Archives For Food

July 31, 2012

Yesterday I wrote on my concern with Chick-fil-A, which has recently been a hot topic in the media. While I do not want to discuss the issue the media is infatuated with, I think it is a real concern how a Christian business understands the intricacies of its supply chain and how it works toward building a kingdom ethic into its product. In the case of Chick-fil-A, as a Christian food purveyor it is their duty to think about the theological, moral and ethical underpinnings of their own business, as well as the businesses they buy from as part of their supply chain. This is similar to a Christian jeweler who must think about where her diamonds are coming from or a Christian clothing retailer who must wonder what the practices are within its supply chain and how its contractors handle the environmental impact of dyes and the waste from garment making.

This is not just a concern for Chick-fil-A; it is a concern about ourselves: our habits, our choices and our ignorance. It’s a concern for my self. I need to hold myself to a higher standard as well, and I need to understand how my habits and choices can impact other people. This is the logic behind Christ’s emphasis on loving our neighbor as ourselves. I am sure that during this recession we all know someone who, of no fault of her own, has been affected by forces beyond her control—losing a job, a home, a retirement account. This may have even happened to you. The point is, we can choose to empathize with those who are affected by forces beyond their control.

This empathy must push us to dispel our ignorance about where our food, clothing and other goods come from. This empathy must influence our habits and choices. Our empathy must push us to put forth some amount of effort: to choose to live in a world where the coffee we drink, the chocolate we eat and the burgers we grill actually have a real life effect on our fellow human beings, our neighbors and all of creation. Our empathy must call us to action.

And that is my chief concern: that we act. I know that we won’t solve all these problems in a day, and that issues like industrial agriculture, conflict minerals, garment sweatshops and the like are all tied up within complex issues of poverty, civil unrest, human trafficking, warfare, political maneuvering, and globalization—issues that will take years to confront. These are issues though, and we need to act. We need to try.

I have thought deeply about these things, and I truly believe that we need to try. We may not be able to find out if the particular shirt we are buying was made in a sweatshop or not, or if that tomato in the farmer’s market was grown in a truly sustainable way. But we can ask, we can seek out, we can try to learn. We can try to make an informed decision, we can try to dispel our ignorance about a particular product and at least understand that we are both part of the problem and part of the solution.

I am writing this on a laptop that probably has a few conflict minerals in it. I just took a break to text my wife on a phone that most definitely has some conflict minerals in it. I am not immune to the problem. But I chose to act. Someday, hopefully soon, when an organization can certify that a cell phone was made conflict-free I will most definitely buy that cell phone. I will chose to act when I can, but in the meantime I am stuck in a situation, like all of us are, of not having any solution to the problem. It’s just there, an evil that we all take part in, a fragment of our lives that indirectly contributes to the evil that will always exist in this fallen world.

Yet in the midst of this broken world, my concern for ourselves is that we choose to act. That is our only choice. To love our neighbor is to act. And that’s all we are called to do.

July 30, 2012

Chick-fil-A has been in the news recently for a corporate position I do not want to discuss here. Suffice it to say, Chick-fil-A is a business that holds itself to certain ideals. Their work to advance the kingdom with their WinShape Foundation and by taking a stance on the Sabbath are to be commended. Taking a stance on your faith and values is something I respect, even if I disagree. I have no qualms about that.

However, what I am concerned about is Chick-fil-A’s place in a fast-food business that is not up to Christian standards with respect to human and animal welfare. Chick-fil-A, from what I can tell from their website, is operating in a typical fast-food restaurant model that damages our environment, is unkind and inhumane to animals and is integrally tied to modern slavery within the United States. I do not believe they are doing this maliciously, but like so many other people and organizations, are ignorance about food supply chains and the treatment of animals.

Modern slavery is one of the backbone’s of fast food’s use of tomatoes. Over the past 15 years, over 1,000 slaves have been freed within Florida alone.  The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) states that:

The ultimate solution to modern day slavery in agribusiness lies on the “demand side” of the US produce market – the major food-buying corporations that profit from the artificially-low cost of US produce picked by workers in sweatshop conditions which, in the worst cases, tip over into slavery. Ultimately, these corporations must leverage their vast resources and market influence as major produce buyers to clean up slavery and other labor abuses in their supply chains once and for all.

Chick-fil-A is not one of the restaurants that has signed on to the Fair Food Program set up by the Coalition of Immolakee Workers to insure that slavery is removed from their supply chains. Time and time again Scripture calls on the believer to care for those who are oppressed. As a Christian company, Chick-fil-A should respond to their Christian convictions and take part in the Fair Food Program. I do not know whether CIW has actively approached Chick-fil-A or not, but it would be a good step toward fighting modern slavery for Chick-fil-A to proactively sign on to the Fair Food Program as a sign of their willingness to combat slavery in the United States.

Beyond the produce, the chicken used at Chick-fil-A does not appear to be humanely raised, meeting only the USDA and National Chicken Council standards that are by no means a humane way to treat an animal. This is something I have detailed in other posts as being integral to a Christian view of eating (here, here, here, here and here). Yet, many Christians are ignorant of how their food is treated. Being in the business of providing food to people, Chick-fil-A should be well aware of how their chicken is raised and know that their provision of cheap, low cost, inhumanely raised chicken is complicit in the inhumane treatment of animals, is a harmful to the environment, endangers the public health and goes against a holistic Christian faith. Would I believe Chick-fil-A if they were ignorant of the actual treatment of workers or animals? Yes. I would. It goes without saying that the majority of people and businesses are not aware of the realities that have entrenched themselves within the agricultural industry over the past few decades.

Dan Cathy, a member of the Cathy family that owns Chick-fil-A, has said about his faith: ”You know, God wants us all to have an abundant life full of purpose and meaning. He wants us to be strong and courageous and to be bold in service to Him. He wants us to make good decisions so that we can leave a powerful legacy and lead others.” Cathy wants all to have an abundant life, yet for so many workers who may help pick the produce that is used at Chick-fil-A restaurants an “abundant life full of purpose and meaning” is not possible. The Cathy Family and Chick-fil-A are not afraid to stand up for something they believe in. If the Cathys and Chick-fil-A are willing to be “strong and courageous” for their faith I hope they heed the Christian call to be strong and courageous for the least of these. If the organization, as a Christian business, truly wants to “leave a powerful legacy and lead others,” they need take a hard look at their supply chain and make any changes necessary to insure that their values driven corporation is not built on inhumane treatment of animals, injustice against workers and modern day slavery. The same can be said for all of us as well.

April 24, 2012

I had the opportunity to give a special lecture at Nyack College to the Men of Letters group last Thursday. My lecture, “Being Stewards of Creation: A Christian Vision of Ethical Eating,” went well and the Q&A after the lecture touched on such diverse topics as eating kosher, Adam Smith’s economic philosophy and how food relates to Christian hospitality.

Abstract:

If we are to take our call to be stewards of Creation seriously, Christians need to re-think how we buy, eat and grow food. I will argue that food is an integral part of Christian spirituality and needs to be approached as a way we glorify God.

You can download the full lecture by clicking here: Being Stewards of Creation: A Christian Vision for Ethical Eating

An excerpt:

Food holds a central place in our everyday lives. It is essential to our long term health and short term sustenance. We feel hunger or delight or refreshment on a daily basis, all because of food. No matter how much life changes from generation to generation, from new technology to new technology, food will always be necessary.

Food has always been necessary, but it has not always been cheap or plentiful. Food is necessary but not a luxury. It doesn’t just happen. It is the product of a tremendous amount of manpower, horsepower, tractor-power, petroleum-power, water-power and solar power. To borrow from the authors of Scripture, food is toil.

March 26, 2012

This is the first post on the subject of Economic Care, one of the five spheres of a Christian ethic of eating. We discussed before Creation Care and Animal Care. In today’s world, the majority of people by food. As Christians, we need to begin to explore how the money we spend on food travels through the global economy and how where food comes from is a justice issue.

I hate caring about what I eat or where I spend money. I am a thrifty person. Or, as most other people say, I am a cheap skate. I was the type of kid in high school that hounded his friends to pay back that $5 I lent for a hamburger. I lived in a very me-centered economy.

As I grew older I began to resonate with matters of social justice. I began to see the whole chain of the economy, not just my needs and wants. I was studying postcolonial literature and reading up on economics and began to connect colonialism, economics and social justice together. The big picture is a complex world where fair wages and safe practices are not always common. There are no easy solutions.

I get why so many people do not want to change their habits. Life is easier when you don’t think about ethics: about sweatshops and bonded labor, or suicides in tech factories and cruel working conditions in warehouses, or about how we treat animals or where that McDonald’s hamburger or Taco Bell meat really comes from.

It used to be so easy for me to just consume with reckless abandon, not caring about my health, your health, the world’s health—just me, all me. I could just walk blissfully through life with my cheap spending habits, buying whatever junk (food or otherwise) I wanted without a worry in the world.

See, it is so hard to change your eating habits because it requires discipline, a characteristic that is not very common in a culture that accepts debt, shopping sprees and overspending as normal activities. We as a culture have so little discipline when it comes to how we spend our money that people like Dave Ramsey (money) or Jamie Oliver (food) having created whole industries out of selling common sense.

For the Christian it is even harder. Changing our eating habits to line up with our faith means that we need discipline’s Christian cousin: discipleship.

Changing the way we eat as Christians is not a sin or holiness issue. Peter’s vision of all food being clean sets a clear message for the church about what we eat. Instead, changing the way we eat as Christians is a justice issue. Is what we are eating providing justice to the earth, the animals, the soil and all of creation. Is God’s kingdom and will kissing the earth when we eat? Are we saying grace for our food and realizing the true cost in terms of land and sacrifice? These are the types of questions that start to surface when we view food as an issue of justice.

Food costs money. It is part of a global economy that is incredibly complex. Yet, Christians are called to spend our money wisely and to be stewards of what God has given us. That includes  learning where our money goes in the economic chain just like we have to respect where we are in the food chain.

Learning how to spend our money wisely and taking the time to learn how our food dollars affect the growers and pickers and butchers of our food takes discipline. As Christians, we are called to this kind of discipleship, to begin to see how the world economy can become more like God’s economy, even with such a seemingly innocent thing as food.

March 20, 2012

Part of our discussion of Creation Care was a recipe for Brie & Apple Sandwiches, so I did not want to leave the sphere of Animal Care without a simple and elegant recipe for carnitas. Talking about eating ethically is absolutely necessary, but if there is not a practical element to the Christian ethic of eating then its all an exercise in thought and not action. Use this recipe to enjoy meat that is ethically raised!

Carnitas is the name for Mexican pulled pork. It is not meant to be hidden with a bunch of lettuce or rice like some restaurants do. Instead, it is best served with warmed corn tortillas, salsa verde and some queso fresco. Have your rice and beans on the side.

Slow Cooker Carnitas
Makes 6-8 servings

3 lbs. pork shoulder or boneless pork butt, organic or ethically raised
1 T cumin
1 T Mexican style chili powder
1 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper

Accompaniments:
12 corn tortillas, organic
salsa verde
queso fresco
beans and rice (I think pinto beans and cilantro rice go best)

1. Mix together the cumin, chili powder, cayenne powder, salt and pepper. Use more or less of the chili powder and cayenne depending on how hot you like your food. I tend not to measure and just dump the spices on liberally, but I can never seem to make my food hot enough.
2. Coat the pork  with the spice mixture. You want to have a nice even dusting. Try to prevent the spices from lumping together (especially the hot ones).
3. Place the seasoned pork into a slow cooker and pour water until it is about one inch up the pork.
4. Slow cook the pork for six to eight hours.
5. After cooking has completed, remove the pork to a serving plate. Fork the pork until it is completely pulled and stringy.
6. Place the pork in a very large skillet with some oil and sear, until the pork begins to turn light brown on the edges.
7. Return to the serving plate. In the same skillet, warm up your tortillas.
8. Serve the carnitas with warm tortillas and top with salsa verde and queso fresco. Accompany the meal with your favorite mixture of beans and rice.

For leftovers, I love to pan fry the carnitas in a skillet with potatoes and onion and serve with huevos rancheros (eggs and salsa). It makes a great breakfast!

March 14, 2012

This is the eighth post on the subject of Animal Care, one of the five spheres of a Christian ethic of eating. We discussed before what ethical treatment of animals meanshow it is accomplished and why it is so important. Now we will turn our attention to  a discussion of a “rule” to eat ethically.

People tend to chafe at rules. We like to think of ourselves as free thinking individuals, ruled by only our own grit and know how.

Christians are called to something different. We are called to no longer hold to the patterns of this world and to transform ourselves by the renewing of our minds.

The abuse of animals in industrial agriculture is a pattern of the world.

How can the Christian transform his or her self by the renewing of the mind when it comes to the ethical treatment of animals?

By adhering to a rule.

No, not a rule like “the law.” This is not a law versus gospel argument.

I am talking about a rule in the monastic sense.

Monks, starting with St. Benedict, had a rule for their order. It was not a list of do’s or don’ts. It was what they held in common. It was their creed, their bond, their manifesto. The Rule of St. Benedict is not about what you cannot do but what you most certainly should do. It is positive. It is about passing along the goodness and uniqueness of the community from generation to generation.

We need a rule for eating meat ethically. Like a monastic rule, it is a list of what we should do to uphold the moral and ethical duty of our faith when it comes to eating meat.

1) Take your stewardship of God’s creation seriously. We are all stewards of God’s creation. We are appointed to serve as God’s diplomats in the world, approaching creation as he approached it: with a loving and creative hand. Ask yourself as you eat: Would God be pleased with how this animal was raised? Did the farm that raised this animal act as a steward of God’s creation?

2) You cannot serve both God and Money, so spend your money on what is right. Eating ethically can be more expensive than eating a conventional diet, depending on your eating habits. A choice must be made between spending money on what is right or spending money on what is cheap. You may end up having to change your eating habits, but this change is part of no longer being caught up in the pattern of this world.

3) Praise God for the bounty of creation. Saying a blessing at a meal is so ingrained in many of us that we overlook the depth and beauty of these simple prayers: to thank God for our food. This rule calls us to look beyond ourselves and our own nourishment to thank God for how the food was raised for us. If it was not raised in an ethical way, can we truly be thankful?

4) Food defines us. Food is a life source. It might be cliché, but we really are what we eat. Food truly does define us: our culture and our heritage. Should it not define our faith as well?

5) Care deeply about your food. Food reminds us that we are part of something bigger than ourselves. It reminds us that we are connected to the economy of our country: from tractor parts to food prices to dented grocery carts. It should remind us that we are living in God’s economy as well. God’s economy is a kingdom where the world is being changed into a more just and beautiful world. Let what you eat make the world a more just and beautiful place.

I humbly submit this rule to you as a jumping off point. Eating meat ethically is a complicated issue that is not solved in a few easy steps. It takes personal dedication, patience and humility to cultivate a deep appreciation for God’s creation and the rich bounty it produces every single day. Let this rule guide you in the throwing off of the pattern of this world to treat animals unethically for the sake of profits. Let this rule guide you in the renewing of your mind.

February 21, 2012

This is a special post in my continuing series on a Christian ethic of eating. In light of the beginning of Lent tomorrow on Ash Wednesday, I wanted to take the opportunity to explore the theme “What Do We Hunger and Thirst For?” that Christine Sine of Mustard Seed Associates is contemplating this year.

When Christ tells us to “hunger and thirst after righteousness” or to pray that God “give us our daily bread” our full, first world bellies automatically think in spiritual terms. Most of us know nothing of hunger accept when we choose hunger for spiritual reasons, like fasting during Lent.

For better or worse, we are intertwined in an agriculture system that has distorted our relationship with food. We live divorced from food. Our food comes to us in saran wrap and cans, comfortably packaged so that we have as little mess, fuss or contact with the dirty world of food and food preparation.

We do not know where the tuna in a can or the burger on a bed of foam comes from, and we are happy with that. It is what our mothers and grandmothers worked so hard to obtain after the Great Depression. Time spent doing such laborious and revolting chores like baking and cooking have been minimized or gotten rid of altogether, and we can live in a wonderful world of pre-packaged, ready-to-eat meals, fast food and take out. We have conquered the evil specter of reliance on the seasons and freshness. We have taught ourselves to believe that we have conquered rotting and death.

We have, in a way, but that has come at a great cost of justice. When we are hungry or thirsty, we now live in a world where our hunger and thirst are actual ethical choices. When we hunger and thirst after righteousness it is more than spiritual, it is literal. It is the choice between fair trade coffee or coffee grown at great cost to the land and to workers. It is a choice between organic vegetables or the heavy use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers that pollute and destroy the earth and our own bodies. It is a choice between buying food from a local farmer and supporting a local economy or by buying from large, multi-national businesses that seek to destroy local farmers through lawsuits and business practices that are unfair and unethical. It is a choice to eat meat that is from ethically treated animals or to buy meat that comes from animals that have been treated in horrendous, inhumane ways that are not right for any person to participate in, directly or not.

We cannot accept the lie from marketers, advertisers and politicians that food can be compartmentalized and treated like a sterile science. Food is the fruit of an intricate web of cycles in creation that affect every aspect of our daily lives and touches every aspect of creation. We are all in this together. Our food choices are ethical choices. We can no longer afford to interpret hunger and thirst for righteousness as a spiritual choice. That is to buy into our society’s lie that we can divorce body and soul. Our spirituality is embodied. We live in the light of Christ’s physical resurrection, and our remembrance of his death and resurrection during Lent is a constant reminder that food is a means of grace and righteousness in our world. Christ’s presence is there whenever we break bread.

So, when we hunger and thirst for the bread and the cup, let us in the same way hunger and thirst for a great breakfast of coffee, toast, eggs and bacon that are products of integrity, righteousness and justice, and not the empty food of a world focused on greed, ill-treatment and consumption.

February 16, 2012

This is the seventh post on the subject of Animal Care, one of the five spheres of a Christian ethic of eating. We discussed before what ethical treatment of animals means, how it is accomplished and why it is so important. Now we will turn our attention to meat eating in the New Testament, particularly the area of sacrifice. After this discussion we will move into a discussion of a “rule” to eat ethically.

There are three main passages that detail the eating of food, particularly meat, in the New Testament. The first one is in Acts 10, when the apostle Peter has a vision from God that tells him all animals are now clean and acceptable to eat. This Christian is most thankful for this vision, because without it I would be living in a world without bacon, and that’s not the kind of world I want to live in.

The next two passages are in 1 Corinthians. Paul makes two major statements about food sacrificed to idols (this was almost always animal sacrifice). Once Gentiles became Christians they were confronted with a problem that did not affect Jewish converts: what to do about non-kosher food, particular food that was part of idol worship. Throughout the Greco-Roman world the butcher’s work was integrally tied into temple worship: the food sold at the market by the butcher was from animal sacrifices. The early Christians, understandably, became wary of eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols. Paul offers his advice on the subject in 1 Corinthians 8:

Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat sacrificial food they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.

He picks up the discussion again in 1 Corinthians 10:

Consider the people of Israel: Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar? Do I mean then that food sacrificed to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons. Are we trying to arouse the Lord’s jealousy? Are we stronger than he?

The messages in these three passages are united around one common point: meat can be part of the diet for a Christian, even meat considered unclean by the Jewish faith.  1 Corinthians 8 & 10 seem to conflict on the food that is dedicated to idols. When it comes to spiritual knowledge in 1 Corinthians 8, Paul is advising that people not get so wound up in a proper theological justification for eating meat that is sacrificed to idols that they cause former idol-worshipers to stumble. The conversation seems to allow for the fact that food sacrificed to idols is not tainted in any way by the sacrifice, since idols aren’t real. Paul turns the whole argument upside down in 1 Corinthians 10 though, as he makes a case concerning food sacrificed to idols not in terms of knowledge but in terms of worship. Reading between the lines, what Paul seems to be saying is that while we may know that eating food sacrificed to idols does not taint the meat or make it unclean in anyway, the fact that it was sacrificed to idols means that the person who consumes it is participating in the sacrificial act. It is interesting that the conversation would turn this way, but what I think Paul is doing is making a point about allegiance to the new covenant of Christ’s kingdom. Animal sacrifice is a sign of a covenant relationship with a god. So, if we follow this logic, the Christian sign of the covenant relationship is the Lord’s Supper. Paul is arguing that eating food sacrificed to idols is to capitulate to the Roman culture. To abstain from food sacrificed to idols is then a sign of allegiance, a counter-cultural act that designates the Christian as a citizen of Christ’s kingdom and not a citizen of Rome.

This leads me to a very provocative point, and one I have thought long and hard about. I truly believe that these passages still speak to us today. When we view these passages in light of our modern day agricultural practices, I believe that idolatry is alive and well today. The way the majority of animals are treated in the industrial food system is influenced by the idols of money, violence and consumerism.

Ask yourself: could that bacon cheeseburger you just ate be food sacrificed to an idol?

Bottom line: it should be a matter of conscience that the meat in our supermarkets and restaurants is meat sacrificed to the idols of money and violence. To eat meat that is not sacrificed to idols, we should look to farmers and businesses that raise animals humanely and sell meat that is butchered in a humane manner. Jesus told us that we could not serve both God and money. Even though stone and wood idols have fallen out of the norm, Paul reminds us that our allegiance is to Christ’s kingdom. We renew the new covenant every time we eat the body and blood of Christ during communion. With food being so central to the practice of Christ’s kingdom, we can in turn do our part to build Christ’s kingdom in this world by renouncing food that is sacrificed to the idols of money, violence and consumerism.

February 8, 2012

This is the sixth post on the subject of Animal Care, one of the five spheres of a Christian ethic of eating. This post is a bridge between thinking about eating meat to dealing with the thorny issue of sacrifice, which will take several posts to unpack. After a discussion of sacrifice we will move into a discussion of a “rule” to eat ethically.

Now that we’ve defined ethical treatment and discussed how ethical treatment is accomplished, we can turn to the question of why?

Why would you go through all of this extra work and thought when you can just go to the supermarket and buy cleanly packaged and wrapped meat for cheap?

The reason, in a nutshell, is that our faith should call us to a higher standard than the culture we are surrounded by, the one that is only concerned with consuming (whether it is shoes or steaks). Christians are called to care about creation, and animals make up an integral part of creation. We must treat animals ethically, otherwise we aren’t living up to our mandate to be stewards of God’s creation.

We often praise God for how awesome his creation is, but then we forget that our actions can mar and damage creation. Treating animals with dignity and respect not only impacts the animal’s welfare, but also your personal health and the welfare of creation itself.

Just a couple of examples:

Grass-fed beef is better for the environment – when you eat grass-fed beef, instead of beef from an animal that is trapped in a feed lot being stuffed with food it doesn’t naturally eat, you are helping to build richer soil, curb deforestation and create less greenhouse gases (source: “How Eating Grass-Fed Beef Could Help Fight Climate Change“).

You’re healthier: grass-fed beef is healthier for you than industrial beef. Grass-fed beef has double the omega 3 fatty acids as industrial beef (Source: “The Truth About Grass-Fed Beef“). And if you are eating meat that is raised without antibiotics or hormones, you are keeping yourself from ingesting those chemicals when you eat (and allowing the animals to have normal lives, not medically controlled lives).

Ethical Treatment of Animals stops the cycle of chemicals in creation – animals don’t exist in a vacuum. They are an integral part of creation. So when you choose to eat ethical meat you are making a choice that impacts all of creation. If an animal is raised ethically the following chain reaction occurs in creation:

-the grains and grass used to feed ethically treated animals are not treated with industrial or toxic pesticides and herbicides.

-less pesticides and herbicides in the environment help to reduce contamination of the soil, our water and ourselves. There are diseases today like Parkinson’s that appear to be linked to the plethora of toxic chemicals we lace our food with (Source: “Pesticide Exposure Found to Increase Link Of Parkinson’s Disease“).

-less use of corn and soybeans for animal consumption means a more diverse culture of crops. The more crops that are planted, the better that we can protect our economy from spikes in food prices and shortages of food (this has happened during the past few years: “How to End the Global Food Shortage“).

The important thing is that we think about more than just the animals and more than just ourselves. There is a whole world that is affected by our food choices, and the more ethical our choices are, the better the world will be.

January 24, 2012

This is the fifth post on the subject of Animal Care, one of the five spheres of a Christian ethic of eating. This post is a bridge between thinking about eating meat to dealing with the thorny issue of sacrifice, which will take several posts to unpack. After a discussion of sacrifice we will move into a discussion of a “rule” to eat ethically.

In the ever burgeoning world of farm-to-table food, there is a growing desire for ethically treated meat. This, as discussed before, can mean different things to different people. The important thing about the ethical treatment of animals is not as much the meaning of “ethical treatment” but recognizing the choice we all have to eat ethically every day. When we cultivate an ethical conscious it begins to shape our food choices in profound ways.

The how-to of ethically treating animals is fundamentally simple. The simplest way to raise an animal ethically is to follow the golden rule: treat the animal the way you would want to be treated if you were in the same position. Now there is some divergence here, for this is the point where vegans (people who have decided to not eat any food that comes from an animal, including dairy) would say “you don’t want to be killed, do you? So why would you eat animals at all?” It’s a valid question, and one I will discuss in a later post (have to keep you reading, don’t I?”), but suffice it to say that my stance on the issue is that humans and farm animals have entered into a symbiotic relationship, like the one Michael Pollan illustrates happens with plants in The Botany of Desire. Domesticated animals, like domesticated plants, enter into a contract with us for mutual preservation: we keep the animals alive, provide a consistent food supply for them, let them reproduce and enjoy a happy life, and then at the end of their life we eat them.

The way to raise animals ethically then, is simply to use common sense for the most part. Chickens naturally want to be outside and peck. It would be ethical then to allow them to do this. Pigs want to wallow in mud and eat slop. It would be ethical then to allow them to do this. Cows want to walk around a pasture or barn. It would be ethical then to allow them to do this.

What becomes unethical is to treat an animal like it is a commodity. Most big farmers, the ones who shove pigs into crates, cram chickens into cages and jam cows into confined rows, are thinking about animals as part of an industrial production unit. This line of thinking sees animals as not part of a farm but as part of a factory, churning out animal products like computers by any means necessary, which does undue harm to the animals, our environment and ourselves. Large commercial farms lose sight of animals as sentient beings, which allows them to treat animals like parts in an assembly line instead of living, breathing things. It’s human nature to numb ourselves to the plight of a person or thing if it makes us money. Modern day slavery, sweat shops, suicides in technology manufacturing, and animal cruelty are all rooted in the same darkness.

To treat an animal ethically is to allow it to live a life that is both natural and humane. It is to choose a symbiotic relationship with the animals on the farm and to honor an animal for their intrinsic value as a fellow creature and, eventually, a source of food.

In the next post we will discuss why the ethical treatment of animals is so important for Christians.