Why do we eat animals?

It was Inky the Octopus who really got me thinking. You may have read his inspiring story. Inky was kept as an exhibit in the New Zealand National Aquarium. One day he managed to escape. He had worked out that there was an pipe that he could get down if his keeper forgot to seal it after feeding him. After months of ‘thought Inky made good his plans and escaped to freedom.

By Rev Steve Morris on Christian Today!

If creatures can show this much intelligence, how on earth can we eat them? That’s the question that won’t leave me alone. Every week new ‘evidence’ seems to emerge of the sentience and sensibilities of animals. Horses, apparently, can feel embarrassed. Dogs and cats show love and empathy. Elephants mourn. The list is endless. I wonder when we finally get to heaven if God might have serious questions about why we so underestimated his creatures.

Many of you will simply point out that Jesus ate meat and so it’s fine for us to eat it too. But Jesus the man, was of his time and so he did what his culture did.
Why on earth do we eat pigs and sheep and cows but we don’t eat cats and dogs? If we eat one sensitive mammal why not all mammals? Is it just that we don’t eat animals that we share a house with?

I know that many people become vegetarian for many reasons – animal welfare standards, animal rights, health and whatever. But for me the more I find out about the sheer level of animal intelligence and sensibility, the more it seems like a gross betrayal to eat them, especially when I have a choice not too.

Now you might say that if we didn’t eat cows and sheep and pigs no one would keep them as pets and so they would be wiped out anyway. You may say that with good husbandry creatures can enjoy a dignified and happy life, if a short one. You may also say that if we treat animals well when they are alive and cook them with love and creativity that we honour them. But I am coming round to the fact that my conscience seems to be nagging me to stop eating them at all.

We pray ‘Your kingdom come.’ That means we are responsible for bringing as much of the new creation into existence right now as we possibly can. Part of that is to usher in a new age of compassion, care and non-violence to animals. After all, before the fall, Adam and Eve were vegetarians. So why not us?

Opposite my church there is a field where the farmer keeps donkeys. Herbie and his friend lived happily together. One day the friend died. Herbie kept braying and then lay beside his dead friend for a day and a night. Tim, the farmer, let Herbie have his time to mourn his friend. He left him to be sad for a while.
If animals can feel and have emotions and intelligence should we see them as our friends and not as fodder?

Rev Steve Morris is the parish priest of St Cuthbert’s North Wembley. Before being a priest he was a writer and ran a brand agency. In the 1980s he tried to become a pop star. Follow him on Twitter @SteveMorris214