Here are some thoughts on my time of not eating any animal products, which I attempted to do for Lent this year (with a few lapses along the way).
I repeated to many people, including myself, that after Lent ended I would go straaaight back to how I was and that would be the end of everything.
However, choosing a vegan diet over Lent was not just an arbitrary sacrifice of not eating food that I really liked for a while. Rather my intention was that, just as the sacrifice of giving up would contribute to being able to think + reflect more about the nature of sacrifice in terms of what Jesus did for me when he died, it would also focus my thinking about how my life can become more in accordance with what my belief in Jesus entails. Examining my relationship with food and reflecting on that is part of this – which is why I decided to spend time, especially in Holy Week (the run up to Easter Sunday) researching the food industry and how different people consider that to impact their faith.
This has lead to the following 5 premises and conclusion….
1. Modern Animal Agriculture harms the environment
- Water waste – It takes 990 litres of water to produce one litre of milk. Water Footprint Network
- Energy waste – 90% energy is lost as you move up each stage of the food chain, meaning that it is considerably more energy efficient to eat plant-based food.
- Greenhouse Gases – Livestock are responsible for 18% of the greenhouse gases that cause global warming (more than cars, planes + all other forms of transport together)
- Livestock also produces more than 100 other polluting gases, including more than two-thirds of the world’s emissions of ammonia (one of the main causes of acid rain) and a third of methane (which warms the world 20x faster than C02).
- Deforestation – ranching is “the major driver of deforestation”
Unless otherwise stated statistics+quotes are sourced from Livestock’s Long Shadow
2. Modern Animal Agriculture harms humans
- Land Use – Livestock takes up 30% of the earth’s entire land surface, mostly permanent pasture but also including 33% of the global arable land used to producing feed for livestock. This links to other issues such as overgrazing, but is mostly an illustration of the way that being dependent on livestock is not energy efficient, and means that less people can be fed with the same amount of land
- It harms the wrong people – 108 million people are living in food insecurity, UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, 80% of these people are living in countries prone to natural disasters with high levels of environmental degradation, United Nations World Food Programme . In other words, the result of the environmental damage from eating meat, impacts upon people already in poverty who are not responsible and have not benefited from the environmental damage
- Time Critical – By 2050 hunger and child malnutrition could increase by up to 20% as a result of climate-related disasters. United Nations World Food Programme.
- Avoidable deaths – It is estimated by a study published in March, that more than 5m deaths could be averted over the next three decades or so if meat were consumed modestly around the world, 7m could be saved if veggie-eating caught on more widely and 8m in the case of popular veganism. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
3. Modern Animal Agriculture harms animals
- Not just harm that is ‘part of the food chain’ – I’m not going to say too much here, other than the fact that from what I’ve seen, I would be happier harvesting crops than partaking in some of the farming practices of modern animal agriculture. For a satirical take, see this YouTube video of the programme Carnage, recently broadcast by the BBC. Documentaries like Cowspiracy and Forks over Knives are available on Netflix. Lots of information can be found via a google search but be warned that some of it is suitably unpleasant!
4. Changing my diet would make a difference
- I vote in elections… – because I believe that it does make a difference; taking ownership over my diet follows the same reasoning that leads me to take ownership over my political rights. I’ve concluded that it is inconsistent to choose to buy clothing in charity shops as a way of avoiding participating in an unethical fast fashion industry, and yet tell myself that ‘it doesn’t matter’ whether or not I personally am participate in what I believe, increasingly, to be an unethical food industry.
5. Scripture is all too relevant
- The moral status of animals – Regardless of the moral status of animals, which I’m not sure I can give you a good account of anyway, it should be considered that our differences from animals are what establish our moral obligations to them – for they are not able to consent in a way we understand.
- They are God’s creation – As in Colossians 1:16, for example. In Matthew 6 and Luke 12 we are taught by the example of birds and flowers as to how we should depend on God, and Luke 12:6 tells us not one sparrow is ‘forgotten by God’. Even the smallest parts of nature have a value and are known to God, and therefore we should act accordingly. God is the generous Creator of all life and all life exists principally for the glory of God, Christian theology should not be quite so anthropocentric!
- We are told to act justly – Justice + faith are something I have written about before on this blog, and it applies here because of the harm animal agriculture does to both animals and humans. Scripture does not say that eating meat or animal products is intrinsically bad, but where it seems evident that their consumption is inextricably linked to the abuse of God’s creation, then it is a matter of our fighting injustice as part of making God’s kingdom more visible.
- Some more on God’s kingdom – it is one of peace (as in Isaiah 11:6-9, inc. relevant animal imagery). I’m not completely sure what that looks like in actuality, but if I am to be someone who wants peace in the world then I need to think about my part in systems of institutionalized cruelty towards animals and the conflict/in-peace that will come about because of environmental damage.
- Some words from theologian Dr Andrew Linzey – ‘Animals are God’s creatures, not human property, nor utilities, nor resources, nor commodities, but precious beings in God’s sight… The Cross of Christ is God’s absolute identification with the weak, the powerless, and the vulnerable, but most of all with unprotected, undefended, innocent suffering.’ Please Don’t Eat the Animals: All the Reasons You Need to Be a Vegetarian
- Interpreting Genesis – the memorable/oft-quoted part of Genesis is that God gives us dominion over animals, but two verses later, in Genesis 1:29, it appears we are given a vegetarian diet – ‘every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.‘ Also, ‘dominion’ (radah in Hebrew) does not mean despotism or a blank cheque, we are set over creation to care for what God has made.
- The example of Jesus – Jesus never says that God wants us to rule over the earth, but he does say the exact opposite: ‘Our father…your will be done on earth.’ (Matthew 6:10) Instead of God telling humanity to tear the world apart and put it back together for our own comfort and convenience, Jesus taught his disciples to pray that humanity would give that dominion back. When we look at nature we’re supposed to look not for domination but to cooperation, asking, ‘What was God’s intention here, and how can we cooperate? How can we fit in?’ (as an aside, I reckon Jesus, who essentially led a small tribe of nomadic foragers, had a pretty low carbon footprint)
- We are called to love – John 3:16, maybe the most famous passage in the New Testament – starts ‘For God so loved the world.’ The two greatest commandments are about love and are a call to love. God loves this world, he loves creation, and he loves people. How to love in the context of food is therefore important, and relevant. At the very least a reflection and examination of the impact of how I eat is required.
= A decision…
Whereas previously I have been mostly-ish vegetarian during uni terms (avoiding meat from an environmental and cost perspective) I am now going to become full-time vegetarian – and vegan in the way that I spend my own money. This means that whilst I won’t buy for myself any animal products, I will still partake in social occasions and celebrations and eat what I’m cooked as before, because I’m viewing this a personal decision. So if you’re reading this as someone who knows me in real life, there’s no need to be panicked, you can still bake me cake 😉
On the basis that modern animal agriculture harms both animals and humans, and on the basis that I can live healthily in a way that does not contribute to this harm, I see this decision as a way of seeking justice in a practical way. Any sacrifice involved to live more simply will always be worthwhile if it allows others to simply live.