One day I was thinking about the food that I eat and I realized that meat had ceased to be a once-living thing to me. I had totally forced the concept of “animal” out of the idea of “meat” so that it was just another food substance. This disturbed me because I was reading about how the ancient Jews viewed animal food, and how it was strongly emphasized to them through ritual that a very real life was sacrificed for them. The total draining of the blood, the strict requirement on what kind of meat to eat, meant that animal flesh was something valuable, a meaningful symbol, even a symbolic spiritual pointer. This carries over even into Christian life in the New Testament. I realized that when I ate meat, I had no appreciation of a life lost. It meant nothing to me. I was taking a costly gift for granted.
I did not and do not consider eating meat a sin. Clearly, God allows and even sanctions eating meat throughout the Old Testament, beginning with Noah1. In the New Testament, Jesus ate fish and participated in the Passover meal, so he ate meat. I think when we try to outdo Jesus on the holiness front we typically get ourselves into lots of trouble. No one is weird for eating meat. Pretty sure God is cool with it.
No, eating meat itself is not a sin. The way I was eating meat however, was.
At first, my vegetarianism was a kind a fast to remind myself to not take any life (even that of an animal) for granted. Later, I discovered some pretty disturbing things about how mass-market meat is produced, and quite frankly it just stopped being appealing. I realized that what many of us eat is prone to disease, full of chemicals and “filler,” and is produced by treating people and animals with little respect and decency. After reading up on the meat industry and watching some documentaries (yup, Food, Inc. was one of them) I found that I rarely craved ground beef or any poultry or pork—although sometimes an organic steak still sounds good to me.
So far the benefits of remaining a vegetarian have been:
- Opportunities to discuss animal cruelty, the human rights involved in the meat industry, and the health risks of the current mass-meat production system with many people who are genuinely curious.
- The willingness to try many new foods—a totally new diet means totally new dishes. There are some absolutely AWESOME vegetarian foods out there and my wife has become quite the vegetarian chef herself.
- A connection with the global community and my roots in African culture. In Africa (and most of the rest of the world) meat is considered a delicacy and a special treat. It may be part of your meal, but it is never the bulk of it. From what I can tell, this is both healthier in general and seems more consistent with the general attitude of respect toward meat I am trying to cultivate.
- I generally eat healthier. It’s rare for a day to go by that I don’t get my full servings of fruit and vegetables. I get protein from nuts, beans, cheese, and eggs.
Which leads me to the fact that I am not vegan. I still do dairy and eggs. Also, to be totally honest—and this might come as shock, so prepare yourself—I’m actually not really, truly a vegetarian. I eat fish often (about once every week or two weeks) so technically I’m a pescatarian. Moreover, I’m really not that strict about meat either. I strive for my vegetarianism/pescatarianism to be a general lifestyle and attitude, not some strict form of self denial. So if I come over to your house and you make me a meat dish, I will still eat it out of respect for the time, effort, and care you put into preparing it for me. I ate turkey this last Thanksgiving, and I sure had some ham on Christmas day too.
The point is that it is about being aware of what I eat and drink, and making healthy, God-honoring, life-valuing, socially-conscious choices regarding the fuel I put in my body.
- Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. (Genesis 9:3-4 ESV) ↩