This is the devotional for Day Four of my 7-Day Vegan Challenge. You can read about why I’ve undertaken this break from all animal products here. Each day I’m posting a short devotional because my decision to go vegan is informed by my faith, my interpretation of the Bible, and my ecotheological ethics. On this fourth day of the challenge, I wrestle with the tension that arises when one person in a family chooses to eat vegan while the rest do not.
[What’s the 7-Day Vegan Challenge? Find out here.]
“And the Lord God made garments of skins for the man and for his wife, and clothed them.” Genesis 3:21
One of the biggest challenges for me during this 7-Day Vegan Challenge is that I live in – and cook for – a family of omnivores. I have friends in similar situations. Here we are trying to minimize our impact on the planet, eat healthier, and end our participation in the suffering of animals for the sake of our palette. But the other members of our household are chomping away on chicken, cheese pizza, and charbroiled burgers. One of my friends lamented that the two menus merely cancel each other out, rather than accomplishing any major change.
According to the website Veganbits, based on a sampling of 11,000 adults, aged 17 and over, only 2% of Americans are vegetarian. Only one-in-four vegetarians — or 0.5% of the USA adult population — is vegan. In other words, only half of one percent of the USA population — or 1.62 million — is vegan. In the face of so many millions of people cancelling out our choices, what difference does foregoing animal products really make?
Add to that the potential for tension, resentment, judgment, and broken relationships all around.
I know one person who was so committed to a vegan lifestyle that it contributed to a divorce because the spouse and children did not share those values. (There were, of course, other factors, but the misalignment of values was a big factor.) For me, it’s mostly the little things, like not being able to share in those food-based pleasures we enjoyed as a family (trips to the ice cream shop, a shared pizza, a sampling of cheeses at the shop to pick our favorite one). But sometimes it’s the big questions and ethical issues involved in our family food choices that cause the most tension.
In the third chapter of Genesis, there is a rupture in the relationships between man and woman, humans and animals, humans and Earth, humans and God. It’s not lost on me that it was an argument over a food item that led to the Fall. And it’s only after The Fall when animals are harmed – skinned to provide clothes for the shamed humans. It bothers me that animals had to pay the price for the human’s decisions. And they pay the price to this day.
So this devotional is about lament and frustration. The Bible is full of that – people being honest about how they feel, the struggles they face, the tight knots of pain and frustration that never seem to loosen. I don’t have any answers today. But I do have prayer. And I do have faith in a God who listens, cares, and has the ability to make a way where there is no way.
On the MenuThe pad thai I made was a hit. I got brown rice noodles and sauce, along with bean sprouts, onion, and chopped hazelnuts from my local grocery store. My version had fried tofu, but I had to make shrimp for the others. I know that the shrimp industry is responsible for the loss of one-fifth of the world’s mangrove forests. And that the industry exploits migrants (including women and children) from across southeast Asia in a slave-labor nightmare.
“You already won’t cook us hamburgers, chicken, or pork chops. Now you want to take away our seafood, too?!?”
For the sake of a tension-free meal, this is the dinner conversation I avoid. This “experiment of one” can be a lonely, anguished endeavor.
God of Relationships – How is it that animals and people must suffer for the sake of human decisions, habits, and pleasure involving our food? Beyond my own integrity, does it even matter what I do or what I eat? What are you going to do about these questions that are too big for me to answer? I know it’s not my job to change anyone’s heart or mind – only you can do that. So I am offering all of this to you. Amen.
Leah D. Schade is a professor of preaching and worship and author of the book Creation-Crisis Preaching: Ecology, Theology, and the Pulpit (Chalice Press, 2015). She is an ordained minister in the Lutheran Church (ELCA).