Last October the World Health Organisation told us that eating red meat could be a cause of cancer, while at the same time saying it has health benefits. (The big news was that processed meats cause cancer, but who really thought that eating two slices of bacon a day was good for you? Other than maybe this guy.)
We’re starting to learn that eating a lot of meat is damaging the environment and many are choosing to cut down their intake. Yet in 2014 a documentary called Cowspiracy accused environmental agencies of being part of a mass cover up of damning facts around meat consumption such as this alarming one: “Animal agriculture is responsible for 18 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions, more than the combined exhaust from all transportation.”
Then there’s the long list of words I can’t read when I’m shopping in a supermarket and trying to work out the ingredients list.
All I wanted was dinner, and now I’ve got a headache.
Let’s go back to the start. Genesis 1 talks about God’s perfect creation. After creating light, land and sky, God moves on to create vegetation, sea creatures and land creatures, and He says it’s all good. God then creates mankind in His likeness, and gives us the job of looking after it all. There was balance in creation; humans, animals and the environment all living in harmony – serving each other without doing one another harm.
Reading this makes me wonder; how good a job have we been doing?
We’re not in the Garden of Eden anymore, obviously. These days we have learnt to rely more and more on supermarkets and, in the process, I think we’ve lost the link between our food and our planet. Imagine that you’re living in a society that lives off the land. You know the work that goes into producing your food. You know how much food your land can produce. You become ingrained with a respect and responsibility to care for your environment – your life depends on it. But in our society, do we see food as coming from the land, or just from the supermarket?
In the West, food consumption has gone from: “What can we sustainably produce?” to: “What do I want and how little can it cost me?” It’s no wonder then, that an industry has been created that raises animals in horrific conditions as quickly as possible to be slaughtered for our consumption. This is an industry that will kill male chicks after they’ve hatched simply because they don’t produce eggs. We live in a world where people are starving, and yet we use up massive amounts of grain to produce little amounts of meat, while adding to climate change in the process. And then you have sugar and high fructose corn syrup added to so many food products because it’s cheap, even though it has no nutritional value, increases obesity, heart disease and cancer – putting an unbearable strain on the NHS – and still keeps you coming back for more because it is addictive.
To quote Rob Bell: “Everything is spiritual” and everything is connected: the choices we make with our diet show how we care for the planet, demonstrate what our theology is and affect what we choose to eat.
So what does this look like when you’re doing your weekly food shop? I’ve still got a long way to go, but I’m trying to start from a point of: “What is sustainable and shows care for the planet?” Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:
- Buy my fruit and veg from a local greengrocers.
- Reduce the amount of sugar and additives I consume by making more of my food from scratch.
- Start having meat free days: I bet you’ll find that if you start eating a ‘sustainable’ amount of meat, you no longer have to worry about the health risks because you won’t be consuming enough to have them anyway.
This is a list I’m still working on, so I’d love to hear how your faith affects how you eat. What do you think a sustainable amount of meat is, or is there even one? Is there anything you’ve tried to give up due to environmental issues? Can you make sense of the ingredients lists on food packaging?
This post is part of a series that our friends at Rhythms are writing on minimalism and ethical lifestyles.