Tuesday, April 03, 2007

updated: why am I a vegetarian?

Should all Christians be vegetarian? Yes.

Will meat eaters get to heaven? Yes.

Over the weekend I was asked by two different people why I am a vegetarian. Last nite I went to a vegetarian cooking evening, to learn about tomato tarts, pumpkin and kumara balls, tortilla stack. It seems an appropriate time to narrate my conversion, which occured in 2001. The following processes were significant.

A Bible conversation: When I was 20, I led a team of Christian young people to Nicaragua. We deliberately chose to partner with group from Universities in Australasia. One of the group, not a Christian, was astounded to discover that I, a Christian, ate meat. He pointed out to me that the Garden of Eden was meat-free. I still savour the irony, me a Christian, getting a Bible lesson from a non-Christian. Since then I have been forced to consider the reality of Isaiah’s vision of lion and lamb together. I am currently writing a paper on animal spiriuality in light of theology of creation and sacramentality.

An essay on population growth in my first year of university: I learnt that humans have protein needs that can be met by both beans and beef. But you can grow lots and lots of beans in the space it would take a graze a cow. In other words, if humans ate more beans and less beef, than more humans would have their protein needs met. In a world of hunger, I became increasingly uneasy about my meat consumption.

A conversation with a dietician and my family: I did not want my change of eating habits to negatively impact upon a young and growing family. A dietician told us that one meat meal a week, supported by good amounts of vegetables, provides a balanced diet. So if all the Taylor family ate less meat and increased the amount of beans, nuts, spinach eaten during 6 days, then I could go totally vegetarian, without disrupting our growing children, who could still enjoy meat if they wanted.

An emerging spirituality issue: I was becoming increasingly aware that many in the emerging culture were vegetarian, and that good, contextual, missiology would want to consider Paul’s words “to the Jew I become a Jew, to the vegetarian, I become a vegetarian.”

So I went vegetarian. One of the upsides for me has been a far greater link between my everyday life and my spirituality. My Christian faith feels more entwined with my lifestyle and I am made constantly aware of the justice issues around human consumption every time I eat. I need that.

The second upside is a much more interesting diet, as our family have discovered beans, lentils, chick peas, couscous. Anyone for tortilla stack, tomato tarts, pumpkin and kumara balls?

A downside is that I tend to forget to tell people I am vegetarian when they invite me for dinner. This has lead to some embarrassing moments for all concerned.

Update: support, with some expansion of the argument, from here. And then here (I particularly liked the point about the consumption of meat in Jesus times being for economic neccessity, in contrast to the extravagance of today.)

Posted by steve at 03:09 PM

33 Comments

  1. Thanks for that Steve. As someone who grew up on a farm, I’ve always found it a hard thing to accept – after all, I lived off the spoils of agriculture for all of my life. But it’s started to play on my mind a bit lately – especially with the heightened issues of ecological concern surrounded the gases that extensive farming puts into the atmosphere…

    I did one of those online “ecological footprint” tests yesterday and discovered merely being a light meat eater meant I was draining the earths resources…

    And the thing holding me back? If I can’t eat meat, how can I justify cheese? Is it Vegan or Bust?

    Comment by Spanky — April 3, 2007 @ 4:06 pm

  2. thanks for this post, steve.
    reading your thoughts on being a vegetarian is one of these moments i know that the emerging conversation is much more than ›church‹ – its about life.
    peace.

    Comment by [depone] — April 3, 2007 @ 8:27 pm

  3. Oh my your a vegetarian!!!

    Comment by Phil — April 3, 2007 @ 11:26 pm

  4. “Should all Christians be vegetarian? Yes.”

    …. Nah mate, this is too extreme. The ‘first nations’ people, where I live, hunt all kinds of game that they see as sacred- a gift from the Creator. We have the Inuit ( commonly known as Eskimo which means ‘raw flesh eater’ ) to the north, who never eat vegetables- they simply can’t (maybe when Global warming has it’s way they may be able to). And then there’s my own Maori iwi with our Kai moana(sea food), Tuna(eels),mutton birds and wild boar(pork bones and puha )- a lot of these are protected as sacred foods under the treaty.

    I appreciate the journey you’ve taken that’s led you to vegetarianism with some very important questions that you’ve posed. But I guess us aboriginal/indigenous peoples are tired of well meaning European based cultures telling us how to live, look, and now eat(…mostly to correct problems that European cultures created in the first place) especially in the name of religion. We don’t need new form of ‘emergent’ Christendom, we wish to ‘emerge’ from all kinds of colonialist trappings and be free to be Maori, Inuit, Salish, Cree, etc.

    Also, there are other things that you can do to reduce the environmental impact of ‘ ‘corporate, meat’ consumption. Go organic- including meat products, support local farms, adopt a the 100mile diet,.. to name a few. C’mon, don’t deny me my Kiwi spring lamb when I’m so far away, although I mostly eat local lamb here.

    ” Will meat eaters get to heaven? Yes. “…. Well, I’m sure this question will put all your ‘Evangelical, readers at ease – God bless em !!

    E Ihoa whakapaingia enei kai
    hei oranga mo o matou tinana
    ko Ihu Karaiti hoki
    to matou ariki e
    Amine.

    Translation:
    Father we ask that you bless our food
    as it brings strength, health and sustainance to our bodies
    Until our Lord Jesus Christ returns for us all
    Amen.

    Tangira.

    Comment by Paul Tangira — April 4, 2007 @ 5:14 am

  5. my daughter and i stopped eating meat because of the population/beef/grain/beans issue and because at that time we had a few scary stories about animal living conditions etc. I didn’t find it too hard, but my daughter did. she loved ham and eggs, and steak pie! that was about 15 years ago. maybe more. over the years i have had some embarassing moments too, when eating at the homes of others. if they have gone to the bother of cooking meat, and i haven’t told them i don’t eat anything with legs on, then i take the smallest possible portion. however, my daughter doesn’t! WWJD? actually i still eat fish.

    Comment by Eileen fae Scotland — April 4, 2007 @ 5:18 am

  6. Paul wrote: “guess us aboriginal/indigenous peoples are tired of well meaning European based cultures telling us how to live, look, and now eat(…mostly to correct problems that European cultures created in the first place) especially in the name of religion.”

    fascinating perspective. great comment. thanks. my ancestors ate meat also Paul. But I’m happy to lay it aside for the sake of God’s world and in light of (my interpretation) of the Biblical narrative. are you suggesting that indigenous peoples have some no go areas where culture takes primacy over others forms of understanding?

    if so, where does this stop. local Maori deny women the right to speak on the marae. is this loss of voice also culturally sacrosant?

    or am i being a cultural imperialist for pointing this out?

    a white, western, wondering,
    steve

    Comment by steve — April 4, 2007 @ 8:22 am

  7. Steve, I respect your reasons for not eating meat and (genuinely) admire your care for the environment but I struggle to see that every Christian must be a vegetarian. I’m not as convinced that the biblical narrative is vegetarian. I read so much in scripture where God seems to be instituting meals that involve eating entire animals (e.g. the Passover). Have I misread this? Can you help me out here…?

    Comment by Andrew — April 4, 2007 @ 11:15 am

  8. there’s a tension here isn’t there Andrew and I’m deliberately pointing to this tension to get people thinking. no meat in the garden; Noah is allowed to eat meat in Genesis 9;

    so are we going back to the garden of eden? or is this a trajectory and with Noah (and the passover) we are moving forward to something else?

    further, i am prepared to decide that the Biblical evidence is not conclusive either way, but that our care for the planet is a lifestyle demanded by our outworking of a Christian care for creation and to not live within our global footprint is sin.

    steve

    Comment by steve — April 4, 2007 @ 11:24 am

  9. As someone who has grown up and lived on small farms for most of my life yet has practiced vegetarian diet during seasons of lent and during periods of urban life, here’s a few thoughts:

    I can appreciate Paul’s perspective on the issue of indigenous diet. And remember indigenous should also include any people who have lived close to the land for as many centuries as Maori; Gaelic, Scandinavian, Siberian etc. I mentioned these groups because they also inhabit areas where a complete vegetarian diet would be difficult if we all lived in a “permaculture paradise”.

    However, globalisation has shifted the equation somewhat in that our food consumption is measured and available on a global basis. I’m a little suspicious about the carbon footprint calculators because of their one size fits all approach to calculating ecological impact; what about the vegetable gardening small holder who eats home raised chickens and goats or hunts rabbits and never travels by airoplane? Even so a few more legumes in our diet would be wise. Another farming friend of mine (from Germany) and I were discussing this subject the other day and decided that animal husbandry should be only a suplemenetary part of wholistic farming systems rather than the foundation of exploitative farming systems. This is how it was prior to the US led global agricultural reforms that followed WWII.

    As for Christians; the Benedictine rule advocates a simple but adequate vegetarian diet and St Francis’ rule for his “Third order” advocated a minimum of meat in the diet. While diet doesn’t need to consume us as Christians, we do have traditions of wisdom that guide us into responsible and spiritually aware practices of eating, and given the global era in which we live discernment should at least compell us to do better than McDonalds or KFC (quite different from lamb or muttonbird).

    Andrew McDonald

    Comment by Andrew — April 4, 2007 @ 11:30 am

  10. Thanks Hipene for your response,

    “.. my ancestors ate meat also Paul. But I’m happy to lay it aside for the sake of God’s world and in light of (my interpretation) of the Biblical narrative.”… That’s admirable. The curious thing is my ancestors might have eaten your ancestors – imagine their testimony,” before I came to Christ, I ate human flesh.” But as we(Maori) were impacted by the biblical narrative, we indeed changed our diet( although I think we have an interesting insight into the idea of Communion(I’ll email you a PDF that has an article I wrote on this subject- on page 14)

    “are you suggesting that indigenous peoples have some no go areas where culture takes primacy over others forms of understanding?”… Not at all. All cultures have blind spots and need to grow in understanding. I just think that when another culture comes along that thinks its world view is superior to the other that we get into trouble and make assumptions without being properly informed. Apparently Francis Schaffer believed in one Christian world view. I don’t, I think as Christians we all come from different cultures/world views and Christ has a place in all of them…To establish a counter cultural presence for its perfection but not to take away it’s uniqueness.

    As far as Maori protocols regarding women : Every tribe is different but I have noticed changes in that regard, particularly in women’s roles on the Marae and cultural expression. Those changes however were initiated from within and not imposed, atleast directly from without.

    …”am i being a cultural imperialist for pointing this out?”….I don’t believe you have an imperialist agenda in posing your questions. If you did, I would have to refer and act on the wisdom of my ancestors – ” can’t beat em, eat em ! ”

    Tena koe !

    Tangira.

    Comment by Paul Tangira — April 4, 2007 @ 11:41 am

  11. Isn’t saying there is one right way to live a bit fundamentalist?! Surely all of us make choices every day based on our own circumstances, what we think God is telling us at the time. Isn’t there a problem also that that all NZ fish is fished unsustainably (sp?) so here it is better to eat organic meat or chicken than NZ fish, from an environmental point of view. So the environment argument is tricky one, with lots of grey areas. Having said that, I love the way these environment discussions are becoming so much more mainstream – like the Wasted programme on TV – rather than being considered on the hippy margins.

    Comment by Jan — April 4, 2007 @ 2:03 pm

  12. I’m not sure how your “Christianity” has anything to do with your decision to be vegetarian, other than your tying it to The Garden (which you seem to dismiss with Noah). Other than that, it seems to be ecological/rational. Am I missing some connections (often based on our non-similar cultures)?

    Wouldn’t having few or no children be a better alternative? I mean, wouldn’t stopping the increase of that which drains resources, ALL resources, be the best route?

    Trying to work this out in the out,
    David M.

    Comment by David Malouf — April 4, 2007 @ 2:11 pm

  13. David: I guess I just assume that an ecological response and an ethical response is funded by a Christian theology of creation, so there’s not a separation between “Bible” and “ecology.”

    Jan: long time since I’ve been called a bit of a “fundamentalist.” Perhaps being black and white can be a rhetorical strategy to allow a focus on the grey of how then might we live. Anyhow, off to blow up another butchers.

    steve

    Comment by steve@emergentkiwi.org.nz — April 4, 2007 @ 2:54 pm

  14. Interesting . . .

    One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. . .
    But neither should look down on or condemn one another, because God Himself has accepted them both.

    He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, and gives thanks to God for it; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself alone and each of us will give an account of himself to God.

    We should stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way.
    As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself.

    But if you regard something as unclean, then for you it is unclean. If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died. Do not allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil.
    For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men.

    Make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food.

    All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall.

    So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves. But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.

    Comment by Magdalenian — April 4, 2007 @ 5:42 pm

  15. Steve, I think what I’m getting at is this: if someone of a different faith-system also has an ecology component, that doesn’t make that aspect “Christian” or “Biblical”, does it?

    I think what I’m pointing at is that using our brains to be good stewards of our life-necessary resources is not decidedly “Christian” nor “Biblical.” It makes sense in-itself. So picking one method of preservation and calling it “Christian” doesn’t seem to make sense to me – I can’t see how the connection is there. Otherwise, as was stated in previous comments, the Christian faith is about Meat rather than Ecology.

    Plus the issue of limits: should we all end the Internet because it uses power/electricity that is formed by eco-destructive sources? And no more driving, especially flying?

    [In particular, I'm not sure I see how the Garden really frames this.]

    Just not seeing the connections – not the first time!
    David M.

    Comment by David Malouf — April 5, 2007 @ 11:35 am

  16. David,

    i feel you are scrambling my head with concerns that i am struggling to get my head around. all i know is that i wouldn’t be a vegetarian if it wasn’t for my christian faith in jesus. following jesus has changed my lifestyle and habits. yes, i am reconsidering airtravel and the internet. but while i reconsider, i’m not going to do nothing.

    can I be that simple, or am i simply being naive? can i expect others to be re-examine their lifestyles in light of Jesus concern for people and planet or is that also being naive?

    naive little kiwi, steve

    Comment by steve@emergentkiwi.org.nz — April 5, 2007 @ 12:07 pm

  17. well, I for one am consistently and gratefully challenged by this topic being brought up in this way by steve and others. So thanks mate :) we are not (yet) vegetarian but re-examine this area of our lives on an ongoing basis. ecological concerts ought to be Christian concerns, animal cruelty concerns ought to be our concerns. If we are going to return to God’s original plan for male and female relationships and roles then why would that consideration (returning to God’s original plan) not be made in the area of our diet?

    Steve – in your research, how did your feelings evolve in light of the fall? I have heard many a Christian say that because of the fall, most people can no longer be healthfully sustained by a non meat diet.

    frankly, humane animal treatment and ecology in light of my faith would be enough for me to go vegetarian…we’re just still wrestling with it and making sure that we give the choice due attention.

    I also want to point out that in cases of indigenous/tribal peoples or others who kill for sustenance, honor the animal’s life and the earth in the process of that killing and utilize the whole animal for the good of the people – - I think that’s very responsible and “godly”. Whether it’s ideal or not is really hard for me to say since I don’t think we live in an “ideal” world but I think it’s certainly better than eating slaughter house meat which is where most of us industrialized westerners get our meat from.

    Comment by Mak — April 5, 2007 @ 2:50 pm

  18. what is the fall Makesha? do you mean autumn?

    steve

    Comment by steve@emergentkiwi.org.nz — April 5, 2007 @ 4:57 pm

  19. yes, autumn…hehehe…no silly, THE fall, adam and eve’s fall – humanities’ fall.

    Comment by Mak — April 5, 2007 @ 5:33 pm

  20. makeesha,

    i’m actually being a bit cheeky for the following reasons:
    1) “the fall” is not a word found in the Bible. It’s a heading, added at a later point. So it’s someone’s interpretation of the text.
    2) i am increasingly uneasy about one chapter (Genesis 3), being a fulcrum on which we base so much thinking.

    Why has an added heading onto 1 chapter of a book with over a 1,000 chapters become so crucial for Christian thinking?

    steve

    steve

    Comment by steve@emergentkiwi.org.nz — April 5, 2007 @ 5:37 pm

  21. I understand. But it’s the phrase most in western Christianity understand so I use it. my question still stands…unless of course you don’t think “original sin” exists, in which case it’s moot.

    Comment by Mak — April 6, 2007 @ 7:11 am

  22. If we would really live by the Bible, this debate over Vegan, Vegetarian, Carnivores, etc would not take much time, for we would see that from the beginning, God gave human beings dominion over the creatures. That included using the creatures as food if need be (and yes, the need be, for air does not taste too good and is definitely Less Filling!)Remember, plants are living organisms too.

    Now, the debate Ought to be over how exactly we demonstrate and live out this dominion that God has given us over the creatures. We see that God blesses the man who is kind and not cruel to animals…and no, killing and eating an animal is not necessarily cruel. If we go to the New Testament we find that God has allowed us to eat animals…in Peter’s story we find that God told him not to call things unclean that had been unclean up to that point. In other words, Peter could now eat Pork and Beans and Ham Sandwiches and did not need to be afraid that the apostles could smell the Ham on his breath.

    The moral of the story? Let’s get back to the Bible and find out what it says. Let us stop letting culture determine how we read the Bible. Although it may impress the unbelievers that you don’t eat meat, you will still have to deal with the fact that Jesus is the ONLY way to heaven and that Christianity is the only true religion. I know that may be hard to hear for all of you Emergent-types, but it is what you find in the Holy Scriptures and it is truly the only hope for a lost world. Oh yeah, you probably don’t think they are lost though, do you?

    Comment by Rick — April 7, 2007 @ 9:44 am

  23. Rick, thankyou for dropping by. thankyou for trashing my use of the Bible in this post. thankyou for trashing my attempts to integrate my lifestyle with my Christian beliefs. thankyou for making assumptions about my theological beliefs on sin without asking. thankyou for rolling “emergent-types” into one category, thereby removing any differences there might be among the 20 previous commenters on this post.

    Today is holy saturday. Jesus-as-God is dead and nature’s tears are hitting my roof. It is a day to contemplate what life would be like without the life of Jesus. That, for me, is a “lost” world.

    Holy Saturday makes me sad. Rest assured Rick, that your comment has done little to show me what the Resurrection Life of God will be like.

    steve

    Comment by steve — April 7, 2007 @ 10:10 am

  24. You know Steve, I think you’ve done a great job here. The point is that we cant simply live by using the Bible as a hand book for every decision of our life, there is nothing in the bible that says whether paper that has been recycled and thus bleached, or paper from sustainably sources, or not using paper at all, is a better choice.

    We interpret these things in the context of our own limited understandings and attempt to apply the principles that Jesus left us with, to each decision.

    Namely, our lives need to be motivated by love, love and respect. If the evidence tells us that it is better for others that we dont eat meat, just like it tells us that it is better for others that we dont run them over with cars, or shoot them, then lets not do it.

    To use the argument about the weaker brother is just dim, we’re not talking about leading others into sin here, we’re talking about doing what is right for our world.

    To say that God gave us dominion over all things, and so lets eat ‘em is also dim. God gave us dominion over all the trees. Let’s burn ‘em.

    Everything has to be judged in the light of its particular circumstances, so when its necessary to eat meat, I eat it. Even though I dont like it, and dont want it. In all things we should be motivated out of love, like it says in the Bible.

    But if we are to simply try and apply all the Bible says without contextual analysis… well anyone who marries a foreigner is in trouble for a start.

    Comment by Rhymin Simon — April 8, 2007 @ 2:04 am

  25. I want to a veg, but I hate lentils.

    Tim

    Comment by Timothy Wright — April 8, 2007 @ 8:27 pm

  26. … Well said on your last comment Hipene ! I’ve enjoyed this conversation, with all its perspectives. I’ve learned a lot, have been challenged in my consumption, and will continue to ask questions about where I get my food and how it comes to me*.

    Although I remain a eater of meat and whenever possible indulge my insectivorous taste – Huhu ‘ bugs ‘( large larvae found in rotten logs in NZ )… I will always give thanks- Te matua, te tamaiti ko te wairua tapu (in the name of the father and the son and the holy spirit)…. My Ancestors would love you Vegetarians – better meat.

    Tena Koutou !! ( salutations to you all )

    Tangira.

    * Check this site out for a fun and insigtful exploration in ‘corporate, meat production from a familiar outlet – http://www.mcvideogame.com/index-eng.html

    Comment by Tangira — April 9, 2007 @ 6:12 am

  27. thanks Paul. Learning, that’s what this space is all about .. people being willing to learn.

    tim, if I have time, i will post a series of vegetarian recipes. you will be converted. meat and 3 vege will look like baby food my friend,

    steve

    Comment by steve — April 9, 2007 @ 3:53 pm

  28. Steve & Rhymin Simon,

    I admit that my words were too harsh and I apologize for that. Please forgive me.

    I have planted about 150,000 trees in British Columbia and several thousand trees in Oregon. I don’t believe in cutting all the trees down or burning them, etc. I am also very positive towards the vegan/vegetarian way of life/eating, etc, but have not chosen that way for myself.

    I fully agree with Rhymin Simon that we must look at what the Bible says in context. That is one reason why I believe it is okay to eat meat and I don’t oppose vegetarians. Steve, I guess what I was trying (and failed) to say is that, I believe we can make decisions (like becoming a vegan/vegetarian) based on what is going on in our culture. That is not wrong, but I believe it is best to make our decisions as Christians based on Scripture. Rhymin Simon, you are correct to say that the Bible does not address everything. It certainly does not teach me how to best tie my kids’ shoes or what car to buy. I do believe, however, that it can guide us in those activities, for example: I should patiently/lovingly tie my kids’ shoes and I should buy a car based on doing what is best for me and my family, but also the community. I will not buy a $40,000 dollar car, for that is a poor use of the money God has given me and there are many people who are starving/homeless. I will not buy a $20,000 car for that is also, I believe, a poor use of money. I may buy a $10,000 car, but I will try to buy for less than that if I can get a quality car for that price. So, I hope you can see what I am trying to say. The Bible does guide us in all our decisions – even if it does not directly speak on every issue.

    Steve, if I post anymore comments, I will do my best to be more kind with my words. I was not being Christlike in my presentation of my words in my first post and I’m sorry. Although I have strong opinions/beliefs, I need to present them in a more persuasive, less offensive manner.

    Comment by Rick — April 11, 2007 @ 7:40 am

  29. Peace Rick and I appreciate your reply. I hope you do keep commenting. I don’t want this blog to be a place only for people who agree with me,

    steve

    Comment by steve — April 11, 2007 @ 9:19 pm

  30. I agree. Lol.

    Comment by Rhymin Simon — April 12, 2007 @ 4:15 am

  31. 1 Tim 4…

    1The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. 2Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. 3They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. 4For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, 5because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.

    Comment by Robo — April 14, 2007 @ 8:06 pm

  32. hey Robo,

    you’ll be up for blessing and eating rat poison then?

    Comment by Rhymin Simon — April 15, 2007 @ 2:24 am

  33. Robo, thanks for the comment. however this is a place for thinking out aloud, and not a place to cut and paste bits of the bible. so please tell us a bit more about your verse. i love the passage you quote because it affirms that so much of life is good, and blessed by God, and to be celebrated. is that what you meant?

    steve

    Comment by steve — April 15, 2007 @ 9:15 pm

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