Only 2% of the population in the UK is vegetarian. I was really surprised by this actually. I think, as a vegetarian with several vegetarian and vegan friends, not eating meat has been normalised for me and I forget how many people actually do eat meat. Being a Christian and being a vegetarian are probably the 2 biggest influencers on my lifestyle, and it just makes sense to me that they go hand-in-hand. But the majority of Christians are not vegetarians, and I’ve been questioned about how I can be both a Christian and not eat meat as many people think that the Christian faith encourages eating meat – one friend once said to me that it’s even wrong for a Christian to be vegetarian for animal welfare reasons. Christians who do eat meat often do so because of the following reasons:
We are given authority over animals by God
Genesis 1 v 28: “God blessed them and said to them “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the Earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
God said we can eat animals
Genesis 9 v 3: “Everything that lives and moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.”
Jesus ate meat
Luke 24 v 42-43: “They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence.”
However, my faith is part of the reason why I am a vegetarian, and I believe that it is more compassionate, reverent and self-less to eat a vegetarian diet than to eat meat. There are several reasons why I believe this, which I will explain below. I will also refer to the verses above and explain why I don’t think they necessarily mean that is right for Christians to eat meat.
1. Animal welfare
In Genesis 1 v 28, God gives humans the responsibility of ruling over all the animals and in Genesis 9 v 3, God gives humans permission to eat animals. But just because we CAN eat animals, doesn’t mean we SHOULD. We’re given permission to eat them, but the problem is, we’re not just eating them. We’re torturing, exploiting and damaging them for our own pleasure.
There’s no shying from the truth – animals raised for meat and dairy are treated horribly. They’re kept in awful conditions with little thought about their comfort, basic needs or happiness. They’re injected with hormones or selectively bred to enable them to grow to unnatural sizes or to increase milk or egg yields, which often cause serious medical problems and even death in some cases. And there are endless videos online showing animals being mistreated by workers at slaughter houses and farms.
Some people try to get around that by only buying “humane”, “grass-fed” or “free range” animals. However, the laws surrounding using words like these in advertising are pretty loose, meaning companies can get away with using them to deceive consumers by only grass-feeding animals for the first 6 months of their life, or keeping animals in tight, cramped conditions, but not in cages, so they can be classed as free range.
As Christians, I believe we should honour God’s creation by preventing the torture of animals, and embrace and promote transparency and honesty by not supporting industries that mislead people.
The meat industry is responsible for up to 25% of all carbon emissions – the main cause of global warming. This is such a big deal because the natural world provides us with many benefits that we can’t provide for ourselves. These benefits are called ecosystem services and they include providing clean water for drinking, decomposing waste and pollination for crop production. However, global warming is changing the natural environment so much that it might not be able to provide these services for us anymore.
Not only that, but the meat industry clears millions of hectares of rainforest every year for cattle ranching and to grow crops to feed livestock, and uses almost one third of the freshwater available globally! This is incredibly damaging to the planet and to other species, and has caused extinctions, water shortages and habitat loss.
God’s creation is wonderful. I’m always in awe of how beautiful it is and the intricacy and complexity of its design. I believe that Christians should protect it so that it continues to glorify God and be a demonstration of His power, and part of that includes eating a vegetarian diet.
3. Food crisis
The growing human population means an increased demand for food. It is concerning that we may soon be unable to produce enough food to feed everyone on the planet. Raising animals for food contributes to this problem.
The livestock in the US consumes more than 5 times as much grain as the human population in the US. That’s insane! David Pimentel, an ecologist at Cornell University, comments, “If all the grain currently fed to livestock in the United States were consumed directly by people, the number of people who could be fed would be nearly 800 million”.
Philippians 2 v 4 says, “Each of you should be concerned not only about your own interests, but about the interest of others as well”. How can we justify this waste of food? By choosing to not eat meat, you are choosing to support a future where more people can be fed.
4. Original intention
Theologian Professor Andrew Linzey from Oxford University points out, “People always remember that we are given dominion over animals in Genesis chapter one, but they forget that two verses later we are given a vegetarian diet”.
Linzey is referring to Genesis 1 v 29, where God says “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole Earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food”. It isn’t until after the flood that God gives humans permission to eat animals.
Linzey continues by saying, “The important point is that the original diet given by the Creator is vegetarian. Although we live in a world that is fallen and alienated, we should try to at least approximate God’s will by going veggie”.
As for the fact that Jesus ate meat (as shown in Luke 24 v 42-43), I think this is a reflection on the methods of food production as farming and fishing have developed. In biblical times, animals were raised by a family and either slaughtered as a sacrifice or for food, and fish were caught in nets on lakes and the oceans. The animals weren’t tortured, kept in awful conditions, degraded or abused the way they are today. Fishing wasn’t an industrial trade with destructive methods leaving marine environments damaged and broken as it is today. As I said before, God says we can eat animals, but I don’t think God would ever encourage the abuse that animals raised for meat face today or the exploitative methods we use.
Those are the reasons why I believe it is right to be a vegetarian and a Christian. I’d love to know your thoughts, whether you agree or disagree, so leave a comment below. But whether you eat meat or not, we should give thanks to God for the food we have, and in all our decisions, seek to live by His will, giving Him all praise and glory.
1 Corinthians 10 v 31: “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God”.