On this day, let us remember the example of St. John the Baptist when confronted with evil. Moreover, may the memory of those who perished eighteen years ago be eternal!
On a more cheerful note, I received a lovely letter over the weekend from a lady named Zoe, who has given me permission to post our exchange about veganism and the Christian life. I’m continuing to be embarrassingly negligent of this site, and I don’t feel any worse shame for parasitizing my email for a post. I have scores of post ideas saved to which I may eventually get—maybe when the weather cools and my garden enters into dormancy.
I was wondering what you thought of the compatibility of veganism and Christianity, especially when considering the following things:
- Veganism is not the belief that eating meat or killing animals is inherently or intrinsically evil.
- Veganism is not the belief that humans or animals are equal, or even that animals are equal between themselves.
- Veganism is not against human life or the maintenance of human society.
- Veganism is the belief that when possible and practicable (for humans) one ought not to cause pain or suffering to animals, beginning with a change in diet, clothing, entertainment, and general products. [An example of where it is not practicable is when a person needs a certain medicine that has been tested on animals, or itself contains some animal products, and they will die otherwise. Another is the maintenance of hospitals, which require the killing of rats and cockroaches as long as it is open without ceasing. A final example is when there is literally no other food source available, although this does not apply to the majority of modern Westerners in decadent democratic first-world societies.]
- Veganism seeks to curb mass environmental damage from animal agriculture, and to use the earth more responsibly.
- Veganism seeks to curb damage to human health from the excessive use of animal products.
- Veganism is a simple praxis [a way of life that seeks to exclude cruelty to, harm of, exploitation of, animals for food, clothing, or any other purpose, as far as practicable and possible for humans] that can be participated in by many.
- Veganism is not the belief that killing animals is always wrong, or that humans will ever be able to completely cease all harm to animals own their own.
- Veganism if the whole world was such would end as much as possible animals in domestication/captivity relationships with humans.
Or simply this definition with nothing extra added or implied: “A philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of animals, humans and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.”
I am aware (I think this is true at least) that Christians believe that the whole world will one day again be even better than Eden, with no strife between the creatures of God at all (Isaiah 11 and so on), and was wondering if you thought it would be morally acceptable to approximate or imitate such a thing now (by reducing harm done to animals as much as possible)? In the time between times (between Eden and the End that is).
You have a fitting name for someone who cares for your fellow creatures. I am not a vegan, but I’ve been a vegetarian since the 1990s (and I’ve had “fits” of vegetarianism since I was five, maybe earlier). I go through periods with a vegan diet, but not year round. You mention Eden, and that was exactly my inspiration—and it remained my inspiration even when I went through an agnostic period as a young man. I’ve always thought—felt, really—that a world where life requires death was somehow broken . . . fallen. Of course, I marvel at the beauty of nature and the circle of life . . . the tendency for balance to be reasserted when things go awry. Nonetheless, this state has always seemed like a second best scenario—God’s making lemonade out of lemons, so to speak. We live in an imperfect world of sin and death, but when we can refrain from participating in it—and when we can make it better—we thereby cease falling and start a return to the divine cosmic order. I think that such is true, both as a Christian and as a Platonist. Even when I ceased to be the former for a time, I remained the latter.
It’s clear that the Hebrews and then the Christians never condemned meat eating, but they also had strong traditions to care for animals, both wild and domestic. Mosaic law involves animal welfare in several ways, and there have been Christian vegetarians from the early Church—and no shortage of stories of saints who lived among beasts in a manner similar to Adam in the garden. Americans may know of Francis of Assisi, but there are scores of such people in Christian history. Also, the Christian monastic life might be the most explicit about leaving the allowed though fallen order behind and focusing on a life wholly committed to communion with God. It’s not surprising to me that the monastic diet veers toward veganism—as a sort of return to Eden. Monastics will eat dairy and eggs for some periods during the year, and they’ll also eat fish and shellfish at certain times, following the examples of Jesus and John the Baptist (they equate invertebrates generally with St. John’s locusts).
That said, I don’t mind animal husbandry if it’s done with respect for the nature of the animal. Sadly, this isn’t often done. Male dairy cows, dairy goats, and chickens are usually slaughtered, many beekeepers kill their queens annually or biennially (I don’t—I let the colony regulate itself), and sheep raised for wool probably aren’t always treated properly. Yet, I don’t think that there’s anything intrinsically wrong or fallen about exploitation as such. People usually speak of exploitation in a negative manner, but it simply means making use of something or someone. That can be done without tarnishing the things or creatures used. I’m a big fan of child labor in the household—helping with chores, gardening, and such! Sticking kids in factories or mines—that’s where exploitation becomes wicked. Farm life, like domestic human life, can instantiate an image of a higher order—concrete beings in time and space cooperating in a valiant effort to allow paradise to appear, if only for moments, in this vale of tears.
I disagree with well intentioned Christians who deride the Jews’ tikkun ha-olam—the idea that we should participate in the healing of the world. These critics think that such is a form of modernistic humanism, where men supplant God in trying to overcome the fall (the Cartesian project of the modern world). I disagree. Of course, we should work to make the world better, and we can only do anything good through God’s gifts to us. Other Christians think that the totality of the Christian life involves simply an exercise of the will (in obeying God), and they dismiss everything outside the will as unneeded at best, idolatry at worst. Again, I disagree. I think that our whole lives should be transformed into a sacramental life where we redeem the time—and everything around us—by incorporating the world into our lives and into a restored order in our souls as we travel our path toward the Lord. We fail miserably, yes, but not entirely. Even the most wretched sinners can have moments where they allow God to work through them, touching lives and spreading light in darkness.
Now, I’m a spiteful, proud, lazy, wasteful, critical, unsocial, disagreeable, impatient person with a massive deficit of charity. I certainly have no delusions of personal sanctity or spiritual grandeur. However, we all struggle in our own ways, and for me, vegetarianism is a way that I try to live in harmony with God’s plan for the cosmos. So, I commend vegans, though, as I stated earlier, I approve—and am enthusiastic about—human relationships with animals when such elevate both human beings and other animals. Determining that, of course, calls for wisdom and good judgment, as all moral deliberation does. Is the human/domesticated dog a nature-respecting, life-affirming relationship? It certainly can be. People with cheetahs or apes? Hmm, I suspect that it’s usually not. In between, though, is a messy spectrum. Like most things in life, we see through a glass darkly!
Last month, my vegetarian brother and his vegetarian girlfriend informed me about shellac. Apparently, the coat on most shiny candy is due to shellac, a resin secreted by the female lac bug, Kerria lacca. Shellac is often listed as confectioner’s glaze, which I sadly found on the ingredients list of Ferrara Pan’s Boston Baked Beans. Adam told me that shellac is used to make Jelly Belly jellybeans smooth and pretty. I looked them up online, and the company uses shellac and beeswax in their candy making. Am I to give up beautiful candy? Candy corn, can I forsake thee?
I have mixed feelings. I do not object to beeswax or honey because I do not have a problem with consuming animal products that do not necessarily result in critter killing. Of course, the practice of beekeeping invariably kills some bees—some of those workers will not get out of the way when one is working with the hive’s frames. Yet, that killing is accidental. Avoiding honey for such a reason would be like refusing to drink wine because occasionally vineyard workers may die of heatstroke. Is shellac, then, like honey?
Not quite. The lac bugs form shellac as protective barriers and corridors along the trees whose sap they eat. When men harvest the shellac, they invariably kill many of the lac bugs. In a way, shellac is like honey and beeswax, but the collateral damage is practically much higher.
On the other hand, lac bugs are scale insects. If you have never battled scales on your houseplants, then perhaps you do not realize the genocidal hatred that they may induce. I hate scales that colonize my poor, defenseless scheffleras. Their resin secretions cause fits of anger and battles of horticultural oil. I know that I should not hold the whole family of scales responsible, but I am tempted to hate lacs conveniently. Maybe, I should munch a few handfuls of Whoppers before I carry out my periodic massacres just to add insult to
Aside from my fiendish dislike of scales, the hypocrisy of my lacto-ovo vegetarianism tempers my willingness to give up shellac. Ideally, I can eat unfertilized chicken eggs and enjoy milk and other dairy products without such nourishment’s requiring any death. As a matter of fact, though, the egg and dairy industries involve the untimely deaths of chickens and cattle—almost all males and then the older, less productive females. For such reasons, I often consider becoming a vegan. I periodically go months on a vegan diet without much trouble, but I would worry about the long term effects of continual veganism. And I love cheese. A lot.
I have not decided what to do about shellac. I am still working my way through the Boston Baked Beans that I received in my Easter basket. After that, I shall probably avoid shellac candy but not fanatically abstain . . . somewhat like an American Jew’s form of keeping kosher.
It is bad when insinuations of vegetarianism are enough to ruin a political campaign . . . In Montana last fall, Democrats accused the Republican gubernatorial candidate Roy Brown of being a vegetarian, which Mr. Brown vigorously denied. According to the Billings Gazette:
“I am not and have never been a vegetarian,” Brown said.
“I am disgusted by the baseless allegation that I am a vegetarian and that my personal eating habits should somehow be construed as opposed to the economic interests of Montana’s livestock industry.” . . .
“If this was a simple misunderstanding, that would be one thing, but this is clearly an attempt by Gov. Schweitzer and his political hacks to discredit me amongst livestock producers, and it’s beyond offensive,” Brown said.
Well, Roy Brown lost. False accusations tanked his candidacy. Just imagine what it must be like for those of us who truly are vegetarians. We can only pray that we can keep to “Don’t Ask; Don’t Tell” environs lest we be outed. Then, the haters come knocking . . .
However, certain extremist animal rights whackjobs want to ruin our image in the public’s mind even more. You may know of P.E.T.A. through their antics and their whorish celebrity supporters. Being the incentive to get Pamela Anderson to agree to a comedy roast was probably the only good deed ever accomplished by those insane people. Now, P.E.T.A. wants everyone to refer to fish as “sea kittens” so that people will become more sensitized to the plight of our piscine neighbors.
Anyway, I may have found a group even more deluded than P.E.T.A. As far as I know, P.E.T.A. has no problem with your having dogs and cats as pets, as long as you treat them humanely. As far as that goes, I entirely agree with P.E.T.A. In contrast, Animal Freedom condemns pethood as a form of animal bondage. “Animal dependency” is unethical exploitation. The goldfish bowl is an instrument of torture. Pet owners are psychologically disturbed. Though not dealing with pets, I learnt that angler fishing is a form of rape:
With their fishing rod, a type of extended penis; men wait by the side of the pond until a fish takes their seductive bait. The animal is hooked, reeled in, sometimes admired for a minute and then measured, shortly thereafter to be released again. Multiple contacts at the waterfront, you might say. And afterwards the fishermen brag to each other about how big it was and what a struggle it was to reel it in.
And the fish? The fish (if it survives) swims away wounded, to chance becoming another fisherman’s victim.
The fisherman is another one of those people who has not freed himself from the wish for confirmation. He angles for compliments. Had he been given enough love and attention as a child, he would feel no need to experience time and again if the fishes would bite. Not for nothing is fishing an activity mainly carried out by mischievous children and boring old men. Which is precisely the category that doesn’t score well with women. However, mothers play a dual role in this. They hate being used by men and they hate that men fish. But still they would rather see their men spending their time on the waterfront and directing their energies towards fishes than towards chasing women.
I wonder what my fisher-mother would say . . .
Animal Freedom’s writings are fascinating. I enjoy reading them in the same way that I find Mormon catechetical works to be quite fun. It is like fantasy literature—but really believed!
As one who cares for animal welfare—and as a vegetarian—I probably agree with the Animal Freedom folks far more than the average omnivorous Joe. However, I believe in a hierarchy of creatures, with man at the top—at least among Earthlings (or Terrans, for you weirdo sci.fi. geeks). As such, I do not mind the human exploitation of nature—as long as such exploitation respects nature. That is a vague guideline, but I basically mean that we can reap benefits from the land and from its creatures as long as we are responsible and ethical in our relations with them by ensuring their continued health and existence. In other words, we should not drive species to extinction through our exploitation. We should be mindful of natural resources—not only for selfish reasons, for the sake of calculated future goods, but also out of respect for natural things’ inherent worth. When species vanish due to our actions (we cannot answer for natural extinctions), when beautiful places turn ugly from callous development, when men subject a creature to treatment that does not respect the dignity fitting to it, then the world is worse from human action. Moreover, we should not engage in actions that render our souls ugly or perverse, as animal cruelty definitely does so. Rather, as with our fellow human beings, we should aim for the flourishing of all.
I do not think that having pets—at least animals who have been domesticated since the dawn of history—violates the aforementioned principles. Dogs have co-evolved with human beings for so long, we belong together. To use language that must be familiar to the Animal Freedom folks, pets celebrate and encourage interspecies understanding, love, and tolerance. Why would we want a homospecist society when we could benefit from diversity?
Some “animal rights” folks find zoos to be no better than cheap circus-style exploitation. However, zoos are among the conservation movement’s most effective instruments. They instruct people about the natural world and cause them to care about conservation efforts. Just think how many people donate to and become members of the World Wildlife Fund because they fell in love with wildlife at their not so wild city zoo. Imagine how many write to elected officials with regard to environmental policy because of their experience in zoos. Furthermore, for the last several decades, zoos have also been instrumental in breeding and reintroduction programs that save endangered species. The world is a much better place today because of zoos.
So, note that not all vegetarians are kooks. Well, you might think that I am a kook, as well, but I assure you that somewhere, out there, live unkooky vegetarians with whom you might someday share a train ride or a moment of leisure on a park bench. Do not be afraid. They do not believe in eating you.
Today is the high holy day of American consumerism, and every year my family and I ritualistically participate in the all night and all day liturgy of spending—it is a cultural celebration. Spain has its Holy Week parades, Germany has its Oberammergau, and we have credit card debt. In the spirit of the day, I offer below some online stores where you can purchase vegetarian goods.
Yes, I am a vegetarian. I have been one for ten years, and before that, I was occasionally vegetarian on and off since I was a small child. Yet, those early attempts always ended violently, with my exasperated mother’s shoving dead animal product down my throat. When I became too big for such parental oppression, it was just a matter of time until I climbed on the wagon for good.
I am also one of the “crazy” ones who does it out of principle. I liked the taste of meat, and I am not particularly health conscious. I just do not wish to kill animals if I do not have to do so to survive—except for the few species on which I have declared an unending war. For them, I aim at genocide to the extent that swatters, shoes, or rolled newspapers allow. These enemies are house flies inside buildings, pestilent cockroaches inside buildings, and mosquitoes anywhere—for there is no neutral zone for mankind’s deadliest foe. Besides these targets of personal warfare, I try to cause no harm.
I am not a vegan most of the time, though I realize the hypocrisy involved. I have no principled objection to dairy, but I do find the dairy industry objectionable. For I know that they butcher old cows who have given a lifetime of milk, and they sell the male offspring for meat, as well. Were I strong enough, I would probably go vegan for the whole year—but I love cheese, milk, butter, and all the lovely items made with whey. The dairy free fasting seasons throughout the year teach me well how much I crave those products.
I do not wear leather, eat gelatin, or consume anything made with carmine or cochinea extract. I do not have any problem with wool or honey. Unlike the PETA crowd, I do think that human beings should reap the harvest of our land’s natural resources, as long as it is done responsibly. My idea of stewardship, however, does not involve killing. It is a small way of trying to avoid participation in the fall—though I certainly involve myself constantly in other ways.
Sometimes folks ask me how I can stand Thanksgiving as a vegetarian, but it is wonderful. I can eat most of the dishes, and my sister, who is a superb cook, fixes special sweet potatoes and stuffing for me without any meat product. As a Cincinnatian, chili is a hard thing to give up, but my mother makes a delicious vegetarian Cincinnati style chili. Many chili parlors in the city also offer vegetarian versions, now, as well. That really just leaves goetta—our speciality breakfast meat. Last year, I finally tried vegetarian goetta at Honey in Northside, and I have put in requests to my sister to develop her own vegetarian version for me.
As for dairy free items, I recommend Silk soy milk and WholeSoy yogurt.
Below are some vegetarian and vegan links, which you might find useful.
Christian Vegetarian Association
Dole 5 a Day
Grass Roots Natural Goods
Institute for Plant Based Nutrition
International Vegetarian Union
Leafy Greens Council
Pangea Vegan Products
Shopper’s Guide to Leather Alternatives
Veg 4 Lent
Vegetarian Life Tips
Vegetarian Resource Group
Vegetarianism and Vegetarian Nutrition
We have all heard the omnivore propaganda. Return to Eden and eat your veggies.