In the Bible, the answer is found in Leviticus 11. It contains a list of animals which can and cannot be eaten. In this section, the Lord tells the Israelites that only certain animals should be eaten, and all others should be avoided. This includes both four footed animals and creatures that live in the sea or the air. Four footed beasts should have split hooves and chew their cud in order to be considered acceptable. Birds must also meet certain criteria – they should not be predatory, such as raptors, or vultures. Other creatures of the sea must have fins and scales in order to be considered edible.
However, it is interesting to note that other creatures – such as lizards, frogs, locusts, and other insects – are also considered permissible to eat. This is possibly due to their abundance and the potential for them to sustain large numbers of people, who at the time were largely agrarian and without access to modern technology. This is also why shellfish, which is an important source of protein today, is considered unclean and not edible.
It is important to note that the prohibition against eating these animals is not because they are ‘unclean’ or ‘unholy’, as it is often interpreted. Instead, the Lord warns against eating these particular animals because ‘the land will vomit you out’ if you consume them. This is most likely a health warning, in order to prevent the spread of illness and disease. It is significant that it is only in modern times that we have become aware of the health risks associated with consuming certain animals.
Additionally, distinction is made between clean and unclean animals in other parts of the Bible – particularly in regards to the requirement for offering sacrifices and offerings to the Lord. This does suggest there is some form of spiritual connection between clean animals and the Lord. However, there is no clear explanation as to what this is.
Modern spiritual interpretation of these dietary rules has often focused upon animal welfare and protection, with those advocating a vegan lifestyle often using passages from Leviticus to support their beliefs. Eating animals that are considered ‘unclean’ has also been used to symbolise certain sins or rebellion against God’s laws. Again, this is largely down to interpretation rather than a clear, direct message in the Bible.
Regardless of the interpretation, it is evident that the Bible places a high importance upon animal welfare and promotion of healthy living. Even though the list of creatures God warns us against consuming has not been updated in thousands of years, it still holds a great deal of relevance in the modern world. In an age where animal welfare is a growing concern, it is important to remember the Bible’s words when it comes to what animals we should eat.
Other religions such as Islam and Judaism also have dietary restrictions as part of their observances. This includes lists of permissible and forbidden foods, similar to that of the Bible. These restrictions are incorporated into the religion’s religious practices and customs, and have likely been adopted from the Bibles rules. However, unlike in the Bible, these religions also often restrict certain meats – such as pork – on the basis that it is unclean, and therefore not permissible to consume.
It is also important to note that many of the dietary restrictions within these religions are now largely outdated. This is especially true in regards to certain forms of meat, such as pork, where modern health and safety regulations are now far more stringent.
The focus on animal welfare and the restrictions placed upon certain forms of meat also has parallels with vegetarianism, veganism and other diets which are becoming increasingly popular across the world. Its clear that many of these dietary restrictions are based upon religious texts – so, even if it may initially seem outdated and irrelevant, its interesting to consider the morality and importance behind the restrictions placed upon certain foods, and to think about what our diets should consist of.
Animals on Endangered Species List
In addition to the restrictions placed on eating animals in the Bible, modern science and research has also highlighted the need for some animals to be placed on the endangered species lists. Animals like gorillas and tigers are rapidly reaching extinction, largely as a result of man’s interference with nature and its limited resources. Many species are also falling prey to pollution and other destructive forces, making the need for animal protection even more paramount. Unfortunately, due to human actions, many species of animals are disappearing at an alarming rate.
It is important to consider how our diet influences the conservation of species and the environment as a whole. Our diets not only impact us on a personal level but on a global level as well. A shift away from meat and animal-based products could result in a decrease in animal exploitation and ultimately, a decrease in species extinction. By taking into consideration our diets and the impact it could have, we can help to promote a healthier planet and prevent species from becoming extinct.
It is also important to recognize the role that our diets have in supporting a more equitable economy. Meat industries have grown exponentially in the past few decades, with large factory-farms relying on cheaper labor and the appropriation of land where indigenous communities can no longer practice small-scale agricultural methods. In fact, the realities of the current animal agriculture industry are often linked to poverty, displacement, and food insecurity. Consequently, any shift away from meat products can result in significant benefit for these small-scale communities and their local economies.
The demand for plant-based products has risen drastically in recent years as more and more people recognize the environmental and ethical implications of eating animal-based products. Thus, the continued demand in plant-based diets combined with a decrease in consumer demand for animal-based products will ultimately lead to a more inclusive and sustainable marketplace.
Moreover, in addition to creating positive economic and environmental impacts, plant-based diets offer an array of potential health benefits for those who choose to supplement or completely replace animal-based products. Research has indicated that plant-based diets are associated with a reduced risk of obesity, coronary heart disease, stroke, hypertension, and type-2 diabetes. These health benefits further emphasize the importance of diets that are mindful of the iconic Bibles prohibition on certain animals.
Finally, one cannot ignore the implications that a plant-based diet has on our social lives. The modern food system has caused a number of health problems that disproportionately impact low-income communities. These communities are often forced to struggle with food insecurity, higher rates of diet-related illnesses, environmental pollution, and exposure to unhealthy food sources, such as fast-food restaurants. By including more fruits, vegetables, and other plant-based products in our diets, we can reduce some of the negative consequences associated with the current food system and hopefully, create a brighter and healthier future for everyone.
Additionally, by paying attention to the symbols and restrictions the Bible places on eating certain animals, we can create a culture of empathy and respect for animals that goes beyond the individual level. We often think of our own health and well-being when considering our diets, whereas the Bible takes into account the welfare of animals as well. Ultimately, eating ethically and consciously is not only beneficial for us, but also for the world around us.
Using Eco-Friendly Alternatives
Finally, one can also replace animal-based products with more eco-friendly alternatives. Plant-based products, such as tofu and tempeh, are becoming increasingly popular in the culinary world and are not only significantly healthier but also help reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions associated with the rearing of livestock. Similarly, plant-based milks provide a great alternative to cow’s milk and are becoming an increasingly popular option for those seeking a cruelty-free version of dairy.
Mushrooms, legumes, and nuts have also become increasingly popular sources of protein as a result of the growing vegan and vegetarian trends in the world. These alternatives are not only lower in fat and cholesterol, but also have much less of an environmental footprint when compared to animal products. We can make conscious decisions in our diets and opt for these plant-based alternatives in order to reduce our impact on the planet and its resources.