Would Jesus Eat Meat Today?
Perhaps not. Here’s why...
Modern animal agriculture causes immense pain and suffering to animals, harms the environment, and damages our health. Yet many Christians believe that the Bible gives us permission to eat animals. Can Christian teachings and principles help guide our food choices?
As Christians, we are called to serve God, which means that we must be mindful of how our choices affect God and God’s Creation. The Bible relates that God gave humanity “dominion” over creation (Genesis 1:26), and we see this as a sacred responsibility, not a license to ruin the environment and torment God’s creatures. Indeed, many of the world’s problems are due to human heartlessness and self-indulgence. Moving toward a plant-based diet is a responsible, effective, and faithful way to serve God and to protect God’s Creation.How is vegetarianism good stewardship?
In Genesis 2:15, God instructed Adam to “till” and “keep” the Garden of Eden, and by analogy we may see caring for God’s Creation as our sacred task. The typical meat eater’s diet can require up to 14 times more water and 20 times more energy than that of a vegetarian. Indeed, current use of land, water, and energy is not sustainable; resource depletion threatens to cause hardships for humankind this century.
A 2006 report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations found that animal agriculture is a leading cause of climate change and air pollution; land, soil, and water degradation; and biodiversity loss. According to the report, the livestock sector is an even larger contributor to global warming than transport (cars, trucks, airplanes, and so forth). Huge quantities of the potent greenhouse gases methane and nitrous oxide are emitted by farmed animals and their waste. Animal agriculture is also a key factor in deforestation, which releases the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. The total area used for grazing and the production of feed crops accounts for 70 percent of all agricultural land and 30 percent of the earth’s land surface. About 20 percent of the world’s pastures and rangelands have been degraded (over 70 percent in the dry lands), mostly through overgrazing, compaction, and erosion created by livestock action.
Jesus preached, “For I was hungry and you gave me food.… [A]s you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Matt. 25:35, 40 RSV). Yet, while tens of millions of people die annually from starvation--related causes and close to a billion suffer from malnutrition, 37 percent of the world’s harvested grain is fed to animals being raised for slaughter; in the United States, the figure is 66 percent.
Jesus said that God feeds the birds of the air (Matt. 6:26)
and does not forget sparrows (Luke 12:6). The Hebrew Scriptures
forbid inhumane slaughter or cruelty toward beasts of burden
(Exod. 23:5; Deut. 22:6–7, 25:4). Yet, in the United States,
virtually all food derived from animals is obtained through
intensive factory farming methods. In fact, nearly ten billion
land animals are slaughtered each year, over a million every
hour, and the number of aquatic animals killed for food is far
greater. These animals suffer greatly from stressful crowding,
barren environments that frustrate their instinctive drives,
mutilations and amputations without pain relief (including
debeaking, dehorning, tail docking, and castration), and other
painful procedures (Bernard Rollin, Ph.D., Farm Animal Welfare).
For example, farmers crowd egg--laying hens in cages so small they can’t spread their wings. Some birds are immobilized when their feet get caught in the wire mesh; unable to reach food, they starve to death. Millions of chicks are mailed via the U.S. Postal Service each year. Although mortality rates are high, chicks are deemed cheap and not worth the cost of humane transport. It seems that contemporary farmers embrace any practice that increases productivity, regardless of how much animal pain and suffering it inflicts.
During transport to slaughter, animals are often handled roughly and exposed to extremes of heat or cold. Finally, slaughter typically involves terror and, often, great pain (Gail Eisnitz, Slaughterhouse). Illustrating the industry’s callousness, animals too sick to walk are painfully dragged to slaughter rather than humanely euthanized. Typical of the industry’s attitude, Hog Farm Management advised, “Forget the pig is an animal. Treat him just like a machine in a factory.”
If we eat the products of factory farming we are, Fr. John Dear notes, “paying people to be cruel.”
The apostle Paul wrote that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19), and it follows that we should care for our bodies as gifts from God. The largest organization of food and nutrition professionals in the United States, the American Dietetic Association, has endorsed well-planned vegetarian diets. In 2003, the ADA noted, “Vegetarians have been reported to have lower body mass indices than nonvegetarians, as well as lower rates of death from ischemic heart disease; vegetarians also show lower blood cholesterol levels; lower blood pressure; and lower rates of hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and prostate and colon cancer.”
In contrast to the predominantly plant-based Mediterranean diet that Jesus ate, modern Western diets (heavily laden with animal products) put people at risk. For example, animal foods tend to be high in saturated fat and cholesterol, which elevate blood lipids and increase the risk of heart disease—by far, the number one killer in the West. Because farmed animals are bred to grow quickly and given little exercise, their flesh is particularly high in saturated fats. In contrast, unsaturated fats in plant foods generally improve one’s lipid profile and reduce heart disease risk.
Numerous studies show this. The Cornell-Oxford-China Project found that rural Chinese people, who eat much less animal fat and protein and derive the bulk of their nutrition from plant sources, have far less heart disease mortality and much lower cholesterol levels than Americans or urban Chinese people who eat a more Western diet.
Regarding obesity and diabetes, fiber in fruits, vegetables, legumes (beans), oats, and barley helps people feel full, which discourages overeating. In study after study, vegetarians weigh less and have an easier time maintaining a healthy weight than their meat-eating peers.
Does the Bible Support Vegetarianism?
The Bible depicts vegetarianism as God’s ideal, and the diet conforms to the central biblical principle of steward-ship. In Eden, all creatures lived peacefully, and God told both humans and animals to consume only plant foods (Gen. 1:29–31). Several prophecies, such as Isaiah 11:6–9, foresee a return to this vegetarian world, where the wolf, lamb, lion, cow, bear, snake, and little child all coexist peacefully. Christian vegetarians, while acknowledging human sinfulness, believe we should strive toward the harmonious world Isaiah envisioned—to try to live in accordance with the prayer that Jesus taught us, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10).
Did God put animals here for our use?
Adam’s “dominion” over animals (Gen. 1:26, 28), we believe, conveys sacred stewardship, since God immediately afterward prescribed a vegetarian diet (1:29–30) in a world God found “very good” (1:31). Created in God’s image of love (1 John 4:8), we are called to be care-takers of God’s Creation, not tyrants over God’s creatures.
Genesis 1:21–22 relates that, before God created humanity, God regarded the animals “good” and blessed them. Further evidence that we should consider animals as inherently valuable comes from Genesis 2:18–19, which indicates that God made animals as Adam’s helpers and companions: “Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.’ So out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them…” (RSV). Adam named the animals, which we believe shows concern and friendship. We don’t name the animals we eat.
God endowed pigs, cattle, sheep, and all farmed animals with their own desires and needs, which is apparent when these animals are given an opportunity to enjoy life. For example, pigs are as curious, social, and intelligent as cats or dogs. Pigs can even play some video games better than monkeys. Similarly, chickens enjoy one another’s company and like to play, dust bathe, and forage for food. Jesus compared his love for us to a hen’s love for her chicks (Luke 13:34).
Why did God give Noah permission to eat meat (Gen. 9:2–4)?
Virtually all plants were destroyed by the Flood. Alternatively, God may have allowed Noah limited freedom to express human violence, since unrestrained violence was responsible for the Flood itself (Gen. 6:11–13). Importantly, this passage neither commands meat eating nor indicates that the practice is God’s ideal. Indeed, eating meat came with a curse—animals would no longer be humanity’s friends: “The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast…” (Gen. 9:2). While eating meat was not prohibited, it represented a complete break from God’s ideal of animals and humans living peacefully together, as depicted in Eden and by the prophets.
Does God care for animals?
Proverbs 12:10 teaches, “A righteous man has regard for the life of his beast,” and Psalm 145:9 reminds us that “The Lord is good to all, and his compassion is over all that he has made.”
The Bible describes God’s concern for animals repeatedly (Matt. 10:29, 12:11–12, 18:12–14) and forbids cruelty (Deut. 22:10, 25:4). Importantly, after the Flood, God made a covenant, stated five times, with animals as well as humans. All creatures share in the Sabbath rest (Exod. 20:10; Deut. 5:14). The Bible describes animals praising God (Pss. 148:7–10, 150:6), shows animals present in eternity (Isa. 65:25; Rev. 5:13), and affirms that God preserves animals (Ps. 36:6; Eph. 1:10; Col. 1:20). Animals and humans look to God for sustenance (Pss. 104:27–31, 147:9; Matt. 6:26; Luke 12:6) and deliverance (Jon. 3:7–9; Rom. 8:18–23). God’s covenant in Genesis 9, in all five instances, is with all flesh, not just humans.
Does vegetarianism equate human and animal life?
Vegetarianism simply reflects respect for Creation—the diet benefits humans, animals, and the environment.
What about animal sacrifices?
The Bible relates that God accepted animal sacrifices. However, several later prophets objected to sacrifice, emphasizing that God prefers righteousness. Animal sacrifices are not required or even desired now, for at least two reasons. First, Paul encouraged self-sacrifice, writing, “[P]resent your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1). Second, traditional interpretations of Jesus’ death affirm that, because of him, animal sacrifice is no longer necessary. Christians, being new creations in Christ, may model Christ by choosing a loving relationship with all Creation. Indeed, Jesus twice quoted Hosea (6:6), saying, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice” (Matthew 9:13, 12:7).
Didn’t Jesus eat meat?
Luke 24:43 describes Jesus eating fish after the Resurrection. However, Jesus’ diet 2,000 years ago in a Mediterranean fishing community does not mandate what Christians should eat today. Similarly, what Jesus wore does not dictate how we should dress today. We are blessed with a wide range of healthful, tasty, convenient plant foods, much like in Eden. Meanwhile, we believe that the way animals are treated today makes a mockery of God’s love for them.
Are meat eaters sinners?
The Bible does not prohibit eating meat in all circumstances. While many people have eaten meat for nourishment, most Christians today have ready access to a wide variety of healthful plant foods. Many Christian vegetarians find modern factory farming particularly objectionable because it is unnecessary and merciless.
What does the Bible say about eating meat?
Diet is a major theme in the Bible. At Honoring God's Creation: Replies, we discuss biblical passages frequently cited by those who defend meat eating.
Have there been many vegetarian Christians?
Our numbers are increasing rapidly, just as vegetarianism is growing in the general population. Also, many early Christians were vegetarian, including the Desert Fathers. Since then, the Trappist, Benedictine, and Carthusian orders have encouraged vegetarianism, as have Seventh-Day Adventists. In the nineteenth century, members of the Bible Christian sect established the first vegetarian groups in England and the United States.
Basil the Great, John Chrysostom, Tertullian, Origen, Clement of Alexandria, John Wesley (Methodism’s founder), Ellen G. White (a Seventh-Day Adventists founder), Salvation Army cofounders William and Catherine Booth, Leo Tolstoy, and Nobel Peace Prize winner Rev. Dr. Albert Schweitzer were Christians who became vegetarian, as is the musician Moby.
Don’t laws ensure the welfare of farmed animals?
In the U.S. and many other countries, standard procedures on farms are specifically exempted from all humane legislation, regardless of the pain and suffering they cause. Practices such as bodily mutilations, which would warrant felony animal cruelty charges if done to a dog or cat, are perfectly legal when done to a pig or chicken. At the slaughterhouse, “humane slaughter” laws are weak and poorly enforced for pigs, cattle, and sheep; the slaughter of birds is completely exempt. We support efforts to improve conditions on farms, but for many reasons, including our desire not to pay others to do things we would not do ourselves, we feel compelled to be vegetarians.
What would happen to those whose livelihoods depend on animal agriculture?
If people ate less animal foods, farmers would adapt to changed consumer demand for vegetarian foods..
Since animals eat each other, what’s wrong with humans eating animals?
Christians are not called to follow the law of the jungle (where “might makes right”), but to follow Christ—to be compassionate, merciful, and humble, and to respect God’s Creation.
Are we natural meat eaters?
While humans can digest flesh, and it is likely that our ancestors consumed some meat, our anatomy much more strongly resembles that of plant-eating creatures. For example: like plant eaters (but un-like meat eaters), our colons are long and complex (not simple and short); our saliva contains digestive enzymes (un-like carnivores); and our teeth resemble those of plant eaters—for instance, our canines are short and blunt (not long, sharp, and curved).
The millions of healthy vegetarians (who tend to outlive meat eaters) demonstrate that it is neither necessary nor desirable to eat meat.
What if I don’t think vegetarianism should be my priority?
Adopting a healthy vegetarian diet requires very little extra time and commitment and can improve one’s sense of well-being. Anyone can choose a cruelty-free diet while continuing other important activities.
What can I do?
To the degree that you move toward a plant-based diet, you significantly help humans, animals, and the environment. As Christians, we are called to be faithful, which includes living in accord with our core values as inspired by the Holy Spirit. Being faithful also includes showing fellow Christians, in loving and compassionate ways, that non-animal foods promote good steward-ship of God’s Creation and, fortunately, are tasty, convenient, and nutritious.
Find out more at ChristianVeg.org.
Like all diets, vegetarian diets require appropriate planning for optimal nutrition. The following nutrients are those that people most often have questions about or that need some specific attention in pure vegetarian diets (i.e., diets that exclude all animal-derived products).
The omega-3 fatty acids have anti-blood-clotting, anti-inflammatory, and cholesterol-lowering properties. Vegetarians should include a daily source of 500 mg linolenic acid (ALA), which can be met with 1/5 oz English (brown) walnuts, ¼ tsp flaxseed oil, 1 tsp ground flaxseeds, or 1 tsp canola oil. Nutritionists also recommend 200-300 mg docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), obtained from seaweed or supplements. Limit consumption of omega-6 oils (e.g., corn, soy, safflower, sunflower, sesame, or “vegetable oil”), and for cooking use olive, peanut, or canola oil. Canola and flaxseed oils can be warmed, but should not be brought to high heat.
Vegetarians should include a daily source of linolenic acid (the only essential omega-3 fatty acid). All omega-3s have anti-blood-clotting, anti-inflammatory, and cholesterol-lowering properties. Vegetarians are recommended to get about 2.2 g for a 2,000 calorie/day diet. Linolenic acid is in walnuts (1.9 g/oz.), tofu and soybeans (1 g/cup), canola oil (1.3 g/Tbsp.), ground flaxseeds (1.6 g/Tbsp.), and flaxseed oil (2.5 g/tsp.). Vegetarians can easily obtain omega-3 fats by eating 1 tsp. of flax-seed oil per day (do not exceed 2 tsp./day). Flaxseed oil should be kept refrigerated; it may be added to warm food, but cooking will damage the linolenic acid
|Some High-Protein Plant Foods||Serving||Protein (g)|
|Textured soy protein||1/2 cup||11|
|Peanut butter||2 Tbsp.||8.0|
|Sunflower seeds||2 Tbsp.||5.0|
|Brown rice||1 cup||4.9|
|Some High-Calcium Plant Foods||Serving||Ca (mg)|
|Orange juice, fortified||1 cup||250–300|
|Soymilk, fortified||1 cup||200–300|
|Blackstrap molasses||1 Tbsp.||187|
|Collard greens*||1/2 cup||178|
|Navy beans*||1/2 cup||64|
Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for men and postmenopausal women is 14.4 mg, and 32.4 mg for premenopausal women. Vegetarians are no more likely to suffer from iron deficiency anemia than nonvegetarians. Iron from plants is generally not absorbed as well as iron from meat, but vitamin C enhances iron absorption (if eaten at the same meal), and pure vegetarians tend to have high intakes of iron and vitamin C.
|Some High-Iron Plant Foods||Serving||Iron (mg)|
|Bran flakes||1 cup||11|
|Blackstrap molasses||1 Tbsp.||3.3|
|Pumpkin seeds||2 Tbsp.||2.5|
|Pinto beans*||1/2 cup||2.2|
|Apricots, dried||1/4 cup||1.5|
RDA is 11 mg for adult men, and 8 mg for adult women. In some pure vegetarian diets, zinc may be lower than recommended; however, pure vegetarians do not show deficiency symptoms any more than do nonvegetarians. Sources of zinc include beans, corn, peas, cashews, peanuts, peanut butter, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds; cereals are often fortified with zinc.
Vitamin D is produced by sunshine on bare skin (without sunscreen). Light-skinned people need 10–15 minutes of sunshine on their hands and face, 2–3 times/week. Dark-skinned people need up to 6 times this amount. People in cold or cloudy climates should meet needs through fortified foods or supplements. The bone density of pure vegetarians living in northern climates has been shown to increase from a supplement of 5 mcg/day.
Vitamin B12 prevents permanent nerve damage, keeps the digestive system healthy, and reduces the risk of heart disease by lowering homocysteine levels. Deficiency symptoms sometimes include fatigue, and tingling in the hands or feet. No unfortified plant foods (including seaweeds and tempeh) are reliable sources of vitamin B12. Pure vegetarians should get 3 mcg/day through fortified foods, or at least 10 mcg/day through a supplement.
Higher fat foods like nuts and seeds (and their butters), avocados, and small amounts of vegetable oils (especially canola and olive) should be part of a healthy diet. These foods are particularly important for meeting children’s calorie needs.
Vegetarians should include a daily source of linolenic acid (the only essential omega-3 fatty acid). All omega-3 fatty acids have anti-blood-clotting, anti-inflammatory, and cholesterol-lowering properties. Vegetarians are recommended to get about 2.2 g for a 2,000 calorie/day diet. Linolenic acid is in walnuts (1.9 g/oz.), tofu and soybeans (.8–1.0 g/cup), canola oil (1.6 g/Tbsp.), ground flaxseeds (2.1 g/Tbsp.), and flaxseed oil (2.5 g/tsp.). Pure vegetarians can most easily obtain omega-3 fats by eating 1 tsp. of flaxseed oil per day (do not exceed 2 tsp./day). Flaxseed oil, sold in many natural food and grocery stores, should be kept refrigerated; it may be added to warm food, but cooking will damage the linolenic acid.
Since the amount of iodine in plant foods varies considerably, pure
vegetarians should take a modest iodine supplement of about 75 to
150 mcg (or a multivitamin containing this amount) every few days.
Poor Nutrition: The Atkins Diet
Like other fad diets, people on the Atkins Diet and other low-carbohydrate
diets generally regain the weight. Meanwhile, they may be putting
their long-term health at risk. The American Dietetic Association,
the American Heart Association, and most of the medical establishment
have denounced the diet as likely to cause cardiovascular and kidney
disease, gout, and constipation. Very high protein intake encourages
urinary calcium loss and has been linked to increased fracture risks.
|Recommended Daily Intakes for Pure Vegetarian Adults||Upper limit (1)|
|Calcium||1,000–1,300 mg||2,500 mg|
|Vitamin B12||3–100 mcg (2)||None|
|Vitamin D||5–15 mcg||50 mcg|
|(200–600 IU)||(2,000 IU)|
|Iodine||75–150 mcg (3)||1,100 mcg|
|Omega-3 fats||2.2–3.3 g (4)||Unknown|
Note: Please see Staying a Healthy Vegan (SHV) for the needs of other age groups and for more information on all of the topics in this section.
What To Eat?
When changing your diet, it may take time to explore new foods and develop a routine. There are many different products from which to choose—keep experimenting to find your personal favorites.
You can generally shop for vegetarian foods at supermarkets, natural food stores, and co-ops. Vegetarian selections are usually offered at Chinese, Indian, Italian, Mexican, Middle Eastern, Thai, and other ethnic restaurants, as well as many chains, such as Burger King, Papa John’s, Pizza Hut, Subway, and Taco Bell—just ask!
Some simple meal ideas:
You can continue to prepare your favorite dishes and avoid animal products by making simple substitutions:
Use milks, cheeses, creams, yogurts, and frozen desserts made from soy, rice, or nuts. Nutritional yeast adds a cheesy flavor to foods. Replace butter with olive oil or trans-fat-free margarine.
In baking recipes, use powdered egg substitutes, such as Ener-G Egg Replacer (sold at health food stores), or replace each egg with half a banana, or 1 heavy tsp. of soy flour or cornstarch plus 2 Tbsp. water.
Use textured vegetable protein (TVP), seitan, or other mock meats, such as Morningstar Farms Ground Meatless.
Corn and Wild Rice Salad
Cook rice according to package directions, omitting salt and fat. Set aside and cool. Combine the cooked rice, corn, and remaining ingredients in a bowl. Cover the salad and chill. Makes 8 one cup servings.
Curried Garbanzo Beans
Sauté onions in the vegetable broth. Add beans, spices, chutney, and tomatoes, mixing well. Serve over brown rice or pasta.
Hoisin and Black Bean Stir-Fry
Combine hoisin sauce, soy sauce, vinegar, sesame oil, and pepper flakes; set aside. In a wok or large nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat, warm the peanut oil. Add the ginger and garlic; stir-fry for 1 minute. Add the carrots; stir-fry for 3–4 minutes, or until just tender. Add the stock; cook for 2–3 minutes, or until the liquid has evaporated. Add the green peppers, squash and snow peas; stir-fry 4–5 minutes, or until just tender. Stir in the beans, water chestnuts, and hoisin sauce mixture; stir-fry for 2 minutes, or until heated through. Serve over rice. Makes 4 servings.
Hearty Lentil-Barley Soup
In a 4-quart Dutch oven, cook onion, celery, and garlic in hot margarine until tender. Add water, undrained tomatoes, lentils, barley, bouillon cubes, rosemary, oregano, and pepper. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Cover and simmer for 45 minutes. Add carrots and simmer for 15 minutes more or just until carrots are tender. Ladle into soup bowls, top with cheese, and serve with thick slices of bread. Makes 5 servings.
Pour the boiling water over the textured vegetable protein and let stand until softened. Braise the onion, bell pepper, and garlic in water (or vegetable stock) until the onion is soft, then add the remaining ingredients, including the textured vegetable protein. Simmer at least 30 minutes. Makes 8 servings.
Autumn Frosted Caramel Apple Cake
In a pan, melt margarine, then add brown sugar, salt, and soymilk. Boil on low heat for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and let cool. Then add powdered sugar and vanilla, beat well, and set aside.
Preheat oven to 325°F. Grease and flour a 9" round cake pan; set aside. Mix apples and sugar and let stand, stirring occasionally to make a syrup. Sift flour, soda, and salt and add to apples. Add remaining ingredients and combine well. Transfer batter to prepared pan and bake for 40–45 minutes. Cool and frost with caramel frosting.
Other Web Sites (many include recipes)
Vegetarian Starter Kits
CVA Board of Directors
Contact the CVA
P.O. Box 201791
Cleveland, Ohio 44120
phone/fax (216) 283-6702
Foresta, Pines Road
Liphook, GU30 7PL
phone 01428 723747