The Gospel of the Dinner Table: Faith’s Deep Connection to Our Food Choices

Is the question, “What’s for dinner tonight?” as innocent as it seems? Or does it carry deeper, more significant implications? More than likely, it involves savoring a meat-laden meal that delights our taste buds. After all, we’ve always heard that meat is the cornerstone of a healthy diet, providing us with vital proteins. But could our conventional wisdom about food be flawed?

A few years back, I found myself in the same position – satisfied with the status quo and enjoying the traditional American diet comprising chicken, turkey, hamburgers, and steaks. Then, my perspective changed drastically when I began to examine the implications of my food choices on my health, the environment, animal welfare, and global hunger. As a result, I became part of the rising tide of twenty and thirty-somethings adopting vegetarianism.

The Bible counsels us, “The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom” (Proverbs 4:7). However when it comes to our diet, we often prefer the comfort of ignorance because it’s simply too delicious to resist. But for our own well-being, for the animals we share the planet with, and for the world we are called to be stewards of, we need to examine our food choices more critically. It’s time for us to gather wisdom.

A growing number of young adults opting for vegetarianism often cite health, animal welfare, environmental sustainability, and world hunger as their primary motivators. Surprisingly, these are issues that align with Christian teachings, yet many believers don’t seem as concerned about their food choices as some of their non-believing peers.

Why do those outside our faith community seem more interested in the impact of their dietary habits on a personal and global scale, while we, who are called to demonstrate compassion, understanding, and love, don’t give a second thought to what we’re consuming?

LET’S SEEK WISDOM

Our cherished image of meat coming from idyllic, healthy, farm-raised animals is sadly far from reality. The past fifty years have witnessed a transition to factory farming, which treats animals as mere products, causing a significant change in the quality and quantity of meat we consume.

When we take a closer look at the implications of factory farming on health, animal welfare, environment, and world hunger, we realize the profound impact of our dietary choices:

  1. Health – Serious health practitioners often recommend that we limit our meat consumption to less than half a pound per week. In contrast, the average American consumes this amount daily. This meat-heavy diet has contributed to escalating rates of obesity, cancer, and heart disease over the past half-century. Moreover, factory-farmed meat (which constitutes 97% of the meat available in the US) often contains chemical additives like antibiotics and hormones, leading to a host of additional health issues.
  2. Animal Welfare – As believers entrusted with dominion over God’s creation, we have a responsibility to treat animals with respect and dignity. However, the current methods of rearing and slaughtering animals in factory farms are far from respectful or compassionate.
  3. Environmental Impact – The enormous demand for meat not only in the US but worldwide, and the infrastructure needed to breed, slaughter, and distribute the animals, has significant environmental implications. If everyone in the US abstained from meat for just one day each week, it would be equivalent to taking 7.6 million cars off the road.
  4. World Hunger – While obesity is a growing concern in wealthier nations, nearly 1 billion people worldwide suffer from hunger. A significant amount of global grain production is used to feed livestock, a highly inefficient process that could be circumvented by distributing grain directly to those in need.

We must be cautious not to use Jesus as a justification for our meat consumption habits, as Jesus lived in a vastly different era, where small family farms were the norm and meat consumption was limited to small quantities from healthy animals. Given today’s factory farming practices, would Jesus still eat meat? It’s debatable.

Gaining wisdom often leads to change. As followers of Christ, we are called to steward both our bodies and the world around us responsibly. We must resist turning a blind eye to the repercussions of our food choices – whether on our nation’s health, the welfare of animals, or the environmental and global hunger crises – for the sake of our palates.

Change isn’t always easy, but small steps can make a significant difference. Seek the truth about your food choices and consider making minor adjustments. Maybe it’s deciding to have a meat-free day every week, or choosing to support local, humane farms. Whatever your choices, let them be informed by wisdom and respect for the life and planet we’ve been given.