What’s the matter? Now that we know our conversations are to be summarized in another venue, we stop talking? I hope everyone’s just busy being radical in their offline lives.
The real reason for my post is to talk about vegetarianism and animal rights/welfare. This is another topic on which many Christians (perhaps especially Mennonites in rural areas) have only vague notions of why anyone would decide not to eat meat. It seems silly, pagan or perhaps even anti-Anabaptist when you’re talking about “meat canned in the name of Jesus for the missionaries to eat.”
It’s with some trepidation that I write this. I don’t want to come off as a zealot who believes everyone has to do as I do. There’s just so much misinformation out there it’s hard to know where or how to begin. It would certainly be encouraging to discover YARs aren’t scared to talk about something that is at once philosophical and immensely practical for those of us who eat three meals a day.
As some of you know, I’m a vegetarian. I’ve been a lacto-ovo vegetarian, meaning I eat plant foods, eggs and dairy, since I was 16. Just in case there’s any confusion, a vegetarian is someone who doesn’t eat the flesh of any animal: cow, pig, fish, chicken, etc. Some vegetarians eat only plant foods, and they’re called strict vegetarians. Those who eat only plant foods and don’t use animal products like leather, silk and wool in their lifestyle are called vegans.
As a Christian vegetarian, my motivations are mainly to oppose cruelty to animals. I believe God created animals not to fulfill every human whim but because they have some intrinsic value, too. If someone needs biblical proof of this, Proverbs 12:10 talks about wise people caring for the needs of the animals in their care. I believe it does matter how we treat animals and the rest of the world, not just how we treat other humans. Diligent parents frequently caution their children to take care of the pet dog or cat because the animal shouldn’t suffer for the children’s lack of responsibility.
The atrocities in some of these factory farms just blow my mind. It’s like any kind of big business: Cost is all that matters. In industrial-size poultry and pig farms, the chickens and pigs live their entire lives inside large, crowded buildings. While it may be a bit silly to say that they all “want” to see daylight, every creature with nerve endings wants to live as pain-free as possible. I’m not interested in anthropomorphizing. There’s just something really wrong with intentionally inflicting pain on another creature for my benefit. That doesn’t seem very Christlike or pacifistic. It would be one thing if I had to in order to live, but I don’t. I, and many others, live quite well without eating flesh foods. I decided since this was all completely unnecessary, I wouldn’t be a part of it. So I quit eating meat. One day I hope to cut out the eggs and dairy, but right now I’m just working on reducing how much of those I eat.
And no, I’m not a big fan of PETA. Their passion is certainly admirable, but I don’t like everything they’ve done.
Do I think it’s a sin to eat meat? No. I mean, not exactly. If I went out and ate (fill in the blank with a flesh food), I would betray my conscience. Because I’m in this to treat all of God’s creatures with compassion, for me it might be a sin. Is it a sin to decapitate your pet cat? What changes when it’s a chicken? Why do we create these categories for animals, that it’s OK to eat certain ones, but others are for companionship? Why do we look down on Chinese societies in which it’s acceptable to eat dogs? Could not the same bloodthirst that prompts people to glamorize war also prompt people to enjoy hunting? I know plenty of hunters. Most say they enjoy it. (“Overpopulation” is a side reason for most hunters I know.) I’m not sure if they just like the thrill of pursuit, or if they enjoy the actual act of killing another creature. From the perspective of the deer, though, they probably enjoy living their entire lives in the wild and then get shot down, rather than living in a small cage, being force-fed, and then slaughtered like many factory-farmed animals.
I’m not talking about anyone’s family farms here. Everyone’s got an “Uncle So-and-So who treats his cows like children.” Most of the meat, dairy and eggs in the U.S. comes from these factory farms. (Yes, I’m speaking to myself on the dairy and eggs.) It’s rather hard to avoid all their products when eating at restaurants or shopping major grocery store chains. Please don’t get me wrong—I’m not expecting everyone to jump up from their computers and dash straight to a farmers’ market to buy fresh produce. (Good thought, but it’s far too early in the growing season for farmers’ markets where I live.)
So, what IS to be done? Is there any defense from an Anabaptist theological perspective for intentionally disregarding pain and/or cruelty humans inflict on animals in the meat industry? Most people I know simply don’t care. Some take offense to the idea they’d do well to thoughtfully consider the impact of their food on others. Others see it as inevitable humans will eat animals, and those who abstain are stupid not to join in. Some think opposing cruelty to humans and animals are mutually exclusive.
How do you see it?