrate your forces in giving a chance to our children, eating vegetarian and sugarfree (the diet of the future) during the prenatal period (mother and father).
    2- Then fight not to let cinese children (and others children demographic strenght) not to adopt modern diet.
    3- Lastly for those people meditating but not eating vegetarian, I would say With great love all is possible.

  4. A.Anahit Arman says:

    I really love this article! Have been a vegetarian for 13 years, and I mostly eat vegan food. Mindfulness and nonviolence are important, and these thoughts in this article are worth being contemplated.

    Yes, I understand your view Liesel, I see that under extremely cold circumstances – or out in the wilderness – it would be very-very difficult to maintain a veg*an diet. But if and when we can choose – and, I assume, many of us have the opportunity to choose -, it is much better to opt for the less violent choices.

    On the idea of eating meat for keeping us warm – I do understand what you mean, but let me add my thoughts and experiences – and I hope my words do not sound offensive!
    I live in Middle-Norway. Although -40 grades are not very usual, -15…-20 grades are totally common at wintertime; and now as I am writing this comment, there is +14 grades in the appartment. Yet I never get a cold or a flu.
    It is a question of technic and the use of the right ingredients to make “warming” types of food – which might make it unnecessary to use meat for keeping us warm.
    I really hope that you do not feel offended, as I did not mean it an arrogant or “preaching” way!

  5. Liesel Briggs says:

    Regarding the Consumption of Meat: To be or not to be a vegetarian. To me the answer also lies with where the person is living, what he or she does and how they treat the meat they eat.

    I live in Northern Canada. We eat meat from the forest, raise chickens for meat and have laying hens, too, we eat fish from the rivers, lakes or ocean. A vegetarian diet in the forest would not be natural or in our case easy. When it is minus 40 celcius, meat provides the fuel to be warm.

    Yes, I think people should be respectful of what they eat and not waste any food.

    I wonder what the Buddha would have eaten if he had lived in the North where there is meat, but no beans and where it’s cold many months of the year?

    And yes, we also eat vegetarian and like it. I cook many bean dishes in lieu of meat.

    If I was living in a equatorial, or warmer climate my diet would reflect that was well.

  6. kay wenzel says:

    I think 15days a month is doable and a good starting point. I hereby commit and thank Thich Nat Hahn for this guidance and all the inspiration I have received from him over the years.

  7. Jane says:

    Very pleased to hear this and I agree wholeheartedly. I have been vegan since 2006 ever since I started reading more about the impact of livestock on the environment (not only climate change but eutrophication of seas, phosphorus depletion, biodiversity loss, the list goes on). At first it was a new years resolution but I found it quite easy to continue and never stopped being vegan after that first year. I can assure you that it can be done very easily, healthily and happily. Please remember to take some vitamin B12, that is all you will need. Breathe and smile.

  8. Jeanne says:

    I’m sorry but being a vegetarian is not going to save the world! If anything it’s only going to deplete it and the person who is choosing not to give there body valuable nutrition. Eating a tone of carbs and processed foods qualifies as vegetarian and that is only feeding the people who want control you. Our bodies need protein. Where that protein comes from is another story. Buy eggs from a local farm that has free range chickens or bester yet raise your own chickens. Eat grass feed beef and free range turkey. Being a vegan or vegetarian especially from birth is detrimental to a humans health and causes diabetes late in life as well as bone depletion. I can emphasize enough how much finding a balance for your own individual constitution is essential to thriving in the human form. Not only in the physical aspect but all aspects of human form, metal, emotional and spiritual as well. P.S. Climate change is a bogus scam by the government. Have you heard about the researchers in Antarctica that while trying to prove global warming and that the ice is melting got stuck in the ice for over two weeks. In fact I think they might still be down there.

  9. Openmind says:

    I would humbly and peacefully offer the thought that although I eat mostly a vegetarian diet human beings are omnivores and meat is not an unnatural part of the diet. Certainly we have appropriated the resources of many creatures for our own use. I am mindful we are creatures of the earth ourselves and the brains we have are also a natural manifestation. Perhaps it is the unbalanced dominance we have achieved over our fellow beings and the mechanistic way we have developed the use of animal products that makes these aspects seem so unnatural. Meat eaters do of course occur greatly elsewhere in the natural world also. Living in harmony with the planet may also mean accepting that predators and prey, competition and survival are a natural part of the planet’s ecosystem balance just as life is both “wonderful and horrible”. The way I hold these things together with Thay’s teachings is through the hope that we are a species on a journey towards greater understanding and hopefully towards greater balance with our environment. I hope also my views do not offend anyone too much. Deep bow.

  10. Phill Conrad says:

    We may now like to consider making a similar change to the parallel wording in the 5 Mindfulness Trainings and the 14 Mindfulness Trainings.

  11. Raven says:

    Thank you Meredith for mentioning what you have and also to Robyn. I would suggest that we be mindful of how the food item was produced, how it came to us and on whose backs? I am Vegan myself and am painfully aware of the price (not speaking monetarily) we (the entire planet and all its beings) pay for a banana, rice or fresh snap peas in February in Canada.

    The question may be extended, then, to consider what is our relationship to what is consumed? Wild game hunted ethically and with reverence and gratitude may be a wiser choice for ourselves and the planet than consuming monocrop Almonds from California.

  12. Robyne says:

    Animals were made as part of the world and produce the things they do as an important part of a whole…. Hens were meant to lay eggs, sheep, llamas ans yaks to give wool, cows and goats to give milk. The waste of these natural products is shameful and causes more waste, hungry people, and loss of jobs for many. It seems a very selfish choice to me.

    • Agathe says:

      Dear Robyne,

      I believe that animals do not live FOR the humans. Cows and goats produce milk to feed their babies – not the humans. Sheep, llamas and yaks do not produce wool for us to knit scarfs but for their own survival in cold winter. Hens are sure meant to lay eggs, but they don’t do it for us, and it’s more natural for other animals to eat these eggs. Not using these eggs, wool or milk is not a waste, because it’s useful to other living beings, which is why using them is a form of theft. Breeding animals to use their milk, their wool, their eggs (or their skin, their meat, etc.) is called exploitation, it’s unnecessary and harms the environnement (there are many more planet-friendly vegan alternatives). Please look more deeply into it, and try to leave this omnipotent-human point of view :) :)

    • Sandee says:

      The most “selfish” thing about this post is that YOU think these animals are here for YOU! What makes you think you have the right to steal their milk, their fur or their eggs??? You don’t OWN them….get over yourself!

  13. Alexis says:

    I strongly support Meredith’s suggestion and reasoning.

  14. Yes to be a vegatarian is saving The Earth from danger and to become more natural.
    Lets practice vikal bhojana veramni sikkha padan samadhani (i will take right non harmful food at proper time)
    Metta ( Friendship to all)

  15. Meredith says:

    I appreciate this update, and while it is focused on the environmental benefits of eating a plant-based diet, we should also be mindful of where our plant-based foods are coming from, making choices that allow us to eat local, seasonal fruits and vegetables as much as possible. Foods that are shipped across the world allow us greater variety in our diets, but at the expense of a high carbon footprint. It would be great to see more local, organic produce in our practice centers and fewer foods that have come a long distance (e.g., bananas at our North American practice centers).

    • Tana Ray says:

      Thank you Thay for the new contemplation. I live in N. Alabama and very very few people here are vegan. In fact I don’t know anyone who is. Ive been vegan and encourage veganism on fb and receive ridicule and jokes for my occasional animal compassion posts. It is so sad to see this conditioning! My heart breaks every day. Namaste