Those who come from a faith tradition may be familiar with the book of Genesis, ancient writings found the Torah and Old Testament. Genesis is among the oldest written texts concerning human origins, and many look to these writings to tell us who created the heavens and the earth, even if the how is in question. Many people of faith also believe Genesis conveys the idea that God left human beings to care for the earth, and grieve at the poor job we have done with our assigned task. Indeed the “creation care” movement within faith communities has grown quite a bit the last few years.
If you are a person of faith, have you ever considered the relationship between creation care and eating animals? Though I have heard many sermons on and studied the book of Genesis over the years, I was quite surprised that the familiar creation narrative found in Genesis includes details about diets. After God made all the animals, plants, fish, birds and humans, God says this to the first human, Adam:
“I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.”
So, in the beginning…..everyone ate a plant based diet, even animals? That appears to be true, according to the author. I find this pretty interesting because whoever wrote down this narrative (it is traditionally ascribed to Moses) was most certainly living in a culture that ate meat. My guess would have been that meat was introduced to our diet “after the fall”, that is, when Adam and Eve messed up and were banished from Eden. But no, according to the writer, animals were not introduced as part of our diet until after the Flood. Remember Noah and the Ark? Once the waters dried up and Noah and family landed on a mountain, God said this:
“Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth. The fear and dread of you will fall on all the beasts of the earth, and on all the birds in the sky, on every creature that moves along the ground, and on all the fish in the sea; they are given into your hands. Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.”
No explanation for this new addition to diet is given, and the phrase “the fear and dread of you will fall on all the beasts of the earth…” seems like such an ominous prediction of how we would eventually damage our earthly home. No matter what is believed about these ancient texts (allegory, mythology, the best efforts of unscientific humans, true accounts, etc.) there are a few things I think we can conclude about the author of Genesis:
- The author believed that during the time before the Fall–the time when humans and nature lived in perfect harmony–all living beings ate a diet of plants.
- The author believed that humans and animals were able to “be fruitful and multiply” on a plant based diet so that by the time of the flood many generations later, thousands or hundreds of thousands of people lived on the earth.
- The author believed that the introduction of meat was after God was so fed up with human wickedness that he regretted his creation and wanted to destroy them. With the prediction of “fear and dread” from our hands, eating animals almost seems like a judgement rather than a reward.
Does this matter? Maybe not, but so many people of faith look to these passages for guidance on what the Creator hoped for when humans were created and what was desired for human behavior and for our relationships to each other. Couldn’t our diet also be part of that consideration? If your faith tradition leads you to care for (and repair) creation, I hope you will do more reading on this subject, and of course, adopt some of this site’s suggestions to reduce meat and dairy in your diet. In my perusal of the internet, I have come across 2 faith based websites that focus on encouraging a plant based diet as a part of creation care:
- The Christian Vegetarian Association’s mission is “to support and encourage Christian vegetarians around the world, to share with non-vegetarian Christians how a vegetarian diet can be a powerful and faith-strengthening witness to Christ’s love, compassion, and peace and to show the world that plant-based diets represent good, responsible Christian stewardship for all God’s Creation.” They have many educational resources for those who would like to explore these ideas further.
- Jewish Veg. Its missions is to “encourage and help Jews to embrace plant-based diets as an expression of the Jewish values of compassion for animals, concern for health, and care for the environment” and also has educational resources on the subject.
For a non-sectarian viewpoint of justice and morality, I recommend an organization in DC called A Well Fed World. The mission of AWFW is to help alleviate the problem of world hunger, and relieve the suffering of animals. They partner with and fund global programs that seek to empower individuals, social justice organizations, and political decision-makers to embrace the benefits of plant based foods and farming. There are also many resources on their website for adopting a plant based diet.
Through this organization I purchased a book called Circles of Compassion, a collection of essays that “focus on how the seemingly disparate issues of human, animal, and environmental rights are indeed connected.” I recommend it to explore the issue of food justice. I close with this quote from A Well Fed World founding director Dawn Moncrief:
Social Justice cannot exist without food justice. The world is full of abuses beyond our control, but the immense, unnecessary and unconscionable suffering of people and animals that results from our food system is something we can positively affect by making better choices.