I know that the spiritual aspect of this discussion won’t be “relevant” to everyone. However, my Christian faith informs my life so I must include it. Aside from just doing internet research, I wanted to see what the Bible said about some of this stuff. So, I started thinking about which well-known verses might apply, and looked up some verses specifically about food and animals.
Most Christians know we are told to treat our bodies as temples (1 Corinthians 6:19), and to be good stewards of the Lord’s provisions (1 Peter 4:10). I take this to mean health ought to matter to us and that we are to behave responsibly with the resources the Lord has provided to us. But what instruction is given as far as what we are to eat?
Let’s start at the beginning, shall we? In Genesis, we read about what God has created for Adam and Eve (and everyone else!) for food.
Genesis 1:29 – Then God said, “Look! I have given you every seed-bearing plant throughout the earth and all the fruit trees for your food.
Genesis 9:1-4 – Then God blessed Noah and his sons and told them, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth. 2 All the animals of the earth, all the birds of the sky, all the small animals that scurry along the ground, and all the fish in the sea will look on you with fear and terror. I have placed them in your power. 3 I have given them to you for food, just as I have given you grain and vegetables. 4 But you must never eat any meat that still has the lifeblood in it.
These are pretty clear to me; God placed humans at the top of the food chain and it is not morally wrong to eat meat.
But that’s not the end of the story. The below verses from 1 Corinthians are interesting in this context, too, especially since the examples Paul uses are about eating meat. Not necessarily as a commentary on “right” vs. “wrong”, but as a guide for how we are to navigate interactions with other people given our personal convictions about what to eat and what not to eat.
1 Corinthians 10:23-33 – You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is good for you. You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is beneficial. 24 Don’t be concerned for your own good but for the good of others.
25 So you may eat any meat that is sold in the marketplace without raising questions of conscience. 26 For “the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.”
27 If someone who isn’t a believer asks you home for dinner, accept the invitation if you want to. Eat whatever is offered to you without raising questions of conscience. 28 (But suppose someone tells you, “This meat was offered to an idol.” Don’t eat it, out of consideration for the conscience of the one who told you. 29 It might not be a matter of conscience for you, but it is for the other person.) For why should my freedom be limited by what someone else thinks? 30 If I can thank God for the food and enjoy it, why should I be condemned for eating it?
31 So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 32 Don’t give offense to Jews or Gentiles or the church of God.33 I, too, try to please everyone in everything I do. I don’t just do what is best for me; I do what is best for others so that many may be saved.
There’s a lot to think about in these verses! First, there’s the concept that just because we are ALLOWED to do something doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. This makes me think of the health claims made against many animal products. Just because I’m allowed to eat steaks marbled with fat that come from cows eating corn on a feedlot doesn’t mean it’s beneficial for me. (If you have the inclination, read Daniel 1:8-16. In this passage, Daniel has been taken captive to Babylon and is being asked to eat a rich diet ordered by the king. He persuades the king to let him eat only vegetables and drink water. The end result is Daniel looking much healthier, stronger and vibrant than the men who consumed the king’s rich wine and meats.)
Perhaps the most important takeaway, though, is this idea of putting others above myself – and the motivation for that is to win others to the Lord by showing them HIS kindness and grace. The fact that Paul seems to place more emphasis on the person with a “sensitive conscience” is interesting, too. To me, this means if I’m eating dinner with a vegan, I’m not going to wave my bacon in her face and prattle on about how yummy it is. Because that’s rude and it offends her conscience. Does that mean I’m wrong for eating bacon and I can’t eat bacon? Of course not! Instead, try a little empathy. Accept that some people in the world just have a more sensitive conscience about the slaughter of animals.
Similar statements are made in Romans.
Romans 14:1-4 – Accept other believers who are weak in faith, and don’t argue with them about what they think is right or wrong. 2 For instance, one person believes it’s all right to eat anything. But another believer with a sensitive conscience will eat only vegetables. 3 Those who feel free to eat anything must not look down on those who don’t. And those who don’t eat certain foods must not condemn those who do, for God has accepted them. 4 Who are you to condemn someone else’s servants? Their own master will judge whether they stand or fall. And with the Lord’s help, they will stand and receive his approval.
No believer should be condemning another believer’s food choices. This one is a little harder for me, only because factory farming and the industrial food chain did not exist in biblical times! Yet at the heart of it is simply the notion that it’s not wrong to eat meat, nor is it wrong to choose not to eat meat.
What must be considered, in my opinion, is unnecessary cruelty. And the Bible does condemn cruelty towards animals as something only “wicked” people do.
Proverbs 12:10 says, “The godly care for their animals, but the wicked are always cruel.”
What I asked myself is this: Am I wicked if I am not inflicting the cruelty on the animal with my own hands (or machinery…<shudder>), but I’m eating and enjoying the product of that cruelty? I personally felt highly uncomfortable with the idea that I was contributing to the demand for such products. I don’t think it’s wrong to eat animals, but I think it’s wrong to abuse them in order to get food. It’s also totally unnecessary and in many cases, unhealthy, to eat this way.
I want to acknowledge too that there are people who are more sensitive to this than I am; people that believe it’s cruel to kill animals for food, period. I respect those people, and I understand them. It’s uncomfortable to think about.
But because of my faith, I will not condemn the idea of eating meat entirely. I believe God designed our bodies to be able to consume and digest animal products, and the Bible clearly states that eating meat is OK, if you choose to. (Side note: yes, I am leaving out all the rules about what kinds of animals were considered clean vs. not in Old Testament times. That is an entirely different discussion that I don’t believe has as much relevance to this topic in post-resurrection times. But every time I read the rules about animal sacrifices in the Old Testament, I’m extra thankful for Jesus!)
I will, however, condemn factory farming until I’m blue in the face. We ought to have more respect for the living things around us. This is why I think it’s so important to consider what these creatures were MEANT to consume and digest. Feeding animals an unnatural diet and pumping them full of supplements and antibiotics to keep them alive is utterly disgusting to me (among many, many other common practices that I haven’t posted here). I don’t know what to classify it as, if not cruelty. I keep coming back to Proverbs 12:10.