Churches flirting with the fashionable righteousness of Earth Day foodie-ism are entertaining a false prophet. Here’s why the faithful should shun the Church of the Divine Palate.
The long Lenten fast has nearly ended. You can taste the sausage biscuit, bacon burger or chicken salad you’ve valiantly avoided for six Fridays in a row. But, imagine for a moment that this Easter, woven into the message of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, comes a new proclamation of church discipline. Abstinence from meat, the pastor declares, should now continue indefinitely. And it arrives not as penitence for which Christians find Biblical justification and historical recognition, but instead to free your soul from the potential sin of participating in an unjust and unethical modern food system.
You scoff? Consider these developments:
The Anglican Communion, the world's third largest Christian denomination, celebrated an Animal Welfare Sunday in 2007, called for recognition of abolitionist William Wilberforce—not for efforts to free humans but instead for founding the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals—encourages its parishioners to choose locally grown organic products in the (questionable) name of health and indicts modern agriculture as the key culprit in global warming.
The Episcopal Church in 2003 officially resolved that its 2 million members number among the neighbors Christ commanded them to love not just people, but all animals, that they exercise diligence that animals don’t suffer in “puppy mills” and “factory farms,” and that members educate and work for legislation that protects animals.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America advises its 4.5 million parishioners that their act of moral deliberation must now include consideration of the environment and animals in their personal food choices, farming and livestock practices, laboratory research, hunting and land-use planning.
The website of the Presbyterian Church is filled with content advocating for many of the new food movement’s aims, including presentations (“Climate Change and Our Wacky Food System”), advocacy projects (the Presbyterian Coffee Project which seeks to offer only Fair Trade Coffee), educational curricula (“Just Eating” which counsels middle schoolers that eating “can be part of practicing our faith” by drawing upon Eric Schlosser’s food-revolution manifestoes Fast Food Nation and Chew on This to advise provisioning only from local farmers, starting a backyard garden, and cutting back on beef to protect your health and the health of the planet), and interactive teaching tools (like Faith Practice, which asks participants to remember “to dust thou shalt return” not as a reminder of how lowly fallen man is, but as a reminder of his connection to the earth and the rest of God’s creation.) “This study is a call for Christians as food consumers and producers to participate in and influence the global agricultural revolution,” says the 2002 church’s 214th General Assembly report We Are What We Eat. “Today, genetic manipulation, multinational monopolies, food safety and security, land and water conservation, rural economics, and international treaties combine to create circumstances that can no longer be dealt with through historic programs and policies. New food, fiber, and fuel policies must be developed in these revolutionary times. It is the responsibility of the Christian community to strive to make new policies consistent with biblical teachings.”
Although the Catholic Church has not officially defined any one teaching that would oppose the current food system, some splinter groups openly attempt to borrow the whole of the Catholic social teaching—along with the church’s 1 billion members worldwide—by using the name “Catholic.” One such organization, the National Catholic Rural Life Conference, says, “Catholic teaching about the stewardship of creation leads us to question certain farming practices, such as the operation of massive confined animal feeding operations. …these operations should be carefully regulated and monitored so that environmental risks are minimized and animals are treated as creatures of God.” An organization that began eight decades ago to help isolated rural Catholics get better access to priests, churches, hospitals and Catholic schools has today morphed into an organization that publicly opposes “factory farms,” animal confinement, antibiotic use in farm animals; advances global warming principles; supports locally grown food, fair-trade food and community gardening; and entices consumers to shop at farmers markets. NCRLC’s Eaters' Bill of Rights reads:
As consumers, we have rights that our food system and policy makers must respect. The right to food means the right to safe, nutritious food. We also have the right to know how our food is produced: Are farmers paid a just wage? Do farm workers have safe working conditions? Is the environment harmed? Are animals treated humanely? Is the food produced locally or transported for thousands of miles? Is the food system controlled by a few agribusiness cartels?
Tele-evangalist Joel Osteen, author and the senior pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston, told his 7 million weekly broadcast viewers in 2008 that eating pork and shellfish is a sin, not only because of Old Testament admonitions against eating scavengers, but also because it is unhealthy. “I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to take the risk of putting that kind of junk in my body. I made changes not only for my health’s sake; I made changes to honor God.”
Orthodox Judaism’s “Hekhsher Tzedek” Commission aims to develop a more-kosher-than-kosher seal of food approval, the Magen Tzedek, to help assure consumers that kosher food products were produced not only according to Jewish law, but also in accordance with higher Jewish ethical values and ideals for social justice. New standards hope to ensure fair pay, worker health care and sick leave, a safe workplace, animal welfare, humane treatment of animals, product traceability, reduced environmental impact, recycling, limited energy consumption, lower carbon and water footprints, increased food safety and corporate transparency.
Sidebar: Where does your church stand on the Food Morality Movement? Click here to find out.
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