Is it right to eat meat?

Q. I recently saw some videos of livestock being slaughtered for food, which left me feeling very upset, especially seeing how animals, like pigs, helplessly tremble with fear, crying desperately on their march to death. The videos were shared by people who are trying to make a point for why we should just eat vegetables or be vegans. As an animal lover, a dog owner and as someone who eats meat, I am feeling confused and guilty. I would like to know why God allows humans to consume animals. Or is it right to do so? As Christians, how should we view this issue?

Thank you for your heartfelt question, In light of it, it’s interesting to note that according to Genesis, humans were originally given “every green plant for food.” It was only after the flood that God said to Noah, “Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.” It’s also interesting to note how the Bible says that in the future, animals will not be carnivorous any more:

The wolf will live with the lamb,
    the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
    and a little child will lead them.
The cow will feed with the bear,
    their young will lie down together,
    and the lion will eat straw like the ox.

Finally, we may also observe that humans are able to get all the nutrients they need, including proteins, by eating just plant-based foods.

And so it seems that, according to the Bible, people originally ate just plants, but for some reason (interpreters have different theories about why; the Bible doesn’t say specifically) people were also given animals as food after the flood. But things will change back to plant-based foods at some time in the future.

So I would say that if you wanted to abstain from eating meat as a matter of personal and Christian religious conviction, you would have a biblical basis to do that. Whatever you decided about that issue, you could certainly also advocate for the most humane treatment possible of animals that are used for food. Thank you again for your concern and compassion.


Author: Christopher R Smith

The Rev. Dr. Christopher R. Smith is an an ordained minister, a writer, and a biblical scholar. He was active in parish and student ministry for twenty-five years. He was a consulting editor to the International Bible Society (now Biblica) for The Books of the Bible, an edition of the New International Version (NIV) that presents the biblical books according to their natural literary outlines, without chapters and verses. His Understanding the Books of the Bible study guide series is keyed to this format. He was also a consultant to Tyndale House for the Immerse Bible, an edition of the New Living Translation (NLT) that similarly presents the Scriptures in their natural literary forms, without chapters and verses or section headings. He has a B.A. from Harvard in English and American Literature and Language, a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and a Ph.D. in the History of Christian Life and Thought, with a minor concentration in Bible, from Boston College, in the joint program with Andover Newton Theological School.

2 thoughts on “Is it right to eat meat?”

  1. While Genesis 9 gives clear permission for God’s people to eat meat, the Scriptures also teach that kindness toward our animals is an element of righteousness:
    Pro 12:10 A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast: but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel.
    The inhumane treatment mentioned by the OP is not excusable.

  2. The factory farming system from which most of the meat in the US comes is even worse, in so many ways, than what this questioner saw, for the animals and for the people who work there. I would provide details but I hate to even mention them because they are so traumatizing – and I’ve seen the videos. Yet the amount of meat that Americans consume may not be possible in any other way than this utterly inhumane system. Furthermore, the livestock sector is a major contributor to climate change (cows, methane, need I say more…?). It also uses up far more resources than plant-based diets, because of the inherent nature of the food chain. Each consumer nets only 10% of the energy from what it eats, so if you feed plants to animals, and then feed those animals to humans, humans will get only 1% of that original plant energy, meaning that more food needs to be consumed. More people can be fed on the world’s bounty if those people mostly consume plants, which makes this a social justice issue. Livestock also require huge water resources, for similar reasons – they must eat so much vegetation, with all the water used to grow it, on top of the water they drink themselves. The amount of water that goes into producing just one steak is as much as a human would drink in a lifetime, if I’m remembering correctly. It was something staggering like that, at any rate. And fresh, clean, drinkable water will increasingly become a scarce resource as the planet continues to warm, unless we make major advances in desalination. Then there’s the problem of antibiotics. Currently, livestock feed is laced with antibiotics in order to try to avoid losing valuable stock to illness. This is contributing hugely to the rate at which bacteria are becoming resistant to antibiotics, which will likely lead to more human suffering and death as our antibiotics become ineffective. For me, learning all of this while working at Yale’s Bioethics Center made it a pretty inescapable conclusion that changing my diet had become a moral question in quite a number of respects.

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