Jesus Meat

Rod Dreher, an editorial columnist for the Dallas Morning News, wrote an article about how he was giving up meat and dairy for Lent.

The austere Orthodox Lent – no meat or dairy products for almost two months – reminds those observing the fast how blessed we are in ordinary time and how much we take for granted amid our prosperity. Lent draws us back from forgetting, from moral and spiritual lassitude, and teaches a lesson that most of us in this land of plenty could stand to learn.

Ok… I’m following so far…

He then talks about the cruel way in which we treat animals:

A church friend who had been reading Michael Pollan’s bestseller, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, said the book convinced him that the industrial way of raising livestock for human consumption was – his word – “evil.” I thought that a bit harsh, but then I read the Pollan book and had to agree.

It wasn’t simply the ordinary cruelty with which cattle, pigs and poultry are raised in confinement. It wasn’t simply the dehumanizing effect of mechanized mass slaughter (though we’re content to fob that grim labor off onto Mexican immigrants). It was the corrupted spirit that comes with viewing living creatures as mere products that can be folded, spindled and genetically mutilated beyond the bounds of natural limits, without troubling our consciences.

The vegetarian side of me appreciates that he at least acknowledges the cruelty… though it doesn’t really matter if he keeps eating the meat.

But Dreher has a solution.

A very strange solution:

Orthodox Easter is coming at the end of April, and meat will be back on my family’s table. But to the best I’m able to provide, it will be meat raised by Christian small farmers in the Dallas area or otherwise produced in a morally responsible way.

Can someone please explain to me how the Christian slaughter of animals is any better than the atheist slaughter of animals?

Glenn Hunter at Frontburner adds:

Does it taste better if the farmer prays the rosary or speaks in tongues?



[tags]atheist, atheism, vegetarian[/tags]

  • Joseph R.

    As a meat eater myself, I couldn’t care less what the butcher’s(or farmer’s/rancher’s) religious affiliation is. I once considered going vegan, but cows are just so damn yummy.

  • http://www.youtube.com/morsec0de MorseCode

    But Christian meat is so sacrilicious!

  • bradm

    Dreher wrote in the comments at the Frontburner blog:

    “The Christian farmers, Glenn, are raising their animals for human consumption according to a higher ethical standard, based on their religious beliefs. If you are aware of Jewish, Muslim, atheist or Scientologist farmers providing clean meat and dairy products in the Dallas area, by all means let me know, and I’ll be pleased to give them my business. All the farmers I know around here who are farming this way are Christians, and are open about the reasons for choosing this method of farming coming straight from their religious beliefs.”

  • http://mnatheists.org Bjorn Watland

    I’m surprised that there hasn’t been a movement to create standards similar to Kosher or Halal on the Christian side which regulates the treatment of animals which are raised for food. If you’re well off enough, you get to purchase the organic, bottle fed, sleeping with the farmer chickens, but if you’re poor, you get the meat blasted off of the spinal column of the cow pressed together into your McDonald’s hamburger. Meat processing is a messy business, technically, and ethically, but even vegetables are not immune from causing illness, as long as you use unsterilized feces to fertilize.

  • Tom in Iowa

    I raise Highland Cattle in Iowa, pretty much organically. Being from the highlands of Scotland I always assumed they leaned toward the Presbyterian (although we seldom discuss religion – mostly its all about when the corn and hay are coming, or will I scratch that spot on their backs where they can’t reach with their horns).

    But lately I’ve noticed they spend a lot of time all lined up facing east.

    Hmmm… do they know which way is Mecca?

    In the end they’re tasty beasts none-the-less.

  • Ron in Houston

    I think the difference between religious slaughter and secular slaughter is that religious slaughter is done in a manner to minimize suffering of the animal while it’s alive and when it’s being slaughtered.

    Clearly the animal will feel pain either way, but I guess it’s based on awareness of the animals pain.

    Secular slaughter has had a bad reputation for a long time. The recent meat recall is just another incidence.

  • http://horrorfictionnews.com Paul

    IT still amazes me that people don’t know that with a quick google search you can find farms that raise cattle, lamb, pigs, and chickens in a humane way, really free range them, feed them correctly, no antibiotic course, etc. I have been buying my meat from these ranches for the past 3 years.

    You don’t have to “buy from a christian farm that raises their animals with certain morality.” Sustainable farmers have been doing it because they produce better quality product without resorting to agribusiness type practices.

    Hell, that’s why I buy organic products from certain companies, they support family owned farms through cooperatives, so those farms can make money.

  • Sara

    He should just eat kosher meat. As far as I know “kosher” implies (among other things when pertaining to meat) that it’s been blessed by a rabbi. That’s why during Passover one sees such oddities as “kosher milk.” I had no idea milk could be kosher-ized, so I asked a Jewish friend of mine, and she said it just means a rabbi was present at the packaging of the milk and blessed it before it went to market.

  • http://limadean.wordpress.com Nadine

    Slightly off-topic, but if you feel like sending some Lenten greetings, these will come in handy:
    http://www.someecards.com/upload/lent/

  • K

    I think the meat industry is appalling too but, just like global warming, there’s nothing we can do about it. I was a vegan (not because of meat sympathy) for years and it didn’t make a difference at all. If we had a choice at the grocery store, then we’d see a change but since there is no choice, it’s suffer without or just buy it and try not to care.

  • Arlen

    I would think that, given the choice, most cows would choose to be Hindu.

    Personally, I think it’s great that an editor of the Dallas Morning News (which has never been accused of holding a liberal bias) would encourage locally and ethically raised food. Sure it’s a little odd to imply that Christian farmers would necessarily be more moral, but it’s also a little odd for Glenn Hunter to imply that a Christian farmer would pray the rosary or speak in tongues. Both assertions seem to betray fundamental misunderstandings.

    I lived in Dallas-Fort Worth for many years, and organic, free-range, hormone-free, locally-grown, etc. foods were most often viewed with befuddlement, bemusement, or accusations of being “hippie food.” This article can only be seen as progress. I just wish that one didn’t have to pay several times more money for something that’s arguably more ethical and less toxic. There are a whole lot of folks who would eat “better” foods if they could afford to do so.

  • Renacier

    Sure it’s a little odd to imply that Christian farmers would necessarily be more moral, but it’s also a little odd for Glenn Hunter to imply that a Christian farmer would pray the rosary or speak in tongues. Both assertions seem to betray fundamental misunderstandings.

    Arlen, I think the main difference is that Glenn Hunter is joking, whereas Rod Dreher is dead serious.

  • Vincent

    Just because cattle are raised on a small farm does not mean they have any better lives. That’s like the naturalistic falacy.
    Chances are they are slaughtered in the same place and manner as industrially farmed cattle. I don’t know any small farmers who maintain their own avatoire.

    And Kosher is NOT more humane. In fact the USDA is continually fighting legal battles with Kosher slaughter houses because they do not achieve the standards required by the humane slaughter law. The Kosher slaughter houses say they don’t have to be humane because it’s an exercise of their religious freedom.

  • David D.G.

    “Can someone please explain to me how the Christian slaughter of animals is any better than the atheist slaughter of animals?”

    For that matter, how is the slaughter/mistreatment of animals as previously discussed even remotely non-Christian in the first place? Dreher even specifically mentions most of the dirty work being done by “Mexican immigrants,” and such people are overwhelmingly Catholic.

    There are no grounds here for implying, as Dreher does, that Christians invariably are humane toward their livestock and that non-Christians aren’t. The note that he intends to patronize “Christian” small farmers to avoid subsidizing animal cruelty is a complete non sequitur.

    ~David D.G.

  • http://hoverfrog.wordpress.com hoverFrog

    I’ve been vegetarian for 17 years partly due to the reasons given, partly health reasons and partly due to the fact that I just don’t like it much. It remains a personal choice though as I’m no more likely to get someone to give up meat than I am to get them to give up religion. ;)

    Now the Christian killing of animals for meat actually makes sense if you believe in the story of Genesis where God gave man (not woman, just man) dominion over all animals. Should having dominion mean that a Christian should be entitled to treat another living thing cruelly? The biblical passages that explain how to treat slaves seems to indicate not. That is as long as dominion over slaves equates to dominion over beasts. If you are going to enslave people then I can’t see how it doesn’t.

    What confuses me is that, once you decide that the treatment of animals is cruel (a personal decision) then how can this not remain the case for any farmer using the same methods? If battery farming offends you and you still want to eat meat then choose free range animals. If you want to support local farmers then choose local farmers. If you want to support people in your faith then choose Christian farmers.

    But to the best I’m able to provide, it will be meat raised by Christian small farmers in the Dallas area or otherwise produced in a morally responsible way.

    If you want to do all three then there isn’t an “or” in this but an “and”.

    Unless the assumption is that Christian farmers would never stoop to such cruelty as battery farming, steroid enhancements or genetic manipulation. Most people wouldn’t really consider these to be cruel…at least not cruel enough to change eating habits.

  • cautious

    Can someone please explain to me how the Christian slaughter of animals is any better than the atheist slaughter of animals?

    Because deep-down, most rational thinking humans realize that eating animals is bad, so they need to justify it for some reason. Most of the time, this justification makes no sense logically. This is just another example.

    Seriously, this guy said no to meat and dairy for Lent, and could just keep on continuing to live without them, but instead decides to go back to eating them…because… he doesn’t explain why he is, he just is. To quote the original writer,

    Most of us can afford to eat ethically sound beef, chicken, pork and lamb.

    But all of us can afford to eat ethically sound tofu, which, as an added bonus, also doesn’t break the planet as much as raising livestock. And there’s such a thing as ethically sound lamb?!?! Why didn’t he just say ethically sound veal?

  • Mriana

    What I want to know is, what does being a Christian have to do with humane treatment of animals?

    Now I know this is the bias of a vegetarian, but is it humane to hold any species in captivity solely for the purpose of killing them? Do they really believe these animals fear is any less than those who are slaughtered at slaughter houses? Animals are not completely dumb. They know when their life is in danger, so the hormones created by fear are still going to be present.

    Granted, equating such forms of captivity with slavery maybe a bit much, but I do see various degrees of freedom among animals in captivity. Pets are higher in status than those raised for the purpose of food and even among pet owners they treat pets differently- some as family members, some as companions, and some as just there when they want something soft to pet and have fun with. Even attitudes concerning names among pet owners are different too- some give their pets a real name and others give their pets a name suitable for a slave- ie Blacky, Sparky, Spot, Snowball…

    All attitude aside about names though, it does seem we have a class system for non-human animals and treat them accordingly. Even though I’m not a carnivore, I don’t think it would make the meat any different being raised by a Christian though. When the animal realizes it is about to be killed, the fight or flight syndrome is going to kick in because they too have a this desire to protect their lives.

    And the “Kosher” Slaughter houses are right concerning religious treatment of animals. Freedom to do so? Only by the Torah/Bible and the First Amendment. The OT portrays animals not too much lower than what U.S. and the Island’s slavery was in the past. (Greek slavery would have been a little better). Of course, house slaves sometimes had it better than field slaves. To work in the Big House was looked upon with envy and jealousy among the slaves. If animals could think that much I’m sure they would see the stark differences between those for slaughter and those who live in “the Big House”. Even sled dogs enjoy their position and status, without realizing how bad others may have it.

    Kosher slaughtering is terribly brutal, but I don’t believe there is any humane way of killing animals for food. I have a hard time buying into the idea of overpopulation given that nature has its own means for population control. That form of population control I can deal with.

    However, that is not the question. The question is, what is the humane way to kill animals for those who chose to eat meat? I’m afraid that is a question for those who enjoy and like meat to answer, because those of us who are vegetarians have already answered that question for ourselves, some us many years ago when we were still young.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Of course this is in Texas. What are the odds of finding a small farmer who isn’t a Christian? Pretty slim I’d imagine. His statement just seems like a redundancy to me.

  • Pingback: Friendly Atheist » Questions for Atheists: Why Vegetarianism?

  • Taki

    Based on the title of this post, I thought it was going to be about whether a Christian should skip Communion if they have given up meat for Lent.

    On further thought, that’s a little twisted. I’m somewhat disturbed that it was the first thing I thought of.

  • Scotty B

    It wasn’t simply the dehumanizing effect of mechanized mass slaughter

    Yeah, uh, wouldn’t want to dehumanize those cattle…

    (In the interest of full disclosure, Dad is a Christian (I think, we never really talk much about religion nor did we go to church much growing up) cattle farmer, but for what its worth, both my brother and I are Atheists and we often help at the farm.)

  • Chris

    Kosher meat, I can understand, as the process is designed to ensure minimal possible contamination (and let’s be honest, that’s what it was always about). But the christian one is confusing. After all, don’t they believe that animals do not have souls? What is the purpose for feeling empathy towards something you define as being spiritually inert? Isn’t that essentially the arguement for why no one really considers the killing and harvesting of plants to be ethically wrong, because they are intellectually and emotionally inert?

  • http://horrorfictionnews.com Paul

    “Just because cattle are raised on a small farm does not mean they have any better lives. That’s like the naturalistic falacy.”

    Of course not. But if you research the farms you can find those small or medium sized or even large farms that do raise humanely. I have a few near me I have actually visited to buy bison. And you can see the critters roaming around the 1100 acres. Granted you don’t pick one out and they end up cryo-vacced and frozen in an hour. Actually at the sheep farm it almost works like that. You can see the spring lambs before they go off to slaughter. So you’ll know what’s coming back.

    The act of killing in and of itself is not humane. But it is necessary for me to enjoy meat.

    But farms that I do buy from do raise their livestock in a humane way so even though the eventual slaughter is inhumane (hell any killing really is come to think of it) the livestock’s lives are at least not lived in confinement and overfed grain and antibiotics and not allowed to roam.

    Not to mention, grass fed roaming bison and cattle taste extra delicious.

  • http://blog.lib.umn.edu/fole0091/epistaxis/ Epistaxis

    If you read Pollan’s book, you’ll see what why Dreher responded that way. The Omnivore’s Dilemma is about the hygiene and efficiency of food production, and doesn’t really talk about ethics. There’s one disappointing chapter about vegetarianism, where Pollan corresponds with Peter Singer, but like many people he thinks meat is tasty so he doesn’t go there. That’s probably why his book got so much traction, unfortunately.

    Sara:

    He should just eat kosher meat. As far as I know “kosher” implies (among other things when pertaining to meat) that it’s been blessed by a rabbi.

    That might be more hygienic or it might not, but it’s actually more cruel – I’m not sure which you were going for. To be kosher, the animal can’t be unconscious when it’s killed (usually cattle are stunned with the gizmo from No Country for Old Men to be slightly more humane); kosher meat comes from animals whose throats are slit so they slowly bleed to death.

  • http://www.SecularDignity.net Secular Dignity

    He did make an interesting point about the Depression as a possible cause of Americans’ love of meat. That makes some sense to me.

    He also said:

    We live as we like in our individual bodies and deny the consequences to our communities and our idividual souls. Which is why we need Lent.

    Maybe you need religion to not be a jerk, but please do not project that onto others.

    (And yes, the word “individual” is misspelled on their site. I did not catch it until the comment editor here caught it.)

  • cipher

    If I may weigh in on the kosher issue –

    Shechita, the act of kosher slaughtering, isn’t necessarily more brutal than its conventional counterpart. The shochet, or ritual slaughterer, has to be trained and has to have studied the Talmudic texts pertaining to the dietary laws. An extremely sharp blade is drawn quickly across the throat, in one continuous motion, severing the jugular vein, carotid artery, esophagus and trachea. If done properly, the animal is supposed to be rendered insensible almost immediately, due to the severing of the nerve and a sudden outpouring of blood from the vessels leading to the brain. If the blade has even the tiniest nick, or if the shochet falters, the meat is rendered non-kosher, or treif.

    The process itself isn’t “blessed” by a rabbi; this is a popular misconception. The shochet may be a rabbi, but he needn’t be. A rabbi who is particularly knowledgeable about the laws of kashrut, the dietary laws, must inspect the premises, and certify that the laws are being observed. In a restaurant or food processing plant, this means that he’s observed their procedures and has determined that none of the laws are being violated – only kosher ingredients are being used, there are separate dishes and utensils for milk and meat, etc.

    There is a prohibition (tsa’ar ba’alei chayim) against causing unnecessary suffering to animals; however, unfortunately, among today’s Orthodox, the emphasis is generally placed upon scrupulous observance of the laws pertaining to slaughtering. The treatment of the animals prior to that isn’t as much of a priority. Some Conservative and Reform rabbis have lobbied for a standard of kashrut that accommodates ethical and ecological concerns – but the Orthodox have been reluctant to sign on. (After WW II, there was an influx into America of ultra-Orthodox Jews, who have largely commandeered Orthodoxy. They are often unwilling to work with non-Orthodox Jews on any issue, as they are afraid that it will seem as though they are validating the non-Orthodox denominations.)

    Some animal rights groups are oppsed to shechita. They claim that it can take several minutes for the animal to die, even when the act is performed properly. Supposedly, there have been studies demonstrating that it’s inherently more humane than conventional assembly-line slaughtering – but, recently, there have been allegations that a large kosher slaughterhouse in the Midwest has been guilty of slaughtering cattle in an assembly-line manner, and not observing proper procedure. They’re also accused of treating their employees poorly, which, in the eyes of many Jews, also constitutes a violation of the spirit of Jewish law.

    I had a conversation not long ago with a non-Jewish friend who is a veterinarian. She feels that the stun method, when done properly, is inherently more humane as it renders the animal unconscious immediately. I suspect that she may be correct, but we’ll never get the Orthodox on board, and I think that shechita is probably the best alternative.

    By the way, the business about pork and shellfish – that prohibition was meant specifically for the Israelites. Gentiles were enjoined simply to refrain from eating a limb torn from a living animal.

    This concludes today’s lesson in Jewish Studies.

  • Vincent

    Just to add details/random facts…
    The piston spike gun used in slaughter houses uses pneumatics to drive a spike directly into the brain of the cow, causing instant brain failure and subsequent death.

    Pigs on the other hand have incredibly thick skulls full of sinuses. The spike would only make a pig angry. Thus pigs are slaughtered by the throat slitting method.

  • Aj

    Maybe he thinks non-Christians will fuck them before he eats them.

  • robin

    But to the best I’m able to provide, it will be meat raised by Christian small farmers in the Dallas area or otherwise produced in a morally responsible way.

    What’s the fuss? He’s not limiting his selection to just Christians but to small local farmers who produce in a morally responsible way.

    It’s great that people are making an effort to source their meat from farms that treat animals well. This guy assumes small christian farms will provide that (not always true) but makes it clear he will take the meat from whoever can.

    It seems he is also trying to support his local community and the one he identifies with is Christian. It’s not so different that supporting a business becasue of a shared ethnic background.

    Is it really necessary to freak out every time the word “Christian” comes up?

  • http://hoverfrog.wordpress.com hoverFrog

    Is it really necessary to freak out every time the word “Christian” comes up?

    I thought “Jesus Freak” was an instruction. Oops!

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    excellent points robin

  • Aj

    robin,

    What’s the fuss? He’s not limiting his selection to just Christians but to small local farmers who produce in a morally responsible way.

    That’s mighty disingenuous of you.

    It’s not so different that supporting a business becasue of a shared ethnic background.

    Racism and nationalism, together? Great! I’m so pleased.

  • cipher

    The piston spike gun used in slaughter houses uses pneumatics to drive a spike directly into the brain of the cow, causing instant brain failure and subsequent death.

    Actually, when I said “stun”, I meant the spike method. I think someone else had said “stun” earlier, and I was conflating them. I should have been clearer.


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