Food and Power
Based on what we talked about this morning how everyone is supposed to use their power over the earth, the plants, and the animals, how do you feel about if/how we should eat the animals? I’ve struggled with this for years because I’m such an animal lover at heart. But I also grew up in a family of hunters and I have a lot of respect for the way hunting is done if you’re hunting for food. I should also say that at this time I’m a meat eater and I always have been! I grew up thinking that God put animals on the earth for our enjoyment, to help us with our work, and to provide us with food. But I guess over the last 5 years or so, I have thought about the way America’s industry seems to treat animals these days. I’m talking about the mass processing of animals with no dignity in their lives and are killed inhumanly. If I really sit and think about it, I feel like if Jesus went to one of those mass processing factories where we get most of our meat, I can’t really picture him giving the operator a big thumbs up. Lol. So for that reason, I feel like I’ve avoided watching those gruesome documentaries and visits to the places where you find out how hotdogs are made because if I let myself see those things then I wouldn’t be able to enjoy meat anymore. My perception of the purpose of animals for food would be ruined.
When I think about what might be a good alternative for me to do, maybe I could only buy meat from sources that have raised the animals with respect and have provided them with adequate food/water and a painless death. Or maybe the answer for me is to just not eat meat at all.
This is just something that I wrestle with almost daily so it would be really nice to gain some perspective and also gather my own information.
Before I respond to your principle questions, I want to acknowledge and affirm two things you’ve just done. First, you have been practicing reflection. You’re asking difficult questions, thinking through how the teaching and everyday life connect and trying to make sense of it. This is SO good. Second, you’re thinking about implications. You’re taking an idea (in this case, power and the goodness of creation) and asking, “What would it look like if I really believed this and saw it through to its logical conclusion?” and it’s led you to thinking about ethics and food choice. I wish that everyone in the church took a sermon, practiced reflection like you did, thought through the implications (the “logical conclusion”) of the ideas and sought to apply them. Brilliant. Jesus does this in the Sermon on the Mount. He takes one of the 10 Commandments (“Do not murder”) and reverse-engineers it. If I want to avoid murder, I should avoid thinking someone should die; if I should avoid thinking someone should die, I should avoid hating them; if I should avoid hating them, I should avoid letting bitterness grow in my heart toward them; if I should avoid bitterness toward them, then I should avoid getting angry with them. And he ends up equating anger and murder (Matthew 5:21-22).
Before I hop in, I would recommend a book called The Marvelous Pigness of Pigs by Joel Salatin. Salatin was one of the influential voices in reordering and reimagining Emily’s and my relationship with food.
It is interesting, isn’t it, that in Genesis 1 and 2, the first humans were vegetarians! God did not plan on any blood-shedding in Eden. Cain introduced this practice (but Jesus REDEEMED IT… talk about Redeeming Power). Meat-eating is introduced for the first time in Genesis 9. One guess why is that with the Curse, God anticipated that it would be difficult for humanity to raise enough food to eat and so animals were allowed to supplement. But we see in Genesis 9:4 that God treats the blood of animals with great care. Humans must not eat animals with “the lifeblood in it.” This sets up a trend in scripture of handling all blood with care. There were very specific instructions about how animals were to be ritually sacrificed in the tabernacle/temple system. The soil itself is portrayed as crying out when blood is spilled needlessly.
So, I think we can see that God does allow humans to eat animals. God also urges tremendous caution in any shedding of blood, even of animals. God has no flippancy toward anything God made (including us). If God dresses flowers and birds (Matthew 6), he cares about pigs and cows and you and me.
I think you made a sincerely brilliant move with your appeal to Jesus. Would Jesus walk into an industrial slaughterhouse complex and give it a big thumbs up? Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, who at creation was “with God and was God,” believed in the original goodness of creation. Jesus certainly understood the Old Testament instructions surrounding Sabbath laws. The land and the animals were to rest every seven days. The land and the animals were to rest every seven years as well. God built into the earth a need for rest, an essential dignity and warned humans against any flippancy toward what he made.
I think the implications you’ve begun listing are a great start (avoiding meat, buying ethically sourced meat, etc.). If you have settled your values (which itself is a big deal) that you feel compelled as a Jesus-follower to avoid consuming meat that’s been mishandled, dishonored, mass produced, then it’s a matter of preference and budget. If you’re both big meat-eaters, then you could buy from sources you trust or hunt for your own food. You could consider decreasing the amount of meat you eat and find ethical sources (they’re getting more prevalent in supermarkets). You can buy directly from farmers/ranchers through co-ops, farmer’s markets, etc. in the Tulsa area. Or, as you said, you could give up on meat altogether.
Can you think of other areas of life (beyond food) where your convictions on stewarding power and honoring creation have implications?