To Eat No-Kill Cultivated Meat
Part Three: Hindu? Jain? An Interview with Rita Sherma
In this series of Patheos posts in public theology we began by asking in Part One: should we eat no-kill cultivated meat? Then, in Part Two, we asked Jewish Studies scholar Sam Shonkoff: is cultivated meat kosher? We are furthering a discussion begun by our friends in Kerela, India, who have recently addressed the “Global Food Crisis and Food Justice” in the magazine Pax Lumina.
On the face of it, widespread consumption of cultivated meat–also called cultured, in vitro, artificial, lab-grown meat–could contribute substantially to both human and planetary flourishing. Cultivated meat could provide affordable protein to the many victims of the current global food crisis. Cultivated meat could reduce if not eliminate the slaughter of animals. Finally, cultivated meat could indirectly contribute to the restoration of our planet’s fecundity by reducing grazing land and reducing release of methane gases. The science of cultivate meat has its critics, to be sure. Yet, it’s time to get prepared for the future.
What we need at this point in the game is to solicit theological and ethical responses from religious traditions. Just what do various religious traditions hold regarding the relationship of humans to animals? Just what dietary practices have developed? Just what theological reasoning has led to these practices? And, might the notion of no-kill cultivated meat stimulate new theological thinking and perhaps a change in practice?
Might cultivated meat attract vegetarians?
In the first post in this series on no-kill cultivated meat, we asked about vegetarianism in India. We noted how the Pew Research Center reports that the vast majority of Indian adults (81%) follow some restrictions on meat in their diet, including refraining from eating certain meats, not eating meat on certain days, or both. However, most Indians do not abstain from meat altogether – only 39% of Indian adults describe themselves as “vegetarian,” according to a new Pew Research Center survey. While there are many ways to define “vegetarian” in India, the survey left the definition up to the respondent.
Let’s ask specifically about Hindus and Jains. We will ask Rita Sherma.
Meet Rita Sherma
Rita Sherma is Associate Professor of Dharma Studies and Director of the Center for Dharma Studies at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California. Professor Sherma is co-founder of the American Academy of Religion’s Hinduism Program Unit. She is also the founding Vice President of DANAM (Dharma Academy of North America)—a scholarly society for research on Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain religious & interreligious studies—and serves as Vice President of the Society for Hindu-Christian Studies.
Quite relevant to the issue of cultivated meat is Professor Sherma’s ongoing scholarship on behalf of restoring the fecund health of Planet Earth. She is an ecotheologian. She recently co-edited an important book, Religion and Sustainability: Interreligious Resources, Interdisciplinary Responses. She is just the right person to provide succinct and accurate answers to our queries.
Question 1. What would you forecast to be the response of a Dharma vegetarian to the prospect of eating cultivated meat?
Rita Sherma. Hindus and Jains would not eat cultivated meat for two reasons. First, there is the problem of desiring meat of other sentient beings which is not considered conducive to spiritual advancement. Second, there is no need. This is because Indian food—with its variety of delicious food created from protein sources derived from various plant-based sources such as diverse lentils, legumes, milk solids (paneer), etc.—provides savor and satisfaction for those who like flavorful Indian food.
Question 2. What is your own considered response from a theological perspective?
Rita Sherma. The food chain developed and evolved through natural process. Therefore, it is not intrinsically immoral. However, from the viewpoint of diverse religious ethics, we may cause moral injury to ourselves by engaging in the slaughter and consumption of other sentient beings. This is being researched by studies that look at brutality to animals and trace the trajectory to more serious crimes—to crimes against other humans. Certain Hindu traditions do not permit the eating of meat. But others do permit it. Jainism absolutely forbids it.
This is where we have been and plan to go.
To Eat No-Kill Cultivated Meat. Part One: The Science
What’s next? Lets ask LDS theologian Lincoln Cannon to report on the place of animals in Mormon theology.
Brian Brozovic is a student at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary and Ted Peters is an emeritus professor at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in Berkeley, California, USA. Visit Professor Peters’ website: TedsTimelyTake.com .