by Sarah Stenmark.
I have discovered that few things are so controversial among Christians and met with such incomprehension (and ignorance) as veganism. “Do you eat only salad?” is a question I often get, or “you don’t eat wheat flour, right?” Not to mention all the extremely hilarious meat jokes (sarcasm intended). But I have discovered that most times people have preconceptions about what it means to be vegan and the reasons behind it.
When I tell people that I’m vegan, most assume that it is due to the animal ethics. And to be honest, it was probably how it started. Twelve years ago, I became a vegetarian because I loved animals, and felt like a hypocrite towards them when I ate meat. But over time I began to think about whether this really was a sufficient reason. As a Christian, I believed that humans have been appointed to manage creation and that we have a higher value than animals. If an animal’s death would be the prerequisite for human life, it would be a morally acceptable thing to do (as it turns out this is not the case today, as I will explain below).
The Bible doesn’t condemn meat eating or consumption, it doesn’t forbid us to kill animals. Jesus ate fish. Paul ate meat. I know. But this is not directly applicable to today’s society; partly because of the meat industry’s impact on climate change, but also because of hunger.
Me becoming a vegan began with a school project. In secondary school, I wrote a work on combating hunger in relation to meat consumption and came across information that I then, in 2008, had never encountered before. I found that meat consumption caused hunger. This stirred deep questions within my heart, which eventually led me to study economics and agriculture, with a focus on the environment and natural resources.
While there has been more attention to the hunger argument for veganism in recent years, it is still considered controversial in most contexts, especially in the church. So let me tell you about how this is a powerful argument for you becoming a vegan, or at least strive in that direction.
We all want a world without hunger, right? The fact that 16,000 children die every day because of hunger and hunger-related diseases is undoubtedly wrong and something that urgently need to be addressed, don’t you think? According to recent studies, about 800 million people suffer from chronic hunger and malnutrition worldwide.
Let’s pause for a moment and reflect on this statistic. That is as if two and a half United States would never have enough to eat and always go to bed hungry. In these two and a half Unites States, 16,000 children would die every day because of this. Can you imagine?
The number of hungry people in the world has dropped in recent years, which is a good development; but at the same time, we face the challenge of providing an ever-increasing population with food. Also, add to this that available farmland is decreasing globally, due to the spreading of deserts, sea levels rising and soils being depleted to the point that they become unusable.
As a matter of fact, it is absurd that we can’t supply the entire world’s population with nutritious food already. If all the food that was grown would be used for human consumption, the earth would successfully provide between 12-15 billion people with food? That’s twice as much as the current world population! Globally, 70% of farmlands are used to grow food to animals. Animals that we then eat.
The problem is that when the animals are fed and use the food to build muscles which then become human food, there is a reduction of energy, which is between 70-90%. Thus, giving a cow 100 kg of soybeans results in the cow being able to build 10 kg muscles. The nutrient conversion is 10%. So, the 70 % of the global crop which is used to cultivate animal feed, doesn’t decrease world hunger very much. Humans only get 10 % of the nutrition grown on those farmlands. They could have been able to provide 10 times as many people with food, if you didn’t use them for livestock production.
So basically, the problem isn’t that we aren’t growing enough food, but that we give too much of that food to animals. Food supply is not a problem. The problem is the distribution of the food that is already grown.
On earth there is, as previously mentioned, a constant reduction of cultivable area. But if one is to imagine a just and equal world where everyone has an equal proportion of farmland to get their food from, every person alive today would be assigned 1700 m² per year. Remember that number.
Because of the energy reduction that occurs in connection with the production of meat and dairy products, 1 kg of meat requires much more land area than 1 kg plant-based protein. A “normal” European diet in which meat is included basically every day, requires an average of 5,600 m2 per person per year (as long as you don’t eat organic, which requires three times as much surface). This ultimately means that they take up portions of someone else’s fair share of farmland in order to grow their food at his expense.
A non-organic lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet (no meat, but dairy and egg products) requires 2600 m² per person per year. It’s better, but still compete with somebody else’s opportunity to eat what they need. A non-organic vegan diet however (no meat, dairy or eggs), requires only 800 m² per person per year, which is within the border of 1700 m² that everyone is entitled to.
As long as there are people who consume food beyond their fair share, it is impossible to provide nutrition for the existing global population, let alone a growing population. The United Nations has even officially called for people to switch to a vegan diet because of this, and because a vegan diet is less harmful for the climate.
I want to live a life that makes life possible for as many other people as possible. I do not want my life to be at the expense of others. Even though the Bible purely does not describe meat-eating as a sin or a bad thing in itself (although I am convinced that God did not intend it from the beginning, see Genesis 1:29-31; meat-eating was not part of the order that God viewed as “very good”). But I believe that the Biblical allowance of meat-eating, which in the Scriptures is treated as a side issue, is overruled by one of the Bible’s basic pillars, in both the Old and New Testaments, one of Jesus’ main messages, which is loving our neighbor.
My neighbors include all the people I influence with my life, and in a globalized world, they are many. Then the fact that Jesus ate fish in the world with only one billion people sharing resources becomes inapplicable to our modern global society, where arable land is scarce and the population is approaching 10 billion.
I personally cannot get away from this fact that the suffering meat-eating causes in this modern world is inconsistent with the most central commandment in the Bible: to love one’s neighbor, and enable her life.
Sarah Stenmark is a student of agronomy and economics in Uppsala, Sweden. She’s passionate about the Kingdom of God, missions, radical discipleship, hunger reduction, gender equality and intentional communities.