Last week, I had the opportunity to attend a blogging event and luncheon sponsored by Indiana’s beef farmers. The women shared their stories over lunch, recounting the humorous, poignant and hard of their daily lives (see fuzzy picture below). I always enjoy hearing about the lives of the men and women who work to produce food for our kitchens.
The next day, a friend posted an article on Facebook about the evangelical rally around animal ethics. He tagged me and a vet student in the post asking for our opinions on the topic. I’m encouraged by the fact the modern Christian leaders are concerned about agriculture and Christianity’s far-reaching implications for the field.
But as I read the article, I couldn’t stop thinking about the women with whom I’d spent the previous day.
The struggle to synthesize experiences like these is not a new one for me. In my five-ish years of studying and working in agriculture, I’ve heard a variety of opinions and experiences on different topics (whether it be about HSUS or gestational crates) and I grapple with bringing together the stories. It paralyzes me in some ways. It emboldens me in others.
There are few people I respect more than the women and men I’ve met who own large-scale animal agriculture operations. They are kind and work hard. They love their animals and invest in their communities.
I also respect and empathize with those who oppose their practices. Animal agriculture — like many things in life — is a gray area where humility, kindness, imagination and an understanding of science are needed.
There are many questions about how animals are raised and differing definitions of animal welfare. At this point in my career, I’m not out to say certain farming practices are correct and other farming practices are wrong. I simply want to do the hard work of thinking well about this topic, slowly and thoughtfully working toward developing a set of fierce convictions.
I also write because I fear that in the midst of the polarizing conversations, consumers like me are left confused.
Because of my faith, I believe that the eating of animal meat is permitted. But so many questions and terms surround the buying and consuming of meat. When it comes to my own cooking and eating habits, my rule-of-thumb is simple at this point:
This dictum is powerful and practical for a handful of reasons.
It inspires moderation. Because I don’t live on a farm, it’s easy to forget that an animal died so that I can gain the nutrition that meat provides. When I remember that death transpired so I can eat, my gluttony is curbed.
It inspires industriousness. I’m too prone to turn my nose up at certain aspects of an animal (whether it be organ meat or difficult cuts to cook) and only choose cuts that suit my needs (read: ground beef and boneless chicken breasts). I’m far more at peace with my meat eating habits if I know that I’m not being wasteful.
It inspires respect for the created order. Although humans and animals are distinct with different roles, both are created by the same loving God. I don’t want to view animals as commodities but as fellow living creatures.
It inspires thankfulness. When I acknowledge something dies so that I can eat nourishing meals that feed the needs of my body, I can only be grateful.
When I purchase and eat animal products, I am claiming some ownership over those animals. I want to live in light of my faith and show those animals dignity for “whoever is righteous has regard for the life of his beast.”