Archive | June, 2011

PASTOR DAN’S THOUGHTS ON VEGETARIANISM

30 Jun

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Ah, more questions from the readers:

Q: WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT VEGETARIANISM? WHAT ARE YOUR REASONS FOR EATING OR NOT EATING MEAT? WHAT ARE YOU PRACTICING RIGHT NOW?

Our church did a 21-day Daniel Fast, which is primarily a vegan diet – no eggs, dairy, sugar and white rice. Many of our members said that because of the fast, they felt better, looked better, weighed less and could think more clearly. So there definitely are benefits to eating more fruits and vegetables, and less meat. And there are other foods from which we can get our protein other than meat.

Contrary to what many may think, I am not a vegetarian. I am just compassionate towards animals and conscientious about what I eating.

My wife Pam cooks mostly vegetarian dishes. Though I will eat meat, we lean more toward non-meat foods. For me it’s for three reasons: for good stewardship of the earth that the Lord has given us, for better health, and compassion for animals.

In Genesis 1:26, the Bible says we have dominion over animals, but I don’t believe “dominion” means it’s okay to be cruel to them. By definition, “dominion” means “sovereignty” and “controI.” However, it means something bigger in the Genesis passage. We were created in God’s image, which makes us representatives of Him. God will not do cruel things to animals He created, so neither should we. Some define “dominion” (from the Hebrew word) as “an invitation to be like God.” Hence, for us to have dominion over animas is to try to be good and responsible representatives of the King.

When God made a COVENANT between Himself and the people, it is a promise to protect, save and nurture them, as He did with Noah and the rest of humanity. But did you know that He made that covenant with all living things?

“I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” God said to Noah, ‘This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.’ ” (Genesis 9:13-15)

God made a promise with all creatures, including animals, to protect and save them when needed.  In that light, I don’t support the practice of raising calves in very small cages just so they can be served as tender veal. Nor do I like the method of forcing food down the throats of geese or ducks to make their livers burst just so we can have what is needed to make foie gras. To me forced-feeding, or gavage, is very cruel.

I think I got more compassionate about animals after reading the book, “Dominion: the Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals and the Call to Mercy” (Matthew Scully, 2002). Because of his Christian faith, Scully challenged people to find out if dominion over all things meant, for example, killing elephants for their tusks, or capturing and breeding them (or other animals) for circus entertainment when they are meant to be free. Scully doesn’t say that animals have “equal rights” with people, but he believes that there should be “animal rights” for their protection. They do have feelings and some species have mates for life.

I don’t think it’s good to hunt for sport if one doesn’t eat what was hunted, or if only one part of the animal is used and the rest are discarded. It’s not much of a sport, is it, to have a high-powered rifle with a long scope that finishes off a duck, a deer or an elephant? Not much of a contest at all between the hunter and the hunted.

My wife’s forest ranger cousin told me he eats everything he shoots, and he only goes after animals whose population cannot be handled by the land. I get that. Like me, he is against cruelty to animals and hunters who shoot mainly for sport.

I tend to not want to eat smart animals, like pigs, because with greater intelligence means greater feelings. We normally do not eat dogs because they are cute. Pigs are as or even more intelligent than dogs, but they since pigs aren’t as cuddly, they’re the ones that get eaten. Ah, this world always favors the beautiful ones! 

For personal reasons, I tend to not eat shrimp because I know that the shrimp nets the trawlers use inadvertently trap and cause the death of turtles and dolphins, too. Greenpeace says that 80% of what shrimp trawlers catch in the sea, dead or alive, is thrown back. It’s called “bycatch.”

Greenpeace says that 300,000 cetaceans (dolphins, whales and porpoises) die as bycatch every year. They are caught in the nets and can’t escape. They literally drown since, like us, they’re mammals and they need to breathe air.

I tend to lean towards soy products, beans, fruits and vegetables because these promote good health. There’s a plus in this for the environment, too. If our diets, for example, consisted more of beans than meat and chicken, there would be more food to go around to help the poor of the world. It takes an inordinate amount of land and water to sustain livestock just so we can have meat. Raising these animals also cause 18%-plus of greenhouse gas emissions, which is more that emissions from motor transportations.

If we believe a 2006 United Nations report that projects out to 2050, we might want to change our diet to make this a safe planet for our children.

“Cattle-rearing generates more global warming greenhouse gases, as measured in CO2 equivalent, than transportation, and smarter production methods, including improved animal diets to reduce enteric fermentation and consequent methane emissions, are urgently needed.

“Livestock are one of the most significant contributors to today’s most serious environmental problems,” senior UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) official Henning Steinfeld said. “Urgent action is required to remedy the situation.”

Cattle-rearing is also a major source of land and water degradation, according to the FAO report, “Livestock’s Long Shadow–Environmental Issues and Options” of which Mr. Steinfeld is the senior author.

“The environmental costs per unit of livestock production must be cut by one half, just to avoid the level of damage worsening beyond its present level,” it warns.

When emissions from land use and land use change are included, the livestock sector accounts for 9 per cent of CO2 deriving from human-related activities, but produces a much larger share of even more harmful greenhouse gases. It generates 65 per cent of human-related nitrous oxide, which has 296 times the Global Warming Potential (GWP) of CO2. Most of this comes from manure.

And it accounts for respectively 37 per cent of all human-induced methane (23 times as warming as CO2), which is largely produced by the digestive system of ruminants, and 64 per cent of ammonia, which contributes significantly to acid rain.

With increased prosperity, people are consuming more meat and dairy products every year, the report notes. Global meat production is projected to more than double from 229 million tonnes in 1999/2001 to 465 million tonnes in 2050, while milk output is set to climb from 580 to 1043 million tonnes

So, if our diets leaned more towards fruit and vegetables, we would be better stewards of the land. If you have watched the movie “Food Inc.” like I have, you know how the fast food industry has changed the way we eat. And it’s not toward more health, but less.

I have seen “The Cove,” an Oscar Award-winning film that exposes the cruel slaughter of dolphins for food in a small seaside village in Japan. The film also exposes how eating those dolphins pose a serious threat to human health. I’ve always liked dolphins (very smart mammals) so this documentary struck a chord with me. 

The movie also contends that it is highly cruel for whales and dolphins to be held in captivity for entertainment, like how they do it at Sea Life Park, the Kahala Hotel and the Hilton Hawaiian Village here in Hawaii. These mammals were meant to be free and would hate to be trapped, just as us humans would. (Now I’m sounding like the producer of “Free Willy”!). In fact, “The Cove” is about the man who used to train the dolphins for the old TV Show, “Flipper.”

Elephants mate for life, yet we tear apart their families so we can have elephants in circuses for our entertainment. And we say, “But they’re just animals. They don’t have feelings like humans.” Granted, I don’t think animal have the same feelings as humans, but I do believe they have feelings, and we are to be like a kind King or Queen over them as part of our stewardship from God.

Before the fall of man in the book of Genesis, God told Adam and Eve that they could eat of the plants in the Garden of Eden, and He never said to eat the animals; they were just to name them.

Genesis 1:29 “God said, ‘See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food.”

Genesis 2:16 “And the Lord commanded the man, ‘You may freely eat of every tree in the garden.'”

It’s interesting how specific the Lord was. He told Adam and Eve to eat of every tree of the garden. There was no mention of eating the animals. That is certainly not text proving that we should all go vegetarian or be an advocate for endangered species, but that certainly would make an interesting discussion with your friends or with your small group, wouldn’t it? The animals were only killed for food after the Fall of Adam and Eve. Imagine if Noah had a hearty appetite to eat all of the meat on the ark! Oh well, there goes some species. Today if we are not careful we will make some species go extinct, and, of course, thousands already have.

Some might ask, “What about the animal sacrifices in Israel during biblical times?” Chances are Jesus participated in animal sacrifices, as was the custom of all Israelites at that time. But then again those were sacrifices directed by God for His people for the atonement of their sins. Sacrifices were not supposed to be nice as they involved the purest and most innocent of animal to be chosen and killed. So it was an exceptional act, not to be done daily. Kill the purest little lamb. That’s why it was called a “sacrifice “– it was a horrible death of the innocent. 

I also read a book called, “The China Study” (by T. Collin Campbell, Thomas Campbell II, Howard Lyman and John Robbins), which presented the results of the authors’ study of the health of different groups of people in China based on what they eat. They found that the people in the more primitive western China who have a high-vegetable/low-meat diet hardly had any cases of cancer or diabetes. But those in more progressive cities, like Shanghai and Beijing, where the people have adopted American/European ways and eating practices, have more cases of cancer and diabetes. This book really made Pam and me look at our own eating habits. It was a pivotal reading.

So, yes, I do eat meat, and I do enjoy steak now and then. I also have found that free-range chicken and cattle do taste better and perhaps it’s because I know they’ve been treated more humanely than chickens and cows raised in factory farms. But I do try the majority of time not to eat animals. But if a church member asks me over for dinner and they are serving meat, I will eat it with thankfulness to my host.

Am I a hypocrite? No, I never said I was a vegetarian.  I am a “flexitarian.” I flex. I do eat different things. If I eat meat I would go for fish more than beef. But I use the iPhone app called “Seafood Watch” from Monterrey Bay Aquarium, which allows me to know which fish and which sushi (really I am not kidding!) to eat or to avoid it they are endangered. Waiters love it when I read the menu and pull out my app.

A friend of mine says he is a “conscientious omnivore.” Maybe that is what I am. Maybe as Christians we should all be.

For me, it’s all part of being a Christ-follower and striving to love all – humans, animals and the earth. Many Chinese restaurants serve vegetarian meals with substitutes that look and taste like beef, chicken, pork or fish. Praise the Lord!

I like the first scene of the movie, “The Last of the Mohicans” where after the North American Indians killed a deer, they thanked “brother deer” for giving up his life so they can eat him. I like that because it portrays sensitivity to life and they are aware of its origin. We are in this together, inter-related, as St. Francis would say. 

So I eat meat, but I am always grateful for the life given. And if I eat less meat, more fruits and vegetables and still be able to get my protein through beans, eggs, nuts, quinoa, and tofu, then I think I’m doing my share in protecting and preserving the land the Lord has given us.

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