Book cover of The status of Animals
in the Christian Tradition, by Andrew Linzey.
Friends and Vegetarianism
Friends assert that there is that of God in every person. But do we restrict ourselves only to human beings? What about the other creatures on the earth? Do they not also have intrinsic worth? Why do many Friends regard eating animal flesh as a necessity? How can we justify continuing to support the enslavement, torture and slaughter of billions of farm animals?
We are taught from early infancy that eating meat is a perfectly normal
and natural human activity. But is this true? If we compare our anatomy with
that of carnivores, we discover several significant differences. For instance,
whilst carnivores are able to deal adequately with the large amounts of uric
acid produced from the digestion of flesh, we cannot do so and it acts as a
poison, giving rise to diseases such as rheumatism and arthritis.
If meat eating were unnatural for human beings, it would be expected that vegetarians as a group would be healthier than their meat eating counterparts and in fact this is the case. Scientific studies, using representative samples of the two groups, demonstrate this conclusively. Gallstones, varicose veins, peptic ulcers and other "Western" diseases, are far more common among meat eaters, while vegetarians have 30 per cent. less incidence of coronary illness.
There is absolutely no doubt that eating meat is not a necessary part of a healthy diet. That being so, how can anyone justify using vast areas of precious land for animal farming? To produce a similar quantity of food of the same notional nutritive value we need an area of land more than ten times larger in size for meat production than for crop growing.
Friends are concerned about undernourishment and starvation in the financially
poorer countries of the world. Yet meat eating is one of the main contributory
factors responsible for perpetuating this state of affairs. A great deal of
food is imported into the United Kingdom to feed our farm animals. If everyone
were to adopt a vegetarian diet worldwide, there would be twice as much food
released for human consumption than is needed to feed the world's hungry. Farm
animals consume 40 per cent. of the world's cereals.
Traditional farming practices can no longer satisfy the huge demand for meat. Farm animals are treated like machines, the only reason for their existence being a utilitarian one. Factory farming has become the norm and causes untold suffering and brutality.
Pastoral farming has been the cause of massive soil erosion throughout the world. One of the main reasons for the destruction of tropical rain forests, with the very great loss of unique plant and animal life, is to make huge beef farms. The stripping of bark by goats in countries such as Ethiopia causes large-scale tree death with consequent soil erosion. Animal farming also involves huge demands for water. This tends further to lower the water table in areas of the world which already have a drop in rainfall due to deforestation, causing further drought and famine.
If we want to eat meat, someone has to kill the animals for us. A visit to a modern slaughterhouse is a truly terrible experience. Any person who chooses to work there on our behalf cannot help but become dehumanised to a certain extent as a result. Farm animals have done no harm to us. We care for them, teach them to trust us, and then because of our desire for the taste of animal flesh we take their lives from them.
John Woolman said "To say we love God as unseen and at the same time exercise cruelty towards the least creature moving by his life or by life derived from him is a contradiction in itself". It is not such a very big step from justifying the quite needless mass slaughter of simple sentient creatures to condoning the killing of human beings. We already have blood on our hands. Indeed killing animals for food could be said to be the primary form of human violence. As Albert Schweitzer said, "Until he extends the circle of his compassion to all living things, man will not himself find peace."
Friends have a long history of involvement in the alleviation of human suffering and concern for animal welfare. Are we truly sensitive to that of God in us if we refuse to extend that compassion to the other forms of animal life with which we share this planet? Can it be right to view the Peace Testimony from a purely anthropocentric standpoint?
"I have no doubt," said Thoreau, "that it is part of the destiny of the human race to leave off eating animals" - a sentiment expressed by many great peacemakers, including Tolstoy and Gandhi. Where does the Society of Friends stand on this important issue?
Quaker Concern for Animals, 10 Whitefield Court, Mayland Green, Essex CM3 6BN, UK.
Friend's Vegetarian Society, 9 Astons Close, Woods Lane, Amblecote, Nr. Stourbridge, West Midlands DY5 2QT, UK.