Cows and Compassion (Should we eat meat?)
“Then Yahweh said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground’.” Genesis 1:26
This morning, before grabbing my jacket to head outside, I looked out the window to see my cows patiently waiting for me at the feed tubs. Despite the big bale of hay by the fence and the newly emerged springtime grass, they are always eager to dine on grain. Sometimes they almost seem human in their understanding and acceptance of how things are. Watching them over the years, I have seen them express grief after losing a calf, curiosity as a cat ventures close, sadness when one of the herd leaves, boredom when left alone, fear when I’ve lost my temper and yelled at them, and anger when they’ve been wronged somehow. They babysit each other’s calves and console one another when sick or bereaved. And, even though I’ve had them dehorned, ear-tagged, and vaccinated and then proceeded to steal their milk and send their calves off to the meat processor, they still look at me with a measure of trust. What beautiful, gentle and compassionate creatures they are!
So, you may rightly ask, how can I eat beef? Many question the practice of killing animals for food. In fact, some are so repulsed by the idea of eating meat that they will only eat a vegetarian diet. Was mankind meant to consume only a plant-based diet? Often, Genesis 1: 29-30 is used in support of this viewpoint: “Then Yahweh said, I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground – everything that has the breath of life in it – I give every green plant for food. And it was so.” A further reading of the scriptures, however, clarifies that there is no plant-only diet directive.
“Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to Yahweh. But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. Yahweh looked with favor on Abel and his offering…” (Genesis 4:2-4). Why did Abel have flocks if not for food and why did he offer the choicest portions to Yahweh if eating meat was forbidden?
As Noah entered the Ark he was told to take seven of every kind of clean animal but only two of every kind of unclean animal (Genesis 7: 2). Why would there have been a distinction between clean and unclean animals were they not used for food? When the floodwaters receded and Noah, his family, and all the creatures came out of the ark, the first thing Noah did was to build an altar and sacrifice “some of the clean animals and clean birds” to Yahweh (Genesis 8:20).
Just before leaving Egypt, when the first Passover was instituted, Moses and the Israelites were commanded to slaughter a lamb, smear its blood on their doorposts, and roast it over a fire. Later, as they wandered in the desert, the Israelites were given specific instructions for building the Tabernacle, the Ark and the Altar for burnt offerings. Not only did Yahweh instruct them in the timing and purpose of animal sacrifices, but also went on tell the Israelites how to prepare the animals and which parts to eat.
The animal sacrifices performed by Abel, Noah, and Moses all foreshadowed the sacrifice of the Messiah, the Lamb who would take away the sins of the world. It was an act of faith. The sacrificial animals were to be blemish free, or perfect, as was our Savior. The killing of the innocent mirrored His blamelessness. And, just as the meat was necessary for the physical body to live, Yahshua’s sacrifice was necessary for the spiritual body to live.
But, even though mankind was given dominion over the animals and allowed to use them for food, he was not given permission to torment them. Then, as now, farmers had a special relationship with their herds as they fed, watered, nursed and protected them. Yahweh’s directive, “Do not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk,” Exodus 23:19 was a reminder to use compassion in our treatment of His creatures. Cattle, sheep, and goats roamed outside, grazing on green pastures in the fresh air. An animal was consumed only upon special occasions and the slaughter was done quickly and expertly.
How different we find the production of meat and dairy products today! Many animals are raised on bleak feedlots, wandering around in manure with little or no access to grass or even sunlight. The production lines of large slaughterhouses cannot ensure that each animal is killed quickly and humanely. Chickens may live their whole lives caged up in smelly, overcrowded poultry sheds to insure that their meat will be tender or that maximum egg production runs smoothly. Surely, Yahweh cannot be pleased with mankind’s treatment of His creatures.
The stark reality is that if one eats meat, an animal had to die. This truth is hard to swallow and it is preferable to ignore this fact while munching on a juicy cheeseburger. How is it possible to reconcile the sacrifice of an animal for food with our desire to be good caretakers of that which Yahweh has created?
Cut down on your meat consumption. Most of the people in the world did not and do not eat meat every day. Use meat sparingly, as a condiment rather than the main course and eat meatless meals several times each week. A diet based heavily on meat not only kills more animals, but has been shown to cause many diseases in the consumer as well.
Try to purchase beef or poultry from a local farmer who uses grass-fed or free-range practices instead of the grocery store offerings. Research suggests that grass-fed cattle have 80% less E. coli in their gut systems than their feedlot counterparts. If more people would do this, perhaps the huge feedlots and poultry prisons would cease to exist.
Don’t waste your food. Only fill your plate with as much as you will eat. Much time, effort, and expense went toward your meal. Remind your children and yourself that a life was taken, a sacrifice was made, so that they and you might nourish your bodies.
Remember to give thanks to Yahweh for that which He has provided and show your respect and love for Him by not abusing or taking His gifts for granted.
by: Debbie Reed