The Ethics of Animal Testing and being Carnivorous

Fattening beef, commercial "farming" (photo from Animal farm Life)

I was recently asked about the ethics of animal testing. While I’m aware that it is a very contentious issue for “animal rights activists” it is not one I have thought much about. Though, since I grow animals to eat, I am closer existentially to that related issue than someone who gets their meat from the supermarket.

It seems to me there are some simple principles that provide guidance:

  • God made animals so we have a general responsibility to care for them like for the rest of creation (see Gen 1)
  • God explicitly allowed the use of animals for human benefit including killing them to eat (see Gen 9:3) n.b. I’d see this extending to the next line…
  • Research and testing which is of other great benefit for humans should also therefore be considered within God’s will.

We have a duty to care for God's creation - including other creatures we use for food.

This leads to the tentative conclusions:

  1. We have the right to use animals for our benefit. (This is an extension, but a small one of the permission to eat them in Gen 9:3. Testing products for safety would (to my mind) fall under this category.
    BUT
  2. We have a responsibility to care for them, and so the testing should not be cruel nor unnecessary.
I suspect that in NZ the Government and the SPCA ensure testing is not cruel and is “necessary”. So, cautiously, I am in favour of animal testing.
OTOH, especially now that I am involved in rearing animals for meat, it seems to me that much that today goes by the name of “farming” is unnecessarily cruel and therefore ethically indefensible. To keep animals penned up in small areas to make human food cheaper or more tender is wrong. Much pork and chicken and some beef (not so much in NZ where most is free range grass fed) transgresses the criterion of care.

Teaching theology to children

The workshop Barbara and I did for the NZ Baptist Gathering in November is now available as a video (along with other sessions). It is here. Do make any objections, ask any questions, or whatever :) it’s a topic we care about!

Aerial dogfight

Here in the peaceful hills between Tauranga and Rotorua, I watched (and recorded the end of) a prolonged fight in the sky. Two Magpies saw off an Australasian Harrier, with other birds including our one of Herons getting involved a bit.

Make it fullscreen, because without a tripod and better gear I could not zoom closer. Notice the magpies actually manage strikes on the much bigger Harrier!

There is something seriously wrong

I found this article from a post on Lifehacker, this is the picture they used.

The MSN Money website has an article How to eat when you’re really broke“. Author Liz Weston reckons an average American family should be able to save about $3,000 a year and could save much more.

 

She offers some simple and easy advice:

  • Eat mostly at home (a no-brainer if you want to save money ;)
  • Skip the processing (another no-brainer, processed foods cost more because they cost more to make) but what interests me, and I’ll come back to this, is that she starts the paragraph like this: “Steer away from foods with lots of additives, chemicals and packaging; they’re often not as good for you
  • Demote meat (this one will save you less in NZ but even here in the land of cheap meat the cost of protein from beans and such is way less than meat)
  • Promote veggies – she notes that buying in-season and local produce will save you even more
  • Go for the grains – noting that “offer more nutrients and fiber

I’ll  hold off mentioning the last suggestion from the front page for a moment and comment more on the ones above. (I’ll return to the remaining suggestion below, don’t worry ;)

What strikes me about the suggestions above is that:

  1. they could only apply to Westerners and the rich in the majority world, no one else could afford to eat other than this way
  2. these suggestions are practically identical with the proposals Western governments are making in order to improve their populations’ health!

So, the long and the short of it is: The way most of us eat is expensive, bad for us, and unsustainable on a global scale. Something is wrong somewhere. (If you want more discussion on this issue, and some great recipes to help you do something about it try, as well as Google, our blog: Repentant Carnivores.)

Oh, yes, that final suggestion:

  • Watch the waste – “Americans waste up to 40% of our food supply. If that’s the case in your household, you could save hundreds of dollars a year just by patrolling your refrigerator, freezer and pantry each day so you can use stuff before it rots.” Frankly that’s disgusting, if the figure is anything like that high in other countries there is something seriously wrong.

A pig and a sheep to celebrate

One of my really neat children1 has given me a cool present to celebrate our new “farm” – our new home outside Tauranga with 3 hectares of which several paddocks as well as some bush. He’s given me a pig and a sheep :)

They won’t live on our farm though, rather a guy in Cambodia is looking after the pig, while a woman in Afganistan cares for the sheep. And all thanks to Oxfam unwrapped (if Oxfam and global poverty is not your charity there are all sorts of other possibilities to make your next present something “different” and meaningful).

_____________________

  1. I use the word in its relational not chronological sense, since he is a mature man, not a child. []

Repentant carnivores? or Is it Christian to eat meat?

Stuffed tomatoes by hlkljgk

I’m increasingly concerned about the issue of meat-eating among Western Christians. The statistics seem quite clear, on a globe with limited resources, producing a meat diet takes far more of those limited resources than producing a Vegetarian diet, and the difference for Vegan meals are even more pronounced.

A person following a low-fat vegetarian diet, for example, will need less than half (0.44) an acre per person per year to produce their food,” said Christian Peters, M.S. ’02, Ph.D. ’07, a Cornell postdoctoral associate in crop and soil sciences and lead author of the research. “A high-fat diet with a lot of meat, on the other hand, needs 2.11 acres.”

It is as simple as that, the globe cannot sustain the carnivorous lifestyle we Westerners take for granted. No understanding of Christianity that I can recognise can accept that my diet choice and eating pleasure causes others to starve.

Now, at this point I need to clarify a few things:

  • When I talk about unrepentant carnivores I do not mean merely people who sometimes eat meat, by carnivore I mean people who eat meat more than 7 times a week on average. (But yes, some ham or meat paste, or tuna in a sandwich at lunch does count!)
  • By Repentant Carnivore I mean someone who recognises that the carnivorous lifestyle of most Westerners is sinful and who is seeking to change.
  • I am not a Vegetarian – I eat meat of all kinds (almost, horse is a delicacy, rat is pretty tasty, croc delicious, but I’m not over fond of tripe ;)

But Jesus ate meat! Of course he did, and fish. Peter was a fisherman, and Jesus apparently a better one, though he may have had supernatural help ;) But Jesus, Peter and even most relatively affluent people in the Ancient world did not eat meat more than once a day, most of them only ate meat and fish on high-days and holidays, or when someone in the whanau (approximately extended family) or village had killed a beast.

Even though a moderate-fat plant-based diet with a little meat and dairy (red footprint) uses more land than the all-vegetarian diet (far left footprint), it feeds more people (is more efficient) because it uses more pasture land, which is widely available. (Credit: Illustration by Steve Rokitka/University Communications)

That sort of diet (occasional meat eating) is not unsustainable, it makes good use of land that is good for pasture but less good for crops and may have lower demands on scarce resources than Vegetarian or Vegan ones do (see Diet With A Little Meat Uses Less Land Than Many Vegetarian Diets from which the quote above and the graphic are taken).

Conclusions:

Western Christians must become “Repentant Carnivores”, we should reduce our meat (including fish, fowl and even eggs and dairy – for Vegetarians are merely wolves in sheep’s clothing, semi-carnivores) considerably.

Having lived the carnivourous lifestyle for years, with four children who (apart for Nathan for a couple of teenage years) demand meat, and complain when fed beans, I’ve regularly cooked the carnivorous way. I now, the children having left home (except Sarah who can I guess cook the meaty meals ;) am free to repent, and plan over the coming months to work towards a low meat mixed diet, with only a meal or two per day (on average) using meat, fish, fowl, cheese or eggs.

Sage advice

Sage is a great flavour for winter, last week I cooked a chicken for visitors down in Tauranga, and despite using a nice barn raised chook all the comments were on the stuffing. If you suffered from packeted dried “Sage and Onion Stuffing” as a child, forget it. Packet stuffing is like dried parsley, or instant coffee, not worth the time they save!

Stuffing is easy:

  • some bread cut into small chunks (or wapped briefly in a processor, but don’t make it breadcrumbs, they’re too fine)
  • zest of a lemon or two (add the juice later if it seems dry)
  • an egg
  • a handful of fresh sage leaves chopped into peices
  • a handful of bacon also chopped
  • salt and pepper

Mix together, if the egg is not quite enough to bind it all together then add lemon juice or another egg. Stuff the bird and roast.

That meant I had sage left over, and those little pots never really grow for me, and the NZ Herald had a delicious looking recipe for Pumpkin, Sage and Blue Cheese Fritters. We also had an unused butternut, and I love blue cheese :) So since I have sent “‘Exile away from his land’: Is landlessness the ultimate punishment in Amos?” off for what I hope is the final time, “The book of Amos and the Day of YHWH” to a colleague for criticism, and am getting on well with “Degrees of Presence” I celebrated by trying the recipe.

It too is simple:

  • grated butternut (I used a cup or so)
  • small red onion (also grated – yes, I grate them together in the food processor, do you think I like skinned knuckles?)
  • blue cheese crumbled – not much (unless like me you are a fiend for blue cheese ;)
  • a few Tbsp Rice Flour
  • a little baking powder (I used 1/2 tsp)
  • handful of chopped sage leaves
  • egg white (the yolk will make mayo or something later)

Mix them all up and fry :)

Easy as, and delicious.

No pictures because the kitchen gremlin seems to have put soya flour (or something) into the jar marked Rice Flour, and the recipe really needs the rice flour to make it crisp! So mine was a delicious fried mash instead of fritters, so no photo this time :(

Kindle versus spindle?

For the post related to the image below see Reading Digitally

Screenshot from iPad Alice video

JPS has a post, Computers, you, and books that after rehearsing some of the common (and justified) concerns of modern-day Socrates that we use electronic texts so much that our attention span is withering. [For Socrates bemouning the terrors of writing it was memory that was in danger.] He quotes from the Chicago Tribune:

A friend of mine in her early 20s managed to poke a finger through the tissue-thin argument that iPads, Kindles and Nooks are just as good as books, that reading is reading, that content is all that matters.

She and her classmates at the University of Notre Dame were invited to the home of a revered professor. It was a gleaming palace of erudition, she said: Room after room was filled with elegant floor-to-ceiling bookcases; each bookcase was filled with beautiful volumes; each volume seemed to glow with the written legacy of the world’s wisdom.

It was, she recalled, breathtaking.

Alphabet book by Muffet

Alphabet book by Muffet

Here, lightly edited are my comments:

I’ve loved books, all sorts and conditions of book, for at least sixty years now. But, there are increasingly few books I am willing to fetishise. Some because this particular tome has memories, like the copy of Just So Stories my father read to me, some because the physical production is just so beautiful… but such volumes are rare, and becoming less commonly available and at a higher relative price. I notice that even renowned bibliophile Jim West hesitates before the cost of Brill’s handsome volumes…

Esther scroll from a Sephardic Synagogue (Wikipedia)

The issue, as always, seems to me to be not the format of books, but the forming of readers. That requires not the rants of creaky old curmudgeons, but the time and energy of influential parents and grandparents (or those temporarily, perhaps, in loco).
Now I do not mean that either JPS or others of you who bemoan the (not yet accomplished, indeed looking likely to survive with far more life than the scroll has done) death of the codex are  curmudgeons, but I do think you may resemble the King Canute of fame and fable ;)

The real job is reading to small children who then learn to want to read, whether on Kindle or spindle matters much less than the simple desire!

Woman in White review

Free Listens has reviewed an interesting Librivox project I was involved with a while back. (This recording has also been getting good reviews on Archive.org.)

The Woman in White is a mystery novel, told like a court case in the voices of different “witnesses”, so for the Librivox recording we used different people for these characters retelling the story. That probably makes the nineteenth century prose an easier listen than it might otherwise be. The novel has also been adapted into a musical by Andrew Loyd Webber, and filmed several times. Two recent books have also provided a “sequel” and a reimagining of the story.

Several of my other recordings have been getting 4-5 star reviews on Archive.org :) Including the old (poor quality) Just So Stories I think so far the new Librivox version is un-reviewed…