Monday, May 24, 2010

Diet & Discipleship

I've been thinking these days about changing my diet. Not because of weight issues or personal heath issues, though that should also warrant consideration in my process. But I am thinking of altering my diet as a matter of discipleship.

Recently I have been reflecting on creation theology, and how our understanding of creation impacts our view of the natural world as well as the implications of creation care for not only the environment, but the poor. I have come to realize, more than ever, that God still loves the cosmos, the world He created and entrusted to us. I now believe that there is a deep connection between humanity and all of creation, and that together we embrace salvation, restoration and even a shared destiny. (Call me a tree-hugger... I now believe the affection is a biblical mandate!) But maybe the more revelatory aspect of my study of creation, and its connection to humanity, is how it affects the most vulnerable people on the planet - the poor. When the natural world starts showing signs of wear and tear (deforestation, contaminated rivers, polluted air, climate change that alters rain patterns, etc.) - the poorest among us feel it first. These changes on the planet change their daily reality in ways I am only beginning to realize.

And so... as a follower of Jesus, I am thinking about changing the way I eat out of love for the planet and the poor, as God is deeply committed to both.

Why my diet? What about my diet is unloving? How can the food I eat be a matter of spiritual consequence? How can I put diet and discipleship in the same sentence? I am learning that the way I eat affects others in ways I never knew before.

I am a hardcore carnivore, I always have been. I love meat, especially beef and pork. I enjoy marinading a tri tip steak and roasting it to perfection. I massage a spice blend of cardamom and cinnamon on pork chops before grilling them. I make some of the best varieties of meatballs, sometimes flavored with fennel and orange, other times with the more classic thyme, rosemary, parsley and garlic... sometimes even with chipotle and mint! I often glaze a pork tenderloin with balsamic vinegar or a mustard glaze and serve with homemade apple sauce. Such pleasure I derive from preparing and eating meat!

However, I discovered recently that my demand for meat is unhealthy. Maybe not unhealthy for my own body (now they say it is processed meats like bacon that really are the culinary villains), but ill advised for the well being of the planet and the poor. Eating so much meat actually harms the ecosystem and threatens those most dependent on it. It is meat production that requires the use of 30% of the ice-free land in the world - and that meat is feeding the west for the most part. (Though reports show that Indian and China are increasing their consumption as they gain wealth, which will increase demand and threaten more land.) It is meat production that is one of the leading causes of water pollution, generation of greenhouse gases, consumption of mass amounts of energy and deforestation. As a matter of fact, the meat industry produced abut one-fifth of all greenhouse gases world-wide... more than transportation! So here is an industry that I regularly support with my consumption habits, and it is doing harm to the environment on a massive scale. And I can do something about it - I can eat less meat and lower a bit of the demand.

As of 2008, 800 million people suffer from hunger or malnutrition. (It is not far-fetched to imagine that many of them surround me here, on the African continent.) Yet, more soy and corn is grown to feed animals than to feed people. So this meat consumption and production does hurt people, it almost takes the food right out of their mouth. The cost of feed for animals is also on the rise, which means prices for grains for people gets higher, and the poor can afford less and less of what they need in their diet. So now my diet, heavy on savory meats, is a cause of a severe lack in their diets... basic grains for their children.

My diet affects the diets of the poor - those that God loves - now this has become a discipleship issue for me. Now my own diet choices become laden with values. What do I value more - my nightly steak, Sunday pot roast, pork chops and apple sauce? Or those who live off the land and need it to hold together, those who cannot feed their family if food prices increase again, those who will loose access to clean water (and the fish in those waters) if meat production continues to contaminate their water source? Is it right for me to have more than my fair share of the food, the land, the environmental resources? Should I consider consuming less (literally) so that others can have more - so that many can have enough? Does what I eat become a matter of justice, even? I am coming to an answer... yes.

This is not an easy thing for me, as I love meat. But I love Jesus more deeply than my own food preferences. I want to follow Him and submit more and more of my life to Him and the world He so loves. And recently, it means changing my diet to be a better disciple. It means eating in a manner that is seasoned with love for the other over my own gluttony.

You are what you eat... so I want to eat in a way that does not deprive others, deplete the earth or diminish the ecosystem we have been entrusted. This is a huge change for me... but following Jesus demands nothing less than a willingness to repent, to rethink our view and embrace His in every aspect of life. So I will eat much less meat, eat more plants and pray there is enough at the table for all of my brothers and sisters around the world.

1 comment:

Erin Wilson said...

Arrived here via Mike Todd. Really appreciate this post. I went veg a few years ago, and this was certainly one of my considerations. Now, I don't happen to like meat, so it really wasn't a big deal. I now find myself trying to limit my impact in other ways. I don't judge folks who don't, but it's nice to find like minds along the way.

Peace :)