Is there such a thing as “competitive veganing”? Maybe there should be. Vegan judgment and guilt are ever-present. It’s understandable given the needless suffering of animals. Yet I wonder: what does grace look like for the ethical eater?
This is Day Six of my week-long devotional for the 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.
In Christ we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace. Ephesians 1:7
In my previous blog post, I discussed the frustration I’ve experienced with trying to eat more ethically. While some folks are well-meaning in their critiques of my vegan “experiment-of-one,” others (both vegans and meat-eaters) have been, shall we say, less than kind. As I’m approaching the end of my 7-Day Vegan Challenge, I feel enormous pressure from both sides of the table. If I maintain strict veganism, the rift it would create in my family puts me in a bind. If I go back to being a lacto-ovum vegetarian (consuming eggs and dairy), then I’m a traitor. The judgment from the vegan world will be unrelenting and unforgiving.
“I can vegan better than you.”
Even eating free-range, grass-fed, humanely-raised eggs and dairy products has its problems. The amount of grain, water, and land needed to support the animals that provide these products is unconscionable when compared to what is needed for plant products. And when the animals are no longer productive, they still end up brutally slaughtered and humans consume their corpses, vegans point out.
Are you shocked and offended by vegan judgment? Too bad, they say. The climate is heating up, ecosystems are collapsing, forests are disappearing, species are dying, and human civilization is heading toward a cliff. And you’re part of the problem with your animal-product consumption. Here, watch this [warning: graphic] video, or this one, and think of how that cow or pig felt as you’re munching on its corpse. You’re taking part in a barbaric practice that is killing the planet. So, frankly, to hell with your feelings.
I understand the sentiment. When you realize sentient beings are suffering needlessly with no voice in the debate, and that our planet is turning into a cesspool because of it, you’re done with being polite. The feelings of the meat-eaters are irrelevant when animals suffer inhumane conditions before being slaughtered.
As a person of faith and a Lutheran Christian, however, I do wonder: where do grace and forgiveness fit in to the tug-and-pull of ethical eating?
What is true penitence for the ethical eater? When it comes to my eating habits, what would be considered “enough” to earn forgiveness? After I confessed my sins yesterday in church, I listened to the prescribed words repeated every Sunday:
In the name of Jesus Christ, I proclaim to you that your sins are forgiven and you are released.
Really? That’s it? No exhortation to “Go and sin no more”? (John 8:11). I have to admit that sometimes the corporate confession and forgiveness in my Lutheran tradition feels a little hollow and meaningless when I’m really wrestling with sin. I’m left asking: now what? Where is the particularity of the confession? For that matter, where is the specificity of the terms of reconciliation and forgiveness? It seems we’re off scott free to keep eating animals and breaking commandments for another week until we come back to have the slate wiped clean next Sunday.
That’s pretty cynical, I know. But I have to say that the church is not the most helpful place for this kind of deep-dive into sin, judgment, and grace around food ethics. The Bible is replete with animal sacrifice. And so is the church potluck. This has not been an easy week.
[Note that there is some Biblical support for a vegan diet. Some follow the “Daniel Fast” which is vegan. And in this piece I point out that according to Genesis 1, it appears God intended for humans to be plant-eaters: Eating Sunshine: 7-Day Vegan Challenge Devotional, Day 1.]
Fortunately, I am blessed with some Christian friends, friends of other faiths, and friends who are agnostic or atheist who are wrestling with these ethical-eating issues as well. They’ve been willing to discuss these questions with me in a forthright yet grace-filled way. In my next post, I’ll share what I’ve learned and where I go from here now that my 7-Day Vegan Challenge is coming to an end.
On the Menu
I made a stir fry of spaghetti squash, tofu, peppers, mushrooms, brussel sprouts, and onions all cooked in sesame oil. Then I simmered some Trader Joe’s yellow curry sauce with a splash of white wine and poured it over the stir fry. It was delicious! And I discovered that the brussel sprouts gave me the “meaty” substance my mouth was craving.
God of Judgment and Grace: How can I best honor the creatures you have made on this planet? I consider them my kin. So, it seems hypocritical that I would pay others to breed and enslave them on my behalf just so I can enjoy a privileged menu. Yet, what will satisfy the voices of judgment? Where is your grace? I ask these questions in the name of Jesus Christ, “the lamb who was slain.” 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).