One of the more childish decisions I’ve made lately is to avoid watching documentaries like Food Inc., which promises “an unflattering look inside America’s corporate food industry.”
I’ve avoided it and similar films because, well, it’s a more passive version of closing my eyes, covering my ears and yelling, “Lalalalalalalalala” as loudly as I can. I know the American food industry engages in inhumane and arguably repulsive practices in the care and slaughter of the animals we eat, but I like meat too much to confront this fact head on.
That needs to change.
I’m increasingly convicted that one of the ways in which I should be living out the call of Christ on my life is through the choices I make – and that goes beyond simply choosing to be a faithful husband, a present and loving father, a truthful and hard-working employee and an active church member.
It involves the kinds of practices I support with my money.
I don’t believe I should support financially companies that subject animals to heinous treatment, inhumane living conditions or cruel slaughter practices. I believe God hates it, that it is an abuse of our power as the stewards of this planet, and that we should treat all of his creation with the love and respect he has for it.
But it’s not as easy as simply not eating meat or going organic.
The first is, at the moment, out of the question. I can’t prove this scientifically, but I might die if I stop eating meat. I’m not much of a veggie person to start with, and if you start taking away things like bacon, sausage and steak, I might shrivel into a husk. I’m not ready to make that leap. At least, not yet.
The second is trickier.
We have a monthly grocery budget, as most of you probably do, and a certain amount of that is usually spent on meat. It seems simple enough to say we should spend the same amount but buy products that claim to be from humanely treated animals (one never really knows, of course, but at some point you’ve got to trust the packaging or you’ll never eat anything). That would reduce the amount of meat we eat, probably not the unhealthiest choice we could make, and it would shift our support to practices we find more ethical, moral, even Christian.
Which sounds simple, but let me give an example of how this runs up against another issue about which I’ve been feeling convicted.
We have $100 budgeted for Thanksgiving this year. We could spend that on a free-range, humanely treated turkey, organic food, gluten-free bread, etc. It would be healthier, it would be thoughtful for those members of the family who shouldn’t be eating certain foods, and it would be more in line with the Christian principals I want to live out.
But if we simply buy the cheapest food we can, we would be able to buy Thanksgiving dinner for two families. A local drive is raising money in $45 increments to provide Thanksgiving dinners to needy families in the area who otherwise could not afford one this year. If we can cut our Thanksgiving budget in half – which would involve buying the cheapest food we can, regardless of how it was raised, grown or slaughtered – we can provide a meal for someone in need.
In this case, the choice was easy; we’re eating as cheaply as we can this Thanksgiving so someone else can have a Thanksgiving, too.
But in the long run, choosing to go organic and focus on eating meat that has been treated humanely means either spending more money or buying less food with the money we have, which in either case means we’re choosing not to spend that money on the poor and needy. It’s a tension, one I’m not entirely sure how to resolve adequately.
In an ideal world, American consumers would rise up against the barbaric practices of the food industry and demand reform and regulation, as they did in the early 1900s. But if that’s happening at all, and I’m not sure it is, it’s happening very slowly. In the meantime, those of us who care about animals and care about the poor face this dilemma of how our resources can both support the ethical treatment of the former while providing for the needs of the latter.