When I was eight, we spent part of a year living across a country road from a cattle feedlot. This was a plot of land dedicated to feeding a few thousand cattle. The cattle’s owners, mostly investors, kept them there on consignment so they could spend their short lives mostly standing around and eating. They were fattened and shipped to slaughterhouses to become steaks, burgers, and sausages.
I didn’t enjoy the smell that drifted across the road when the wind came from that direction, but otherwise I didn’t think much about it. This was part of the landscape in the places where I grew up. Even the smell itself was part of the background. As I recently heard one woman describe her own childhood in farm and ranch country, “It was the smell of money.”
And money it is. The meat and poultry industry has an $864.2 billion impact on the U.S. economy each year. That’s about 6 percent of gross domestic product. Almost everyone I knew and loved in my childhood was making a living through agriculture, and most of them worked with livestock.
Even when we moved to the city when I was teenager, many of our neighbors made their living in the stockyards that still thrived then, before buying and selling livestock became a business conducted mostly over the Internet.
On the surface, there was nothing about my childhood that conditioned me to choose vegetarianism.
But below the surface was a very important reason: I was taught to love my neighbors.
People often ask me why I’m a vegetarian. Some ask respectfully, others not so much. In general, people are more respectful than they were when I made this choice almost 20 years ago, but a lot of Christians still think being a vegetarian is weird and assume it’s motivated by some kind of pagan earth-worshiping impulse. On the contrary, there are several Christ-honoring reasons to choose a vegetarian diet.
Here’s one: Vegetarian eating is a great way to love your neighbors–particularly those neighbors who are scattered around our globe in places where they don’t have the luxury of choosing how to eat.
. . . 1 pound of soybeans requires 216 gallons of water.
. . . 1 pound of wheat requires 132 gallons of water.
. . . 1 pound of potatoes requires 119 gallons of water.
Meanwhile, two-thirds of the world lives on a plant-based diet because they have no other choice. While we complain about our bulging guts, many get barely enough to eat, and some are malnourished. We feed most of our grain to animals simply so we can consume more meat than we need. In my view, this is hard–maybe impossible–to justify.
We have the luxury of choosing what and how much to eat. Some vegetarians are motivated by a desire to honor God with that choice by intentionally consuming less of what we might take for granted but most of the world finds precious.
My point is not to condemn anyone for eating meat. After all, most people are simply eating the way they are conditioned to eat. And every day we all make complex choices that–knowingly or not–have a negative impact on other people. I just want to spread a little understanding where I often find suspicion.
Next time a downer vegetarian discreetly brings a veggie burger to the barbecue, please try not to assume the person is self-righteous, judgmental, or extreme. Go a little easy and remember he or she probably is just trying, like many of us, to do the right thing. And why not consider curbing your meat consumption and trying a veggie burger yourself? After all, giving up just one hamburger means instead of giving 634 gallons of water to an animal raised for slaughter, you have the potential to give 10,144 cups of cold water in Jesus’ name (Matthew 10:42) to someone who’s never known what it’s like to push away from the table with a full stomach.
© 2012 Amy Simpson.