My good friend Matt Halteman is the author of an excellent booklet with a very helpful perspective on eating compassionately. The booklet is titled "Compassionate Eating as Care of Creation," in fact, and is available to read and download online (published by the Humane Society's Faith Outreach program). Matt is a philosophy professor at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan and faculty sponsor for Calvin's Students for Compassionate Living, as well as organizer extraordinaire of Wake Up Weekend which invited not one sparrow to participate the last two years.
In "Compassionate Eating as Care of Creation," Matt invites Christians to take a serious look at the ethics of how we eat, especially the myriad of moral issues surrounding the animal products which often dominate our diets. While our food choices may seem like a very personal and isolated issue, especially with much bigger problems seemingly facing our world today, Matt makes a great case for how interconnected our consumption habits really are to so many other personal and global concerns:
A closer look reveals that they have disturbing consequences not just for billions of animals, but for the food, commerce, and education systems of developing countries, the dignity of those employed in industrial farms and slaughterhouses, the integrity of our rural communities, the health of an increasingly obese and diseased human population, the accessibility of the health care systems that treat these ills, the sustainability of the earth’s natural resources, and even the hastening of global climate change. The way we eat, it turns out, has profound implications for the whole of the created order.
Matt calls the Christian community to "honesty, conviction, and imagination" in responding to this awareness. He asks us to face the realities of the animal product industries and their many negative implications with sincerity rather than avoidance, and to respond to the pull on our conscience with some form of change in our habits, rather than hearing and walking away unchanged. But we can go about this with the conviction and passion we'd draw from other spiritual diciplines, not from a sense of guilt or legalism. We can be witnesses to a different, far less creation-degrading, way of life, with the hope of the someday peaceable kingdom as one of our most powerful motivators.
I hope you can read much more of the compelling case Matt makes for "living toward the peaceable kingdom," but for now I wanted to draw attention to a valuable point he makes about the various options available to us in taking steps toward eating more compassionately. He begins by asking what "compassionate eating" means exactly?
It will hardly come as a shock that different people answer this question in different ways. Some people think that eating more compassionately is a matter of reducing our collective meat consumption bit by bit while pushing simultaneously for reforms in the ways that animals are treated on industrial farms. Others argue that we should boycott factory-farmed products entirely and reallocate our resources to smaller farms that practice less intensive animal husbandry and more ecologically sustainable cropping methods. Others believe that raising animals in order to slaughter and eat them is wrong on any scale and argue, thus, that vegetarianism is an important part of the equation. Still others maintain that compassionate eating should be exclusively plant-based, since the production of eggs and dairy causes significant animal suffering and death as well. For ease of reference, we’ll call these respective approaches "reformism," "agrarianism," "vegetarianism," and "veganism."
Matt ackowledges that different people feel strongly about each of these choices, and sometimes we're even critical of others who take what we might perceive to be a less dedicated, or more extreme, approach. I appreciate very much that Matt, a vegan himself, respects that many, if not most, of us will be at a different stage of eating more compassionately, but we all have a common starting point. Not just to end "our current dependence on factory farming," which is the basic point of our current series on eating humanely, but with the same purpose of "liv(ing) toward the peaceable kingdom every day by striving to eat with the flourishing of God’s creation explicitly in mind."