I am a born-again vegan, obnoxiously trying to convert everyone to my lifestyle. My own conversion was a response to social ethics. At the start of this year, my wife and I became vegans – that is, we do not eat any animal or animal product, such as dairy.
Why become a vegan? Basically, there were four reasons.
· We were motivated by the biblical text.
· We were concerned for the environment.
· We were committed to working for the eradication of global hunger.
· We were concerned about our health.
The biblical text teaches us that God is the Creator who brought all of existence into being. But God is more than simply a Creator; God is a provider and sustainer.
Genesis 1:29-30 tells us that God provided all the seed-bearing plants and trees with seed-bearing fruit to be food for humans. Additionally, God provided foliage and herbs as food for all of the wild beasts, the birds of heaven and the living reptiles upon the earth.
The psalmist sings to the glories of creation, capturing God’s role of maintaining life: “All creatures wait on you to provide them their food in due season; you give to them the food they eat, with a generous open hand you fill their hunger” (Psalm 104:27-28).
The earth provides all that is needed to live a full and abundant life. Like the oceans that are able to support and sustain all life that exists in their waters, so, too, is the land able to support and sustain all life that exists upon it.
This abundance becomes evident as humans learn to live in harmony with nature. Shortages occur when humans attempt to impose their will upon the fair and natural distribution of nature’s resources.
The natural distribution of the earth’s resources is disrupted by our choice to eat our fellow living creatures. It is interesting to note that the original intent of creation, as elucidated in Genesis 1:29-30, was for all that has life, including humans, to be vegetarians.
Killing in Eden, even for food, was considered incongruent with paradise’s primeval peace as designed by God. No blood was shed. No survival of the fittest existed in this idyllic garden. There was truly peace on earth and goodwill to humans.
Since the expulsion from the garden, an attempt to return to Eden has captured the religious imagination. The messianic vision of the future becomes modeled on the past, with the wolf cohabitating with the lamb, the panther sleeping with the kid, the cow and bear becoming friends, the lion eating straw like the ox, and the child playing with the cobra (Isaiah 11:6-8).
But why wait for some messianic future to begin modeling our behavior on Eden’s paradigm?
When we consider the damage humans inflict upon the earth because they choose to be carnivorous, it makes sense that the original order of vegetarianism (in reality it was more vegan than vegetarian) should be seriously reconsidered.
Today, if anyone truly wishes to reduce their carbon footprint and contribute to the cause of global hunger, probably the greatest contribution that can be made is to become a vegetarian.
The United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization, in a 2006 study titled “Livestock’s Long Shadow,” found that our livestock sector is one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems. These include impacting climate change, degradation, air pollution, water pollution, water shortage and loss of biodiversity.
For example, the methane released by cows and pigs, while less prevalent in the air than carbon dioxide, is 23 times more potent as a heat-trapping gas, making livestock responsible for 18 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas problem. Additionally, the land used by cows grazing could feed more of the world’s population if it were used for crops. According to the study, grazing takes up 26 percent of the land on Earth that is not covered by ice – 30 percent if you count the land used to grow feed for the animals.
Besides helping our environment, moving closer to the Eden model can reduce global hunger.
If everyone on Earth ate like Americans, current food supplies would only be able to feed 2.5 billion people, about half of the world’s population.
However, if we all ate a subsistence diet, getting the calories we need, current annual food production could feed 6 billion people.
If I consume 5,000 daily calories and my neighbor consumes none, then shouldn’t I reduce my intake to about 2,500 daily calories (2,000 is what is needed) to make it possible for those who receive none to get something?
Eating less and consuming more vegetables and fruits, as did Adam and Eve, can substantially reduce global hunger.
According to Daniel Chiras, in his book “Environmental Science,” “A 10% decrease in beef consumption in the United States … would release enough grain to feed 60 million people in the less developed nations.”
Adopting vegetarianism as found in Eden is not a panacea, but it can contribute to reducing global hunger in underdeveloped nations and definitely reducing obesity in developed nations, such as the United States.
If the body is indeed the temple of God’s Holy Spirit, then abusing the body through ingested pollutants is akin to desecrating the temple. Obesity has become an eating disorder afflicting a substantially large portion of Americans. Abusing bodies becomes sinful behavior.
I have discovered, since the early part of this year, that becoming a vegan has led to a healthier lifestyle that uses fewer resources. I am no longer obese, my pre-diabetes is gone, and my cholesterol levels and blood pressure are normal. I’m in my best shape since my 20s. Now that I’m 50ish, I realize that the goal is not longevity, but the quality of life in my senior years.
As the organ plays “Just as I Am,” allow me to give an altar call for veganism.
Miguel A. De La Torre is professor of social ethics at Iliff School of Theology in Denver.
Professor of Social Ethics and Latinx Studies at Iliff School of Theology in Denver, Colorado.