Animals · Bible

Why Did God Permit Man to Eat Meat?

This is a response to the post from James R Hughes in his article “Why Did God Permit Man to Eat Meat? The article can be viewed here.

I was originally researching opinions on why God prescribed a plant based diet in Genesis 1:29 and then permitted man to eat meat in Genesis 9:3. I stumbled across the article by James R Hughes, and it started out pretty interesting. It included some perspectives from John Calvin and Matthew Henry, among others. But then it took a strange turn.

Hughes argues that Genesis 9:3 is a covenant between God and Noah and all Noah’s descendants (i.e. the rest of humanity from that point on) and therefore the whenever a person eats meat, they are participating in this covenant and being reminded that death is a result of sin.

He then goes on to say that the verse about eating meat is “not just permissive, but also prescriptive.” (He then compares it with Genesis 9:7, which is important, as we’ll see later). In other words, Hughes is saying that we are required to eat meat because Genesis 9:3 uses the phrase “shall be food for you” (as opposed to “can be food for you”, I suppose?).

He then goes as far as saying that not eating meat is an abomination to God and to go the way of the heathen.

That escalated quickly!

The glaring problem with Hughes’ argument is that if Genesis 9:3 is a command, then we are required to eat EVERY moving things that are alive.

Every moving thing that is alive shall be food for you; I give all to you, as I gave the green plant.

In other words, we can’t just eat pig and chicken and call it a day. Those are just two of the virtually limitless moving things that God has created. By Hughes’ logic, we are required to eat golden retrievers, bald eagles, tarantulas, poison arrow frogs, garden slugs, polar bears, and the list goes on. We’d have to devote our entire existence to seeking out every moving thing and eating them all. And even if we did spend our lives dedicated to this absurd cause, we’d fail – we’d fail so hard.

Hopefully you can see the problem here – Genesis 9:3 makes absolutely no sense as a command. If the verse said something along the lines of, “Farm animals shall be food for you; I give them to you, as I gave the green plant”, then Hughes might be on to something. Even then it would be murky, as some countries farm dogs for food, while other countries find that practice repulsive. Would we have to eat all animals that are considered farm animals anywhere?

So was God making a covenant that he knew was impossible for any man ever to keep? I would argue that no, He was not. I think the reason why God permitted man to eat meat in Genesis 9:3 is because He knew people wouldn’t always necessarily have access to fruits and plants like they would have in Eden. In other words, it’s perfectly acceptable to eat meat rather than starve, which never would have been an issue in paradise.

Bonus round:

Earlier I mentioned how how Hughes apparently believes that being fruitful and multiplying is also a requirement, or else you’re going the way of the heathen, etc. Yet Jesus and Paul (among many others) didn’t do this, so I think that renders the “prescriptive” covenant argument [even more] invalid.

Animals · Gluttony · World

Why do we eat [so much] meat?

250+ pounds per person per year (in America) is a lot of meat. The question is, why do we do it?

It turns out that there was a study to determine why people eat meat. It was based on the idea that people eat meat because of the four Ns: Necessary, natural, nice, and normal.

  • Necessary – People eat meat is because they believe it’s essential to a healthy diet.
  • Natural – Eating meat is something that humans naturally do.
  • Nice – Eating meat is enjoyable because it tastes good.
  • Normal – It’s a [big] part of our culture.

As Christians we might add a fifth option: nod (as in “nod of approval”. I wanted to keep with the “n” theme).

  • Nod – After the flood, God gave permission to eat meat (Genesis 9:3)

Out of those five reasons for eating meat, I tend to think only two would lead to meat gluttony.

We certainly aren’t consuming 250+ pounds of meat each year for health reasons. Sadly, our country isn’t known as a nation of health conscious citizens. The United States was ranked 34th in Bloomberg’s latest Global Health Index with a score of 73 (that’s like a C-). I think if anything, the nutrients that meat contains are a bonus to us – if meat contained no nutrients at all we would still eat it.

We also don’t really care how humans have always behaved. Humans have not always slept on soft beds or used indoor plumbing or brushed their teeth daily. Like the nutrition argument, it’s a nice bonus – we might find out that humans have “always” behaved a certain way, but we’re definitely not actively looking to emulate all the behaviors of people throughout history.

God did permit humans to eat meat, but He also warns against eating too much, so that’s definitely no justification for consuming 250+ pounds a year.

That leaves two more reasons why we eat so much meat (and what I would argue are the primary driving forces behind gluttony):

It tastes good and it’s part of our culture.

Doing things because they’re pleasurable and because they’re normal part of our society aren’t inherently wrong. But they are often the types of things we need to be mindful of and carefully moderate. Notice any similarities with alcohol?

The difference with alcohol is that its drawbacks are more obvious and hit closer to home. Alcohol abuse can lead to violence, tearing apart of families, and death. When someone is abusing alcohol, you don’t need statistics or studies to understand the reality of the impending (or already present) damage.

The damage that meat abuse causes is much more subtle, but that’s what makes it so dangerous. We’ve gotten to a point where meat abuse is tolerated and in some cases even glorified in our culture, and meat consumption per person is only expected to increase in the future. The problem with this level of meat consumption is that it:

  • Goes against God’s word (Proverbs 23:20)
  • Ignores the enormous problem of world hunger
    • By raising the incredible amount of animals necessary to satisfy our ever growing meat “requirements”, we are wasting resources that could be used to end world hunger
    • How can we witnesses for Jesus if we consider our appetites for pleasure more important than basic human necessities in other parts of the world?
  • Requires animals be treated less and less humanely
    • Like it or not, as Christians we aren’t given license to treat animals however we want (Deuteronomy 25:4, Proverbs 12:10)
    • To meet increasing demands for meat, living (and dying) conditions for animals decrease. Factory farms are the only efficient way to provide enough meat to meet the demand, and their treatment of animals is not only sinister, their conditions make the meat less healthy (even unhealthy). It’s lose-lose for everyone.

So as you can see, we can skate through life eating as much meat as we want without ever really being personally affected by the consequences.

Eating less meat is a very easy way that we Christians can:

  • Show that we don’t want anything to tarnish our witness for Jesus
  • Follow God’s word
  • Make a huge difference by helping to end world hunger
  • Prove that we are not controlled by things that give us pleasure or societal norms
Gluttony · Health

Meat Gluttony and America

Rather than a boring post about the definition of gluttony and how overeating is a sin (maybe I’ll do that later), I want to talk about what immediately strikes me as gluttonous behavior as it pertains to eating meat in America. In fact, the below statistics are what actually inspired this site.

How much meat do Americans eat?

There is conflicting information about how much meat Americans eat, but every list that compares the average amount of meat consumed per person each year places the USA in the top three at least.

According to this article, Americans consume an average of 270 pounds of meat per person per year – with the world average being around 102 pounds of meat per person per year. So that means that Americans eat 2.7 times as much meat per person as the world average. That’s almost three quarters of a pound of meat every single day.

Three quarters of a pound might not seem like a ton, but when you consider the resources required to yield a pound of beef, it’s seems like a lot more.

  • 2,500 gallons of water
  • 12 pounds of grain
  • 35 pounds of topsoil
  • Energy equivalent of one gallon of gasoline

Consuming three quarters of a pound every single day is starting to seem a lot more gluttonous, especially when you consider the fact that the world average is less than a third of a pound (and how many other options for food we have available to us in America).

Note: The statistics above are for a pound of beef, and the 270/lbs/year number includes all types of meat. If you look at just beef/red meat, the American average is between 70 -80/lbs/year (4th place in the world). (1, 2) That’s still a fifth of a pound each day per person per year.

Gluttony (in terms of food) is defined as excess eating. Meat gluttony then, is the excessive eating of meat.

Does eating more meat meat on average than most of the world seem excessive?

That depends – exceeding an average doesn’t necessarily indicate excess (after all, the average might actually be indicative of deficiency).

However, I would argue that 270 pounds per person per year is definitely excessive when it comes to meat. The resources required to produce that much meat are not reasonable when there are people that lack water and food. In addition to that, doctors, nutritionists, and cancer researchers all recommend consuming much less than the average American gets. (3, 4, 5)

I think you would be hard pressed to argue against the fact that, on average, America’s consumption of meat is gluttonous. We should eat less meat.



Gluttonous eaters of meat

20 Do not be with heavy drinkers of wine,
Or with gluttonous eaters of meat;
21 For the heavy drinker and the glutton will come to poverty,
And drowsiness will clothe one with rags.

– Proverbs 23: 20-21 (NASB)

Most Christians agree that heavy wine drinking should be avoided. Some even go as far as claiming that wine should never be drunk or abstain from it completely. (1, 2)

Even those that approve of alcohol will make sure to reiterate how important it is to enjoy it in moderation.

Yet the Bible also warns of excessive meat eating – it even goes as far as comparing it to heavy wine drinking in the Proverb above. Is there equal admonition about moderating our meat intake and our alcohol intake in today’s churches?

Which would be more frowned upon if you decided to partake in your church parking lot:

The Full Meaty from Burger King or a can of cheap beer?

As you can imagine, the former would probably not raise many eyebrows. The latter would. Let’s raise the steaks (I’m so sorry). How about if you ate four Full Meaty burgers in your parking lot and had a single can of cheap beer? The beer still seems more taboo.

How many burgers would it take before someone warned you against gluttony? Would that ever even happen unless you made a spectacle or had a heart attack?

Note: I am not suggesting that you actually try this at a church.

Also note: I am not suggesting that we Christians need to be more lenient about alcohol.

Final note: I am suggesting that we start heeding the full Proverb above. There is a reason meat gluttony is included. It’s time we stop ignoring that part.