Christianity and Veganism: How Eating Less Animal Products Relates to Faith and the Bible

Whenever I tell a Christian about my dietary and ethical preferences, they may give the excuse, “Jesus ate fish” or “God made animals for us to eat!” However, I don’t think if Jesus lived in the 21st century where oceans are being destroyed due to mass factory fishing and multitudes of animals are shoved into slaughterhouses, He would approve of the way we are using our dominion over the planet. If you believe these statements to be some exaggeration, I kindly suggest checking into the copious resources on current animal agriculture and factory farming practices. My personal favorite eye-openers include documentaries on Netflix like, “What the Health,” “Forks Over Knives,” and “Cowspiracy,” but there are also limitless books, websites, and resources that support how badly we need to cut back on our animal consumption. (See bottom of page for links.)

Aside from scientific proof of environmental effects and the varying levels of ethical concerns over how we are stewarding animals, many other issues exist in the topic that can and should be addressed from a faith perspective. No matter how you choose to eat or live your life, please approach such subjects with patience and respect for other people's opinions. There are many areas in health, disease-prevention, environmental impacts, ethical concerns, etc. in the topic of veganism or simply choosing to lessen our animal product consumption, but I am solely focusing on this topic with a look through the stories of the Bible in this article.

First of all, let’s take it all the way back to the beginning, when God created everything in the story of Genesis. He blessed Adam and Eve with a garden filled with plants. “Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the earth and every tree that has fruit in it. They will be yours for food.”” (Genesis 1:29) “The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground--trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food.” (Genesis 2:9). “The Lord placed the man in the garden, to cultivate and care for it...And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat of any of the trees in the garden”…” (Genesis 2: 15-16). Of course, God also gave mankind dominion over the animals, but He specified from the get-go that it was the fruits that the trees produced that He had purposefully created to sustain the man and woman. (In fact, this is stated 3 times in only 2 chapters!)

God also specified mankind’s role as stewards of the world and over all His Creation. Dominion does not mean “do and use as you please;” but rather, involves a responsibility to care for and protect the animals and environment God has blessed us with. That’s a big responsibility that we still hold-- are we doing it well?

Now, I am not so naive and narrow-minded that I believe this story is 100% factual. Many Christians debate the factuality versus the mythology of many stories in the Bible, but in my eyes, the story of mankind’s origin is a beautiful description that gives us fundamental truths to better understand our existence. For example, from it, we come to know that:

    1) God is One, and that He cares for us deeply.

    2) He made every living thing good, and with a specific purpose.

    3) His ways are perfect, but human beings have an inclination to pursue our own interests, which leads to the fall— when Adam and Eve ate the wrong fruit. 

Since man has turned away from submitting obediently to God’s Will, he now experiences temptations and violence, things outside of God’s natural order. God had made the Garden of Eden for the man and woman to enjoy forever, but now they have to hunt and toil. Cain kills Abel in jealousy of his better offering to God, and humanity spirals into a mess of sin and death.

To atone for their sins, God accepts animal sacrifices as a symbol that man is giving God the first fruits of his labor. The animal is getting somewhat the punishment of death that the sinful human deserves. We fortunately do not have animal sacrifice now, but even this was something rooted in selflessness and love. People offered their best animals—ones they had cared for and nurtured from their birth in most cases—sacrificing it to God and sharing it’s meat with their family. This obviously does NOT compare to our going to the grocery store and buying multiple animal products for our families each week without any thought as to where it came from or what kind of impacts eating it might have on our health and the environment.

Let’s jump forward to my next point, which is a big one that many still look to for guidance in fasting: the story of Daniel. If you’ve never read the story of Daniel, it’s a rather short and heroic book that starts with Daniel and his buddies being major figures among the exiled Jews— handsome, strong, intelligent, and former nobility. The Babylonian king that had taken the Israelites captive took Daniel and his friends in to train with his own men, an honor considering their situation.

When the king told them they could share in his rich food, Daniel “resolved” not to consume such things (Daniel 1:8). Others are alarmed at this— won’t they become weak if they don’t eat the rich food?! This kind of “king food” is comparable to the rich foods many first-world countries indulge in all day, everyday: meats, cheeses, wine, pastries, etc. Daniel isn’t phased; he proposes that he and his men will be stronger than the other kingsmen if they consume only vegetables and water for the next ten days!

Daniel's religious resolve for self-denial and fasting is truly inspiring, and definitely ended up paying off: “At the end of the ten days, they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food… To these young men, God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds…” (Daniel 1: 15, 17). You can check out “the Daniel Fast” in books and websites as a plant-based challenge to this day! Beyond just a challenge though, Daniel’s story shows the determination he held for his religious beliefs and health, both things many of us fail to hold willpower in nowadays. 

The next snippet of Scripture I would like to look at is Chapter 14 of Paul’s letter to the Romans. This is where he addresses disputes over dietary guidelines and whether the faithful Christian should abstain from meat or not. He establishes that if one believes in his heart that it will make him a better follower of Christ, he ought to act in either way. “The one who eats (meat) must not despise the one who abstains, and the one who abstains must not pass judgment on the one who eats; for God has welcomed (them both). Who are you to pass judgment on someone else…?” (Romans 14: 3-4)

In other words, believers in Christ shouldn’t let such trivial pursuits draw distinctions between them. The topic of abstaining from meat should be respectfully debated, as any other lifestyle decision can be among faithful Christians. However, in choosing not to eat meat and other animal products, I do not scorn other Christians—or ANYONE for that matter— for choosing to do so. We must maintain respectful dialogue, be open to one another’s opinions, and apply the way our world functions today in approaching this topic. 

A similar issue arises in Mark 7, when Jesus declares all food clean, and Acts 10, when Peter reiterated this teaching after a vision from God. In the Mark snippet, Jesus is talking to the hypocritical Pharisees, who form human laws to help them “worship” God physically, yet lack real dedication from their hearts. Some of these laws involved the cleanliness of certain animals, which was first established by God for a purpose— to keep them healthy and away from dangerous or disease-ridden species. However, they became so attached to these beliefs that they began to believe eating the wrong foods might even outweigh the severity of sin. They neglected to see the hardness of their own hearts.

So Jesus explained to them that, “Nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them… for it is from within, out of a person‘s heart, that evil thoughts come…” (Mark 7:18, 21). In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean. Does this mean we consume anything and everything we want? Of course not!

It actually opens us to a greater awareness of making our own decisions as to what’s best for our health, the well-being of those around us, and the wider world, taking into account our global and individual circumstances. 

It has been estimated that if as many people tried to eat like most Americans or first-world countries (with animal products in most meals), we would have enough food to feed only HALF of the world’s population.* No matter how we were “meant” to eat, there is no reason for the current selfishness that permeates our ignorant society. We live in complete apathy surrounding our responsibility as stewards of this earth given to us by God. We possess a significant obligation to share with one another and protect our planet, but we fail to do so.

Finally, Jesus calls us to live humbly and selflessly. If we are so prideful and self-serving that we don’t try to better our lives and the world by giving up things we desire, then how are we to ever live the life of self-denial Jesus taught? He showed us Himself that we must deny our cravings of constant gratification and pleasure to instead pursue Him.

If we are so attached to anything in this life, whether it be certain foods, substances, or habits, we can never truly leave everything and follow Christ. Fasting and abstaining are mentioned dozens of times in the Bible as ways holy people more fully denied themselves and united their wills to God. The challenge of denying ourselves some of these foods we may have eaten our whole lives constitutes yet another reason to implement a more vegan, plant-based lifestyle. Not only are we helping our own bodies, minds, and souls, but we are also responding to God’s call to be better stewards of His Magnificent Creation.

This said, being vegan or simply decreasing the amount of animal products we consume does not imply only self-denial. In fact, becoming conscious of what we consume embraces a beautiful way of life that involves bettering ourselves, too. When we put life into what we eat with vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, seeds, grains, etc., we fuel our bodies to serve others and better show up in the world.

I’m not claiming we all need to become vegan at the drop of a hat; rather, I am suggesting that becoming aware of the problems our planet is facing and doing something about them is critical. It takes each of us making small changes to add up to a big difference.

Consider cutting back on animal products and see firsthand how it affects your health, but then know within your soul that you are doing something instrumental for the world, environment, animals, and future generations. 

See more on why and how to go vegan in my other article here.

Resources and further reading:

"What the Health" website

"Forks Over Knives" website

"Cowspiracy" website

*Youtube video about human population (The video is almost 11 minutes long, so start watching at 6 minutes and 45 seconds for the difference in a plant-based consumer versus a meat-eaters' ecological footprint.)


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