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.

14 comments on “Repentant carnivores? or Is it Christian to eat meat?

  1. larry

    Here is a good video on meat: http://meat.org

  2. Jeremy

    Tim,
    I hope you’ll log your effort on the blog. I’ve made a similar effort in my home, but feel as though I’ve failed mainly for the reason that you mention above. My children like meat. Hopefully, I can be encouraged by your successes!

  3. tim

    Jeremy, what I might do is start another blog (maybe called “Repentant Carnivores” ;) so as not to fill this one with too much non Bible or teaching related posts…

  4. jonathan robinson

    i like the cut of your jib, but i have to say the main problem i have is the effort it takes to eat like that given the sort of food that is actually available in supermarkets and lunch bars, the alternatives to meat usually offered are so full of refined carbs and gluten that they are hardly adequate dietary solutions. If I could find decent supplies of non meat, non carb heavy food, e.g. nuts, lentils, I would be happy to drastically reduce my meat consumption, not to mention my risk of bowel cancer! I guess I just need to put more effort into finding sources for this stuff that dont charge a fortune for a tiny packet.

    BTW I’m told the most efficient way to turn pasture into protein is rabbit meat, unfortunatley harvesting that meat is quite fiddly and drastically reduces its efficiency.

  5. tim

    …though wild rabbit (and probably free range farmed rabbit if such beasts exist ;) is delicious :)

    [now for something completely serious] maybe in term-time you and I could do a roster for bringing in enough healthy tasty food to share (with a low environmentel footprint) that would be half the work, and perhaps others could join the “lunch club”?

  6. jonathan robinson

    a lunch club could be fun, and if i only had to make lunch once a week (even if it was for five others) that could be genius! (and a significant saving on subway!)

  7. jonathan robinson

    the real problem would be that I probably eat two portions to everyone else’s one, but maybe i could just go on the rosta twice.

  8. tim

    If we are making simple but tasty and nourishing food, rather than foie gras one day and smoked halibut livers the next, I don’t see differences in quantity as a real problem. I doubt we’d try for every day, and in any case Carey has lunches Tues and Wed in termtime… so even with just two of us we could do Mon and Thurs, leaving Friday for individuality or working from home, if others joined we could do only some weeks, and/or cover the non-teaching weeks more thoroughly… let’s talk :)

  9. Heather

    Hi Tim,

    We don’t know each other but my parents, Norman and Tony Wansbrough, speak very highly of you and put me on to your website.

    I was very excited to see this as the most recent post when I arrived. In recent years I have become increasingly passionate about Justice for the world’s poor, and the way that we in the West essentially ask the poor to subsidise us, the rich. One consequence of this concern is that we only eat meat at most once a week now (I presume that is what you also meant in your last paragraph – not once or twice per day!), and we only have a big piece of meat (as opposed to little bits in a stirfry or stew or whatever) for celebrations. Like my husband’s birthday last week – yummy aged steak :-) :-)

    In answer to Jonathan’s concern about price – locate your local Indian grocers! They will have bulk bins of lots of different kinds of lentils and beans at around $4 per kg (which works out at about $1-$2 per kg once they’re rehydrated and cooked – *so* much cheaper than the cheapest meat!). Our entire food budget – including all lunches and guests around every two weeks or so – for two adults is $290 per month. Indian grocers often don’t label their bulk bins very well (or label them in Hindi), but a simply Google search will enable you to translate the Hindi into English, and the storekeepers are so pleasantly surprised to see foreigners in their stores that they tend to be super helpful. There’s heaps of such grocers around Mt. Roskill/Avondale way, and a lovely one in Harris Road in Ellerslie. Lentils and mung beans don’t need presoaking and boil in about 30 minutes; ditto for black-eyed beans except they take about 45 minutes. The rest need presoaking and long boiling, but if you invest in a pressure cooker (they start at about $30 on TradeMe) you can cook any pulse in about 30 minutes. And there’s heaps of good Indian food blogs on the internet – my favourite is mahanandi.org. And the Mennonites have been on to this idea for ages and have a fantastic cookbook called ‘more with less’ that’s full of good recipes, info about world hunger, and theology. It’s a bit hard to find in NZ, but you can order it from the US or sometimes pick up a copy on TradeMe.

    Tim, about food footprints, Martin (my husband) and I have done a carbon audit of our household consumption twice in the last few years. We audit *everything* we do/buy/throw out (it’s *super* tedious, but illuminating), and then use a spreadsheet we’ve developed to work out how much carbon was emitted to sustain our lifestyle (i.e. what was emitted to make our stuff and get it to us, not just what we burnt travelling around etc.). I then became curious about our other footprints – agricultural land, then freshwater/seawater, forestry etc., and have slowly developed spreadsheets for them, too, using the same audit data. You may be interested in our results, which you can see at:

    https://spreadsheets.google.com/ccc?key=0AhXDUeVOtBCNdGoxaGVSUDkybVJ6SG9iU00yNEp0dXc&hl=en#gid=0

    and from two years ago:

    http://thescarletmanuka.blogspot.com/2008/06/food-footprint-almost-sustainable.html

    Our desire is to live in such a way that, if everyone else did the same, there would be enough to go around. This isn’t possible without structural change, but it’s been surprising how far we can get whilst living a life that I see as enormously rich and full.

    I live with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and am bed-bound all but about 3 hours per day. In New Zealand, that is a sadness. Were I to have been born in much of the majority world, that would be a death sentence. I long for this to change.

    –Heather.

  10. Heather

    PS I was also delighted when I realised that you were one of the readers of “Arsene Lupin” on Librivox!!! I *live* in audio books (my illness makes reading real books near-impossible), and greatly enjoyed listening to his escapades someitme last year :-)

  11. tim

    Hi, Heather, thank you for the full and helpful comment. We have the More With Less Cookbook (an old paperback edition we bought in the UK in the 70s) it does indeed have loads of great material, and I expect to be using it for inspiration. Though have also posted a competition on the blog I’ve started to chronicle this and hopefully help others.

    Indian grocers are great, one of our favourites is Khyber Spice Invader near the Royal Oak roundabout, just down from Ollies Icecream and KFC (I think there’s an irony there) they also do curries that the owners prepare and sell samosas and other Indian goodies that they buy in, most of their labeling is in English and as you say they are delighted to have non-Indian customers and very helpful.

    I really enjoy Librivox, both the reading and the community, and Arsene Lupin has been a favourite since dad introduced us years ago, actually dad is responsible for much of my reading, he also introduced me to Kipling and Stalkey & Co…

    Coping with chronic fatigue must be hard, but you seem to be keeping lively and engaged despite it,

    God bless,

    Tim

  12. jonathan robinson

    thanks for the tip Heather, I will get onto it, I know I can’t hide behind convenience as an excuse! :-(

  13. Judy Redman

    Tim,

    Great post!!!! When I started reading I was expecting the standard “don’t eat meat because it takes less land to produce 1 kg of grain than beef” argument which doesn’t take into account the fact that a lot of meat (in Australia and I imagine NZ if not the US) is produced on land on which you can’t grow grain. I hadn’t seen the graphic before and am so pleased you pointed it out. I, too, would be much happier to eat less meat if it weren’t for family pressure and you inspire me to give it another go.

  14. tim

    Thanks, Judy :) Repentant Carnivores is now it’s own blog, with a co-blogger (to be announced soon, and potentially others to come, you?) which aims to provide mutual encouragment to those wanting to become “repentant” carnivores and eat less meat, eggs and other animal products. As well as recipes, there will be sharing experiences and things which have helped families will be a high priority. The URL is http://carnivores.bigbible.org/