The Illegal Burning of the Brazilian Amazon (and How You Can Help)

by Aline Sliva

This week, the world has reacted in shock as they became aware of a reality that local Brazilians have been dealing with for weeks: the Amazon rainforest is burning because a few rich farmers want Amazonian land to be used for agribusinesses. 

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The Amazon rainforest has been named the lungs of the earth. But the last 18 days have drastically depleted its ability to breathe. According to Brazil’s National Space Institute, the deforestation rate in the rainforest is 88% higher this summer than last summer, and most of us know that the deforestation rate in the Amazon was already astonishingly high. 

In addition to displacing and endangering hundreds of thousands, almost a million, of Brazil’s indigenous peoples, this illegal burning is killing many non-human animals, greenery, and water flows—called invisible rivers—which are responsible for bringing rain to most of South America. 

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As followers of Jesus, we are charged with caring for and protecting one another and the world’s vulnerable. We share a call to care for the whole earth, to anticipate the peaceable Kingdom of God, to share the peace of Christ with all of God’s beloved creation, and to love our neighbors well. But this year, we learned that we have just twelve years to reverse the effects of consumerism on our planet. We were told that if we don’t change our ways, the damage will be irreparable after twelve years. The burning rainforest is a shocking reminder that we have much work to do to peacefully co-exist in a world where all can flourish as creatures of God. 

Today, in many cities throughout the world, including Brazil, the people are gathering to demand justice for all.  Here is how you can help: 

  • First, remember this is a systemic and political issue. Those in power are not reflecting the interest of the people and of the Amazon. Brazil’s President Bolsonaro has continually said, “it’s simply burning season in the Amazon.” 

  • Do not simply pray. Please also take righteous action in solidarity with our siblings in Brazil.

  • Protect indigenous communities. Follow @AmazonWatch and become a regular supporter of the Rainforest Alliance’s Community forestry initiatives. 

  • Stay informed of developments and keep sharing.

  • Be a conscious consumer, taking care to support companies committed to responsible supply chains. Much of the forest is being burned to make way for grazing cattle, or crops to feed grazing cattle. Eating beef contributes to this demand.   

  • Use Ecosia, a search engine that uses 80% of their profits to plant trees. They have pledged to plant 1 million trees in Brazil. 

  • Vote for leaders who understand the urgency of our climate crisis and are willing to take bold actions, including strong governance and forward-thinking policy.

Lenten Reflection: Transforming Scarcity into Excess

by Lucas Patterson

During the Lenten season of reflection, it’s appropriate to meditate on the “other” – quiet partners deeply woven into the fabric of our daily existence and sustenance. There are immense spiritual and practical applications to be considered, and giving up meat for Lent is a uniquely tangible way we can consider the intersections between human and non-human creations of the same Creator God.

That relationship between Creator and creation received above average attention in the weeks leading up to Lent as one environmentally-minded group launched Million Dollar Vegan, a challenge asking the Pope to give up meat for Lent in exchange for a $1 million gift to the nonprofit of his choice. He quietly declined the offer, but public awareness of connections between Lent and reduced meat consumption grew nonetheless.

The practice of giving up meat for Lent is anything but new and reasons for this dietary sacrifice pre-date some of the more popular modern motivators such as concerns regarding climate change and animal welfare. Instead, it goes back to the first century and is based, in part, on meat playing a historically significant role in celebrations and feasts. Meat was considered special because it came at great financial cost, which limited its use. And on Fridays during Lent as Christians meditate on the crucifixion, the mood is anything but festive. Our thoughts are somber and streamlined, focusing on matters of eternal consequence.

Stories in the Bible highlight Jesus’ penchant for transforming scarcity into excess—multiplying seven loaves and fishes into sufficient food to feed thousands, for example. Carol J. Adams, in a SARX article about her 2018 book, Burger, presents a striking contrast to Jesus’ miraculous resource stewardship by describing how food producers (and consumers driving demand) have turned a blind eye to the ethical dilemmas created by staggeringly poor agricultural efficiencies:

“For every 16 pounds of grain and soy fed to beef cattle in the United States we get back one pound of meat. We have become the people who reverse the miracle, diverting and reducing rather than multiplying resources.”

Nearly 2,000 years after the crucifixion and resurrection, abstaining from meat remains a staple of contemplative Christians during Lent because meat continues to come at great cost. Especially to the animals. Although this year’s 40 days of Lent ends on April 18, a critical question to keep in mind beyond the Easter season is how our Christian worldview influences food policy decisions on a personal and corporate level. Will we be workers pushing for miraculous change, or those who would maintain the status quo and “reverse the miracle” through the inertia of inaction?

Lucas Patterson works in grant writing and other philanthropy communications for Southern Adventist University in southeast Tennessee. He enjoys contributing to the important food policy mission of CreatureKind as both a monthly donor and through occasional website and editorial assistance.

Should Christians Be Vegan?

by David Clough

Why might Christians consider going vegan? There are four reasons that overlap with the reasons anyone else might give: concern for the environment, concern for animals, concern for human welfare, and the desire to adopt a more healthy diet. In addition, Christians might be inspired by long religious traditions of fasting from meat and other animal products. I’ll consider these reasons in turn below. Let’s start, though, with something more fundamental: why a Christian understanding of God and the world might provide specific motivation for going vegan.

Christians believe in that everything in the universe owes its existence to God. That’s what monotheism means: the God Christians worship is not just their God, or even the God of all humans, but the God of all creatures. Biblical texts celebrate the God who made all creatures and declared them good (Genesis 1), who made a world in which every creature has its own place (Psalm 104), who has compassion on and provides for every living thing (Psalm 145), and who in Jesus Christ acts to release the whole of creation from its groaning bondage (Romans 8) and to gather up and make peace between all things in heaven and earth (Colossians 1.20; Ephesians 1.10). Jesus reassured his followers by reminding them that not a single sparrow is forgotten in God’s sight (Luke 12.6). John describes God’s son coming to the earth because of God’s love for the world (John 3.16). God’s delight in and care for all God’s creatures means Christians have reason to delight in and care for them too, especially as humans are called to be images of God. Seeing the whole world as charged with God’s grandeur, as the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins put it, is a fundamental aspect of a Christian vision of the world.

So Christians recognize the universe and all creatures in it as belonging to God, beloved by God, and cared for by God. Why might that make a difference for how they eat? Let’s return to the five reasons I noted above.

First, Christians might move towards a vegan diet in order to care for God's creation, the environment. Greenhouse gas emissions from a huge expansion in raising livestock is a significant cause of the climate catastrophe we are bringing about, which will have a devastating impact on humans and other animals. Reducing consumption of animal products is one of the quickest ways to reduce our carbon footprint. Industrial animal agriculture causes local environmental problems, too. Big intensive pig farms with their huge lagoons of excrement are horrible to live nearby, and so are disproportionately likely to be placed near poor communities, making their lives miserable.

Second, Christians might become vegan in order to enable fellow creatures to flourish, to praise God each in their particular way. The vast majority of farmed animals are raised in industrial systems that subject them to unnecessary suffering and impoverished lives in which they cannot thrive and glorify God. Most fish now come from intensive farmed environments, or if wild-caught, are subjected to unsustainable fishing practices and long drawn-out deaths. The large-scale production of dairy and eggs entails killing male animals surplus to requirements and female animals once their productivity declines. These are powerful reasons for adopting a vegan diet, rather than just a vegetarian one. Current production levels of animals for consumption inhibit the flourishing of wild animals as well as domesticated animals. By 2000, the biomass of domesticated animals exceeded that of all wild land mammals by 24 times. The biomass of domesticated chickens alone is nearly three times that of all wild birds. These shocking statistics show that humans are monopolizing the productive capacity of the earth in a way that leaves very little space for wild animals at all, which is part of what is driving their mass extinction.

Third, Christians might shift to a vegan diet in order to save the lives of fellow human creatures. The livestock industry threatens human food and water security, and those already suffering from deprivation are at greatest risk. Christians are explicitly directed to care for those with the greatest needs and the least resources. Currently, over a third of global cereal output goes to farmed animals and humans eating the animals receive only 8% of the calories that would be available if humans ate the cereals directly. Animal agriculture is also a very significant consumer of scarce global water supplies: producing 1 kg of beef requires 10 to 20 times the water required by producing the same calories from plant-based sources. While a vegan diet is not immediately practical in every part of the world (for Siberian pastoralists reliant on reindeer herds, for example), it is very clear that the global human population, as well as animals and the environment, would benefit from a transition towards using plant-based foods wherever possible.

Fourth, Christians might adopt a vegan diet in order to sustain the health and well-being of their families, friends, neighbours, and wider society. The unprecedentedly high levels of meat and other animal products consumed in developed nations directly damages human health (increased incidence of heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, and strokes). In addition, intensive farming practices contribute to both the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacterial strains and the risk of pandemics from zoonotic diseases such as swine and bird flu.

Finally, many Christians will be inspired by the long Christian traditions of fasting from meat and other animal products, on Fridays, during Lent, and at other times. Many Coptic Christians today observe fasts imposing a vegan diet for two-thirds of the year. The practice of not eating animal products can be understood as part of a penitential practice that redirects one’s focus away from selfish pleasure and towards God. Such traditions remind Christians of the limits that come with recognizing God as creator: animals belong to God, so humans must treat them with respect and can’t do whatever we want with them.

Christians often note arguments against vegetarianism or veganism, but these concerns do not end the conversation. Genesis 1 identifies human beings as uniquely images of God and grants them dominion over other animals, but the end of the chapter prescribes a vegan diet for humans, so this original dominion does not include permission to kill animals for food. In Genesis 9, following the flood, God allows humans to kill animals for food, but this does not justify modern patterns of raising animals in industrial systems in ways that are so clearly damaging for humans, animals, and the wider environment. Gospel accounts record Jesus as eating fish and offering fish to others (although, interestingly, he is not recorded as eating mammals or poultry), but whatever his practice, it does not justify eating the products of modern industrial animal agriculture. Some of these concerns suggest that would be implausible to claim that a vegan diet should be an absolute obligation for all Christians. They do not show that it is inappropriate to adopt a vegan diet as a response to the broad concerns noted above that relate to the modern context of raising animals for food where there are readily available alternative sources of nutrition.

It is important to note that veganism in a Christian context should never be presented as a moral utopia. Christians recognize a brokenness in our relationships with fellow creatures which cannot be overcome by adopting a particular dietary practice or by any other effort we can make. Vegan Christians should not make claims to moral superiority: they are sinners like everyone else. They are simply seeking to act as responsibly as they can in this aspect of the choices they make about what to eat. They should hope to learn from fellow Christians about better ways of living in other areas of their lives, just as they may hope that fellow Christians may be open to learning from their practice.

Concern for fellow humans, fellow animal creatures, and the environment are obligations for Christians, and so the impacts of modern industrialized animal agriculture should trouble all Christians. It’s important to realize that farmers are not the villains here: farmers are often pressured into systems of poor farmed animal welfare because of the popular desire for cheap animal products and the retailers' power to determine pricing for their own advantage. A Christian vision of delighting in God’s world and living responsibly among the fellow creatures God loves will be an inspiration to many Christians either to adopt a vegan diet, or to move in that direction by reducing their consumption of animal products and seeking out animal products raised to higher welfare standards than those offered within industrialized systems.

This article was originally posted on The Vegan Society’s website.

Unexpected Gifts

And it all started with a choice. A choice to listen and to suspend judgement. A choice to follow the line of questioning, wherever that would lead me. A choice to abandon my blissful ignorance in pursuit of a more authentic and gospel-rooted life.

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