Wrestling With Ethical Food Choices

Wrestling With Ethical Food Choices October 12, 2011

I’ve always been a fan of the philosophy that if God had meant for humans not to eat meat, it wouldn’t taste so delicious. Mostly I like that perspective because I’ve grown up eating some kind of meat my entire life. But lately I’ve started to wonder if there’s a Biblical basis for vegetarianism.

In my more conservative Christian days, I hard all kinds of justification for the exploitation of the world’s resources as we see fit based on the idea that God granted us “dominion” over all of creation. Since then I’ve heard this interpreted less as free rein to utilize animals, vegetation and mineral resources for our own gain, and more as a charge to be responsible stewards, or caretakers.

Given the latter point of view, one could see how the case could be made that eating animals is not proper stewardship. One also can argue that being a carnivore goes against the commandment not to kill, as it is not specific only to human beings. I’ve joked before that perhaps this also applied to plants, and that a good Christian is safe as long as they eat dairy products, but otherwise they’re screwed.

This is taking it a little far of course, but where is the line? Some suggest that it’s acceptable to kill another living thing as long as it’s for food. So what about cannibalism? And if that’s not okay, but eating other animals is, why? Is it because we have souls and they don’t? How are we so sure?

I think the best argument against vegetarianism among Abrahamic faiths come from the kosher laws of Judaism and the halal laws of Islam. While both promote guidelines for ethical and hygienic treatment of animals, neither promotes a meat-free diet.

I’m not exactly ready to give up my turkey meatballs or chicken burrito bowls just yet, but it raises a lot of questions for me about the morality of food in general. This includes not just what we eat, but how we grow it, harvest it, ship it, and who goes without enough while we have surpluses rotting in silos and on store shelves.

And is junk food a sin? How about excess, and when do we cross that line? How about excess sodium? Saturated fat? Refined sugar? The answers to these questions will vary as widely as the people offering them, but it’s worth a conversation. And as a culture principally built on an economy of consumption, our conclusions could be not only life-changing, but world-changing as well.

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  • Rachel Rev

    I’ve been vegetarian for the better part of the past 15 years.  And my reasoning has less to do with not killing animals as it has to do with sustainability of our planet.  If every human on earth consumed the diet of most North Americans, then we’d need many more earths to support us.  And you can feed many more people by planting a field with plants and grains for human consumption than you can using that same field for animal feed for animals to be eaten by humans.  So, yes, my reason for my vegetarianism is about being a good steward of the earth, but not necessarily in caring for animals like you suggest here or like most people assume. 

    By the way, I don’t expect everyone else to be vegetarian, and I am not
    offended when people eat meat.  I just made a choice that seems right
    for me. 

    • Thanks Rachel. Still more perspectives to consider on the ethics of food.

    • Loralelorale

      Rachel Rev, when you were a meat eater did you feel better or worse physically. I ask because of toyr reason for giving up meat. We have a family at our church that are vegetarians and I overheard the mom ask one of her children. “Do you really want to eat something that had a face?” And that has stuck with me for a number of years. I guess it bothered me more than I thought.

  • irreverin.wordpress.com

    thanks for this. i struggle with food ethics too, and there is so much conflicting info out there… i recently read something pretty scary about the world food crisis–the problem being that more countries are starting to eat like americans (read: meat at every meal, and double-to -triple the portion sizes) and that if this trend continues, we will all be screwed come 2050. in an effort for balance,  i’m trying to be a part-time vegetarian… you know, preserve the resources, blah blah, but bacon is so damn good.

  • I think that being a good steward also includes maintaining the health of the body God gave us and that decisions about what we eat should be made accordingly.

    And by the way, based on the start you had, I think you make amazingly good choices when it comes to food!

  • Noam

    The kosher laws of Judaism are not an argument against vegetarianism. Since the Bible makes clear that God created a vegetarian world in the Garden of Eden, and that permission to eat meat was only given to Noah after the world had fallen into sin, meat is considered a concession (not the ideal) and the kosher laws meant to remind us that eating meat should always something done with restraint. (See http://jewishveg.com/torah.html for a fuller explanation of the Jewish view.)

    Judaism also believes that animals have souls.
    All this is besides the point when you consider the astounding scale of cruelty in factory farming, which is a clear violation of Biblican mandates to show concern for animals; not to mention the massive scale of environmental harm that flies in the face of our instructions to be stewards of creation. Even if meat was justifiable in principle, it isn’t in practice today.