Over the past few months, I have been convinced that the modern agricultural industry is incompatible with my responsibility to steward creation. This has led me to certain clear choices about what I will and will not eat.
Caring for Creation
When God created Adam and Eve, He placed them in the Garden of Eden, “to work and keep it” (Genesis 2:15). In this, however, he did give them “dominion” over creation (Genesis 1:28). This carries with it the idea of stewardship, or the responsibility of mankind to take care of what he has been given as a representative of God on earth.
So, for me, this means that I don’t want to support practices that do not treat the environment as a gift from God, to be respected and taken care of.
The industrial meat industry in particular is a huge thing to consider in this area. Animal farming produces more carbon dioxide than even transportation. Most cows are fed corn-based feed even though they are not biologically designed to exist on such diets. Because of this, they are more liable to become sick. To prevent this, they are given massive amounts of antibiotics, which, when passed through to their waste, make their manure toxic and unusable as farm fertilizer. Thus, it sits in manure ‘lagoons’, seeping in to the ground and contaminating local and regional water systems. Similarly, animals such as chickens, pigs, and cows, are packed into CAFOs (concentrated animal feedlot operations) and live in conditions where they are forced to stand in their own feces and be packed in with diseased and dying animals. They are then killed, often in inhumane ways, before dismembered and packaged for sale.
Loving My Neighbor
As much as I care about the effects on the physical and animal environment, I care more about the effects of modern agriculture on people. (Understanding that all of these factors are interconnected.) Jesus asserted that the second greatest commandment was to, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39).
To that end, I am severely bothered by the desultory effects that industrialized agriculture has on other people.
The American demand for cheap, plentiful food, has led to the use of fertilizers and pesticides to an extent never before seen. Corn is genetically-modified to produce the greatest yield per acre. Yet most of that corn is put through an extreme amount of processing before it ever gets eaten. High fructose corn syrup is a less expensive alternative to common table sugar. It is produced through a chemical process that breaks down the starch in corn and turns it into a type of sugar, fructose. It is commonly used in products, such as sodas, juices, cookies, cereals, and ketchup. This is good because it drives down the price of food, but the types of food that it makes available to people of lesser economic options are the typical ‘junk foods’ rather than wholesome fruits and vegetables. High fructose corn syrup has been linked to obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.
Similarly, the insatiable demand for meat has led to incredible strain on the animal industry. Standards for quality beef are horrifyingly low, and the pace of production is pushed beyond what people are capable of. More people are injured in the meat packing industry than in any other field. Those antibiotics that cows and other animals are given are then consumed by the people who eat the meat, thus lessening the overall potency of antibiotics when we get sick ourselves. Hormones in cows’ milk have led to problems in human children, sometimes even jumpstarting puberty in girls as young as 5.
Supporting a system which forces people into food poverty and its resultant ill-health chafes against my desire to love my neighbor as myself.
At the moment, I am a firm flexitarian. But what does that even mean? A flexitarian is someone who is primarily vegan or vegetarian but may ‘flex’ toward a different view. Some would define it as, “a lazy vegetarian,” which may be true for some. For me, it means that I do not eat meat except in very specific circumstances. To an extent, I see this as a transitional position because, eventually, my body will adjust to the point where eating meat would make me sick.
In this, however, I do not think that it is evil to eat meat. I do think that it is more environmentally and ethically advantageous to exist on a plant-based diet. But the majority of my current problems with meat lie with the modern agricultural system. If the system was different or I had other viable options, I may have chosen a different application of what I believe. But my goal of caring for creation and loving my neighbor remains the same regardless of my context.
All of what I have written merely scratches the surface of what my research. Here are some of the resources that I have found to be helpful in my own search. Please take a look at them yourselves and ask the questions, “How can I care for creation and love other people through what I eat?” Your conclusion may be different than mine, and that’s okay. But it is our responsibility to find out what it means for each of us to live faithfully under the command to love God and love others.
Follow Up Post: Christian Veganism
Specifically Christian resources have been marked with a +.