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13 February 2020

Veganism and vegetarianism: human impact

Paul Webber 2019 Paul Webber Minister
Butcher - Yunming Wang - Unsplash

In the first two blogs on “Veganism and vegetarianism: A Christian response” we’ve considered concern for animals and concern for the environment. Now we will investigate the impact on humans of meat eating, vegetarianism and veganism.

Health for individuals

Christians might adopt a vegan diet in order to sustain the health and well-being of their families, friends, neighbours, and wider society. An editorial in the British Medical Journal based on major research presented conclusive evidence that red and processed meats lead to increased mortality from heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and liver, kidney and lung diseases. In the wealthy world, obesity is reaching epidemic levels, with the protein and fat in meat again a major cause. In addition, intensive farming practices contribute to both the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacterial strains and diseases such as bird flu.  Health guidance suggests that we just need to reduce how much processed meat we consume.

Vegetarian and vegan diets can be high in important nutrients, including vitamins, fibre and phytonutrients – and they tend to be lower in calories and fat. But strict vegetarians (particularly vegans) may fail to get enough protein, vitamins, calcium, iron, zinc and essential amino acids.  For example many Vegans have to take vitamin B12 supplements, which are found exclusively in animal products.  If God had created us to be vegan, why does the vegan diet not readily provide natural sources of some nutrients which God designed our bodies to need? 

Sustainability for the human race

The livestock industry threatens human food and water security, and the poorest in the world are at greatest risk. A recent academic study argued that, with increased human populations and affluence, we need a rapid transition towards plant-based diets to address climate change, biodiversity loss, pollution of soil and water, and access to drinking water. Industrial meat production is far more grain and water intensive than pasture-fed free-range meat.

Animal agriculture is a very significant consumer of global water supplies: producing 1kg of beef requires 10 to 20 times the water needed to supply the same calories from plant-based sources. While a vegan diet is not immediately practical in every part of the world, it is very clear that the global human population would benefit from a transition towards using plant-based foods wherever possible.

However, efficiencies in farming practices over the last 70 years have increased food production by 30%. Continuing to adapt our farming methods and finding further efficiencies could be the key to food security.

Famine is a big problem in the world and as Christians we should be looking to help those in need. Should animal life be given priority over human life? Man alone has been made “in the image of God” (Genesis 1:27). Wouldn’t it therefore be wicked and foolish to deny food and sustenance to starving people simply to protect the rights of birds and beasts?  Christians are explicitly directed to care for those with the greatest needs and the least resources.

Whatever your view, David Grummet and Tim Lornie point out that engaging with veganism opens unique points of contact between our culture and the gospel; millions of people are actively questioning what it would take to save us from the world we have (de)created, searching for something that only Christ will wholly provide.

Our society has provided us a fertile ground for the gospel to flourish — with its promise that the earth will be restored from all the death, disease and destruction that we experience and often rightly mourn every day – and the realisation that only God can pull us out from our mess.


Photo by Yunming Wang on Unsplash

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