I used to think, back in high school, that the bumper sticker, "I love animals, they're delicious" was hilarious. I thought vegetarians were crazy hippy weirdo's. Not for any really good reason, it was just what I thought. Obviously my position has evolved quite a bit since then.
I still eat meat. I don't cook with it hardly ever, but I eat it at my parents, and if it is served while I am a guest at someone's home. But lately something bothers me as I chew my meat and swallow it down. A nagging voice at the back of my head asks, as I chew, "is it a time of famine?" I often ask myself, will I be accountable for the life that was taken so I could have roast beef on Sunday, (a beloved family tradition)? I don't know the answer for you, but I am starting to think I know what the answer for me is.
In the August 21, 2009 Time Magazine article "America's Food Crisis and How to Fix It" Bryan Walsh wrote, "Somewhere in Iowa, a pig is being raised in a confined pen, packed in so tightly with other swine that their curly tails have been chopped off so they won't bite one another. To prevent him from getting sick in such close quarters, he is dosed with antibiotics. The waste produced by the pig and his thousands of pen mates on the factory farm where they live goes into manure lagoons that blanket neighboring communities with air pollution and a stomach-churning stench. He's fed on American corn that was grown with the help of government subsidies and millions of tons of chemical fertilizer. When the pig is slaughtered, at about 5 months of age, he'll become sausage or bacon that will sell cheap, feeding an American addiction to meat that has contributed to an obesity epidemic currently afflicting more than two-thirds (emphasis my own) of the population. And when the rains come, the excess fertilizer that coaxed up so much corn from the ground will be washed into the Mississippi River and down into the Gulf of Mexico, where it will help kill fish for miles and miles around. That's the state of you bacon--circa 2009."
Most of us eating less meat are probably pretty aware of the grim conditions in which animals are raised and the horrible effect our meat appetites are having on the environment. These are important issues that we should consider as we decide just how sparingly we are going to eat meat. I care deeply about my impact on the earth and I care deeply about my support of an inhumane industry. Those reasons are a large part of why I have been motivated to eat less meat. There are, however, animals being raised humanely in ways that do no harm to the planet. What about that? I know that as I've read up on the topic my position has changed. Why? Because, although we like to rationalize the meaning of 'sparingly' the Word of Wisdom seems pretty explicit:
"Yea, flesh also of beasts and of the fowls of the air, I the Lord, have ordained for the use of man with thanksgiving; nevertheless they are to be used sparingly. And it is pleasing unto me that they should not be used, only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine."
Furthermore, as I think about Millennial peace, where the lion and the lamb will lie down together without any ire, I can't help thinking that there is significance in such an idyllic vision.
Joseph Smith said:
"In pitching my tent we found three massasaugas or prairie rattlesnakes, which the brethren were about to kill, but I said, "Let them alone -- don't hurt them! How will the serpent ever lose its venom, while the servants of God possess the same disposition, and continue to make war upon it? Men must become harmless before the brute creation, and when men lose their vicious dispositions and cease to destroy the animal race, the lion and the lamb can dwell together, and the sucking child can play with the serpent in safety." The brethren took the serpents carefully on sticks and carried them across the creek. I exhorted the brethren not to kill a serpent, bird, or an animal of any kind during our journey unless it became necessary in order to preserve ourselves from hunger. (Joseph Smith, May 26, 1834, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 71) When I read this quote, I think of Buddhist monks going out of their way to avoid stepping on an ant and can't help but respect their reverence for life and creation.
Follow that with a quote by Joseph F. Smith:
"I do not believe any man should kill animals or birds unless he 'needs' them for food...I think it is wicked for men to thirst in their souls to kill almost everything which possess life. It is wrong, and I have been surprised at prominent men who I have seen whose very souls seemed to be athirst for the shedding of animal blood. They go off hunting deer, antelope, elk, anything they can find, and what for? 'Just for the fun of it!' I am a firm believer... in the simple words of one of the poets: 'Take not away the life you cannot give, for all things have an equal right to live'. (President Joseph Fielding Smith, Juvenile Instructor 48:309)"
And then there is this quote by Brigham Young:
"Let the people be holy, and the earth under their feet will be holy. Let the people be holy, and filled with the Spirit of God, and every animal and creeping thing will be filled with peace; the soil of the earth will bring forth in its strength, and the fruits thereof will be meat for man. The more purity that exists, the less is the strife; the more kind we are to our animals, the more will peace increase, and the savage nature of the brute creation vanish away. . . Let the whole people . . . be possessed of that spirit and here is the Millennium, and so will it spread over all the world." (Brigham Young, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, p. 333) I think that quote is beautiful. What a powerful concept. By reverence towards the world around us we can usher in a Spirit of peace that could spread across the world!
I know that animals are ordained for the use of man, and I am certainly not trying to condemn anyone. Remember, I used to say, "I love animals, they're delicious." Still, I can't help thinking that I have yet to experience famine in my life. Not once have I known starvation or lack of food.
Knowing that the majority of animals are raised in unspeakably horrific conditions (not to mention the horrid working conditions in factory farms/slaughterhouses) I think we should be talking more about the ethics of eating meat and justifying our eating of meat a little less. I believe God values all life and expects us to be good stewards of this precious planet and of all his creatures, great and small.
In all honesty, I'm not all the way there yet. I'm still not exactly sure what eating meat sparingly means to me, but I know it is a journey I am on, and these are some of the ideas I have been pondering lately. I know this could be controversial, but I think it is an important discussion to have. You may disagree, but at least give it a little prayer, thought, and study. Let the Spirit guide and see where it leads.