Questions of Faith
Now more than ever, people are freely opting for a plant-based lifestyle not only to improve their health but also for moral reasons. It’s estimated that about 11% of the global population is vegetarian and this number is increasing daily given society’s changing attitudes towards meat consumption.
For Catholics who are considering a meat-free life, does the Church have any instruction on this form of living?
Official Church teaching doesn’t say much about vegetarianism but there is plenty of theology on the topic that can point us in the right direction.
While some people claim that Jesus was a vegetarian, this argument falls flat on its feet when you read the Bible. Jesus, for example, participated in the Passover meal which required a lamb to be slaughtered, which was then eaten. He also promoted fishing (Lk 5:2-7) and the miracle of the multiplying loaves and fish reinforce his acceptance of eating animals.
Others have pointed to the Book of Genesis where God gives Adam and Eve permission to eat plants alone (Gen 1:29). If they were instructed to only eat greenery, then we should abide by this injunction.
However, this teaching is supplanted with another after the Great Flood when God says: “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; and as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything.”
This clearly shows God’s explicit go-ahead to consume meat.
A plausible counter-argument to this point is that permission was only granted after the Fall, but that ideally humans were only intended to eat plants.
It’s a rich and thought-provoking discussion – and the Church has made its voice clear on the morality of eating meat.
“God entrusted animals to the stewardship of those whom he created in his own image. Hence it is legitimate to use animals for food and clothing. They may be domesticated to help man in his work and leisure.” (CCC 2417)
It is likewise unworthy to spend money on animals that should, as a priority, go to the relief of human misery”
While the Church supports meat consumption in principle, this doesn’t always mean that doing so is moral. Plenty of meat today is produced in an unethical fashion causing immense pain and suffering to the animals involved.
This activity is whole-heartedly condemned by the Church.
“It is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly. It is likewise unworthy to spend money on them that should, as a priority, go to the relief of human misery. One can love animals; one should not direct to them the affection due only to persons.” (CCC 2418)
Although a Christian can argue that eating meat is both theologically and morally sound, it’s important to remember that animals still need to be treated with dignity.
Anything less than this disrespects a creation that God has deemed “very good”.