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Caterson, J. Seidell, and W. A new virus, the Nipah virus, was discovered in a Malaysian pig farm in and led to the deaths of more than people from an outbreak of a virulent strain of encephalitis caused by this pathogen. Avian flu is the latest pathogen to have escaped from factory farms. It emerged first in a chicken farm in Vietnam and has cropped up in factory farms in India, Nigeria, Hungary, Britain and many other countries. But in reality the virus originated among industrial chickens and its movements have also frequently followed the vehicular transportation routes used to move chickens, alive or dead, between regions and countries.

Despite the clear animal, ecological and health costs of the industrial meat system criticism of the iniquities of factory farming has come not from dieticians, medics, veterinarians or virologists but from animal rights protestors. The animal rights movement has since the s witnessed to the deep immorality of the industrial meat-based diet, reliant as it is on systematic cruelty towards, and the complete instrumentalisation of, animals. Thus Peter Singer argues that it is entirely wrong for human life to depend upon the use of animals in any way, and that animal suffering is as morally significant as human suffering for species which manifest what Singer argues are equivalent capacities for pleasure and pain to human beings.

But to adopt a utilitarian perspective, as Singer does, in order to redeem animals from instrumentalisation is just to confound the problem, valorising rather than healing the alienation between humans and other animals that the industrial economy has promoted. It is only in modernity that humans have systematically instrumentalised animals and turned them into little more than meat machines in industrial sheds. Christians throughout their history have given extensive moral consideration to their treatment of animals.

It is modern secular reason in the forms of economic rationality and instrumental utilitarianism which has advanced the loss of respect and care towards other animals. The preciousness of animals in the Old Testament is also connected with the ancient idea that the life blood is a spiritual force in the animal which is indicative of the breath of God, and hence the Hebrew word nephesh which means both life-blood and spirit.

Consequently shedding blood is a dangerous act which, as well as threatening society, also carries grave cosmological and spiritual risks and is therefore only to be undertaken in a way that sets apart the activity of killing from the rest of human and nonhuman life, and in a way that shows respect and restraint for each animal, and for each animal species. The terms under which the Hebrews could eat meat were carefully circumscribed by the sacrificial system which preserves the people from the infection of killing by reserving this dangerous activity to the tribe of the Levites, the priestly group, who were set apart from the other tribes to perform animal slaughter and to lead the worship of the people.

Dietary and hygiene laws also specifically excluded wild animals, including birds and reptiles from being eaten. The sacrificial system also restrained the number of animals that could be killed. It thus enjoined a sacred respect for the lives of animals who might otherwise have been regarded as the property of Israelites to dispose of at will, while at the same time ensuring that wild animals were preserved from hunting.

As Mary Douglas argues the way in which dietary laws — what it was permitted to eat and not eat — map on to the rules and procedures for Temple sacrifice indicates a degree of restraint in the killing and eating of animals, and hence of respect for animals, which was closer to religious asceticism than to the disregard for the intrinsic moral significance of animals found in modern attitudes to animal husbandry and slaughter.

Douglas also argues that this turn is already anticipated in the central place given to cereal offerings in the Book of Leviticus. Significantly none of the gospels record that the disciples ate lamb at this final meal. It is possible that Christ and the disciples were adopting the practice of other Rabbis, and the Essenes, in using unleavened bread in place of the lamb in the Passover meal.

The Christian rejection of the Temple-based sacrificial system may also be said to emanate more directly from the teachings and actions of Jesus. Not only is there no evidence that Christ ever made a sacrifice but his interactions with the Temple are consistently critical. The Temple treasury was the place where the hated tribute and taxes on the product of the land were all paid, alongside the tithes required under Jewish law. Palestine was a marginal province in the Roman Empire whose place in the imperial economy of extraction was the provision of agricultural surplus. Archaeologists have uncovered evidence of its role in this economy in the remains of large wine and olive presses, and of bunk houses suitable for large groups of farm workers to sleep in, to the south of the Sea of Galilee.

Christ characterises the landowner as a rather self-satisfied and self-concerned individual who plans, having stored his surplus, to rest from his labours secure in the knowledge that while others fall into debt bondage and lose their lands he has a large surplus laid up. But, as the parable indicates, his life will be required of him before he gets to build his barns. He is quite literally storing up judgment for himself in his plans to his unjustly gotten surplus.

In Luke this parable is immediately followed by the paradigmatic story of the Feeding of the Five Thousand. It is therefore described by Luke as a redemptive meal, analogous to the meal of manna that the Israelites ate in the wilderness after their delivery from Egypt. Esler ed. The divine blessing and breaking create the miracle of sharing and at the same time this miracle of plenitude breaks the distorted money economy of hoarding and possession and enacts a new reality of a relational giftedness and redeemed abundance.

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In the setting of the impoverishing extractive economy of Roman Imperial occupation an act of blessing, breaking and sharing on this scale was a meal which turned eating itself into an act of resistance to empire. Christ also offers a critique of the power relations implicit in imperial meals. During the courses of the meal Christ heals a man with dropsy, a diet-related illness, and because it is the Sabbath his Pharisee host takes offence.

But for Christ the moral economy of food also involves a challenge to the poor diet and disease to which the landless and poor were consigned by the imperial economy, and hence the politics of eating challenges and offends religious and imperial authority. The meals in which Christ regularly participates in the Gospels, and which take centre stage in the Gospel of Luke, represent paradigmatic acts of resistance to the Roman imperial economy with its deleterious effects on subsistence farmers and labourers, and to the central role of the Jewish Temple in the organisation of this economy in Palestine.

These meals also recalled the egalitarian moral economy of the ancient Israelites because they refused the distinctions between righteous and sinner, clean and unclean sustained by Second Temple Judaism. While Tissa Balasuriya and N. For the Temple was not only a Treasury, and an imperial tax collection centre.

It was the principal slaughterhouse of Israel. Since the Reforms of Josiah animals were only supposed to be slaughtered in the Temple, and in Second Temple Judaism this centralised system of ritual slaughter was reconstructed. And therefore the prayers of Israel were constantly accompanied by the sounds and smells of animal suffering and slaughter. That the Temple cleansing was a paradigmatic challenge to the sacrificial system is affirmed by the fact that it is set in the Synoptic Gospels immediately before the Passover meal.

At this meal Christ announces a new covenantal system in which his body stands in place of all the sacrifices of the Temple and enacts a more perfect form of atonement and forgiveness. In the Kingdom, and hence at the Eucharist, the poor no longer have their land expropriated from them for the benefit of the tables of the wealthy, but instead are welcomed to the messianic banquet alongside the rich where they find not only a place but a voice in the gathering around the breaking of the bread.

In this perspective it makes sense to see the early Eucharist as in effect a vegetarian meal. And this is likely how it was practised in Jerusalem, where the prominent apostle James was very publicly a vegetarian. His description of the Eucharistic tradition is preceded by an extensive discussion of the issue of meat eating and the problem of meat offered to idols, and as N. Wright suggests this discussion is not epiphenomenal to his account of the Eucharist. On the contrary it provides the crucial context.

The economy of eating was problematic in Corinth because it was a pagan economy in which meat was butchered 19 Dennis E. Wright and William Herzog offer interpretations of the meals of Christ which are analogous to this approach. Paul was also concerned with the class context because in imperial cities the rich ate meat and drank wine while bread and water were the staples of the poor. International Vegetarian Union website: Online. Accessed June 17, Deppe, Michele. Vibrant Life , Dywer, J. Elsevier: Online. Gregory, James. Tauris Academic Studies: London. Continuum International Publishing: London.

Grumett, David, and Rachel Muers. Theology on the Menu: Asceticism, meat and Christian diet.

Eating and Believing: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Vegetarianism and Theology

Oxfordshire: Routledge. Heynen, Nik. Urban Studies , Hoogland, Carolien T. Larsson, Christel L. Educator Guide. Canberra: National Health and Medical research council. Appetite , Schneider, Nathan. The Candid Hominid Blog, updated Whorton, James C.

Jabs, Jennifer. Journal of Nutritional Education, You are commenting using your WordPress. You are commenting using your Google account. You are commenting using your Twitter account. You are commenting using your Facebook account. Notify me of new comments via email. But for Paul there is no such distinction between politics and religion, or indeed nature and culture.

To confess that Christ is Lord is to confess that Caesar is not: it is a far more profoundly political confession than it is for Christians after the conversion of Constantine. Similarly to break bread blessed in the name of Christ was a profoundly political event. The Christians modelled in their first communities a different economy to the imperial pagan economy of Rome.

It also makes clear that early Christian worship was analogous in some respects to the public symposium which their Gentile neighbours also practised; that it was in other words a real meal, organised around a common table, and during which scripture, homily, testimony, prayers and hymns were said and sung. Other early Christian descriptions — textual and visual — of these meals attest to a great variety in the elements that were consumed at these early ritual meals, including not only bread and wine, but bread and water, bread and fish, bread, water and grapes or vegetables.

What these meals all have in common in material terms is not that they directly mirror all those kinds of food and drink that were used at the Last Supper. Rather it is what they exclude that was included in the Last Supper that unites them. Early Christian worship was organised around meals which excluded meat. It was vegetarian worship. What set Eucharistic meals apart from pagan meals was that the food offered and consumed were seen as the fruits of the restored creation realised in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ who they also came to perceive and to worship as Creator of the universe.

Eucharistic eating enacted a new society and a new creation in which class division was absent, and the violence and killing involved in meat eating were no longer necessary.

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The meal became a microcosm for the divine plan to redeem the whole creation from the effects of sin: physical food became spiritual food as bread and wine became the body and blood of Christ, and through this transformation the Church was said to be constituted, and the world redeemed from sin and violence. The freedom that Paul claims for Christians in eating foods that Jewish dietary law proscribed did not then mean that the reverential eating mandated by the old covenant was simply set aside or supplanted.

But it also indicates that Christians should avoid eating with an excess of sensuality, and they must in particular guard against greed and gluttony. And gluttony is particularly associated with meat eating which therefore needed to be restrained. Hence for Novatian the Jewish dietary laws of the Old Testament are a continuing reminder that food remains a source of temptation and that human desires are still prone to corruption even for those who are in Christ.

Eating and Believing

The Eucharist was a vegetarian meal. Christians after the Corinthian episode were not to eat meat in Church. Some Gentile Christians, and no doubt some Jewish Christians, continued to eat meat at home. But even these domestic meals were still within the moral and religious domain and hence meat eating continued to be controversial, particularly between the Jerusalem Apostles and Paul. To resolve the problem the Jerusalem Church issued an apostolic ordinance according to which Gentile Christians should adopt the Jewish practice of only eating meat from which the blood had been drained Acts Wine, like meat, was indicative of wealth in imperial Rome.

The meals of the poor were typically constituted of bread and water. As Andy McGowan shows the adoption by a significant number of early Christians of a more ascetic Eucharistic practice around bread and water is indicative of the sense in which the meal traditions of the early Christians enacted the radical subordination and anti-imperial ethic which Christ also enacted in his ministry.

But this merging obscured the ascetic and vegetarian connotations of earlier Eucharistic traditions, and their association with an anti-imperial ethic. It also anticipated the medieval turning of the Eucharist into a token and clerically enacted ritual performance instead of a Church constituting and world transforming feast. Susan Power Bratton suggests that further evidence of avoidance of meat- eating among the early Christians may be found in the artistic images left by the Christians on the walls of the catacombs in Rome, in early Christian mosaics, and in the statuary and other artefacts that remain from the early period.

The Catacombs display an array of nature imagery analogous to Roman Homeric motifs including extensive use of vines, songbirds, sheep and grapes. But they also reveal a distinctive shaping of Roman motifs away from depictions of heroic hunting and killing towards Christian motifs such as the Good Shepherd which is the favoured image of Christ in early Christian art. Where there is a background it is composed of trees, herbs and birds, rather than the angelic or human servants which would have accompanied an imperial prince. The Good Shepherd rescues and cares for animals, instead of hunting and killing them.

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Northcott eds. Fish, clusters of grapes, sheaves of wheat, fruiting trees and bread loaves marked with the sign of the cross are the forms of food evidenced in early Christian art. Wild animals are depicted but they are not shown being hunted, as they are frequently in Roman art. Instead early Christian art depicts a post- resurrection Creation in which humans enjoy a new peaceable relationship with other creatures and where killing is no more.

Peacocks feast on grapes, songbirds carry twigs or branches, sheep drink from streams, and in fourth century Basilicas deer are often represented drinking from the Rivers of Paradise. From the fourth century, nativity scenes are also increasingly depicted and here there is an emphasis on companionship between the animals around the stable in which Christ is born and the Christ child. Again the association is anti-imperial, suggesting as it does that instead of the human courtiers and princes who would attend the birth of an imperial prince, Christ as King of the Cosmos is attended by the creatures who were also companion to Adam in the Garden of Eden, and who welcome his coming as the one who will re-establish peace between the sons of Adam and the other animals.


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The Greek word for fish — ichthys — was an acronym for the first letters of the Greek phrase Jesus Christ Son of God Saviour, and the fish symbol was widely used among early Christians and remains a Christian symbol to this day. Fish represented the souls of believers in early Christian art, while fishermen image the apostles as founders of the church and so fishers of souls. And hence it is fish caught on the hook or in the net of the fisherman, or on the plate or table, which are visual metaphors of salvation, not living fish in the water.

The ubiquity of the fish symbol in early Christianity indicates that fish above all other creatures were an allegory for the Gospel in early Christian art.


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After the resurrection lambs are saved from slaughter, while fish continue to be eaten. The association of meat eating with Jewish sacrifice and imperial wealth, and of fish eating with Christ and the apostles, indicate a widespread preference among early Christians for fish over meat, and an association between an ascetic and holy life and abstention from meat, an association which is deepened by the Desert Fathers in the third and fourth centuries, and remembered vestigially in the Roman Catholic practice of fasting from meat, and eating only fish, on Fridays.

The Eucharistic meals of the early Christians were not only token foretastes of the provision of heaven.

Eating and Believing - E-bok - Grumett David Grumett, Muers Rachel Muers () | Bokus

They were real meals in which the early Christians were trained to perceive food and farming as identity-shaping interactions with other creatures. See also R. And as Nancy Jay argues the strong distinction between sacred and profane that the sacerdotal sacrifice of the Mass introduced into Western Christian culture in the late Middle Ages is also implicated in the subsequent emergence of secular instrumental reason and its alliance with technological power which alliance sustains the modern sacrifices of billions of animals in the cruel and degrading factories of industrial agronomy.

Recovering the anti-imperial asceticism of the early Christians, rediscovering the Eucharist as a real vegetarian meal, and not just a token meal, will provide opportunities for contemporary Christians in their worship, and in their homes, to resist and repair the sinful alienation between humans and other animals promoted by the modern imperial food economy. And given that industrial corporations have now turned their destructive powers, and farming technologies, on fish it may be that the association of Eucharistic eating and the eschewal of industrial meat eating ought also to include fish.

Storrar and Andrew Morton eds. Public Theology for the 21st Century London: T. Clark, , pp. Related Papers. Early Christianity, Evangelicalism, and the Eucharist. By Michael Krause.