Maybe Vegetarians Know Something We Meat-Eaters Don't

Fifteen years ago I almost died. Not literally, but I felt like death, and I may have been okay with that outcome. What happened?

I stopped eating meat.

Photo by Monica Infiesto

This was one of those Lenten convictions I had back in my more pious days. And what better to give up for Jesus than the one thing I love the most? What’s next? Coffee and football?

I know I’m making light of it, but I assure you the decision was born out of a desire to please God and get nearer to Him, and I think I accomplished that goal.

But when I do something, I like to do it right. So I gave up eggs and fish too. But not dairy. Then I literally would have died. Suffice to say I ate a lot of Mac and Cheese and minestrone those forty days. (If only I had known about hummus back then.)

I felt drained and fatigued much of the time during those forty days. These sensations were perfect for accomplishing my Lenten goals of relying on God more, but as a way of life? I shudder at the thought.

On the other side now, I wonder how vegetarians and vegans do what they do and survive. Thrive even. One of my favorite athletes, hall of fame tight end Tony Gonzalez, turned pseudo vegan while still playing professional football, consuming only 20% of his protein from animals—primarily fish.[1]

And yet, as untenable as it sounds to me, maybe vegetarians are on to something. Maybe deep down they know something we carnivores don’t understand.

The way I see it, three primary reasons prevail in supporting a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle:

The eater considers it cruel to kill and consume animals.
The eater considers a plant-based diet healthier than an omnivorous existence.
The eater does not like the taste of meat.

Or any combination of the three above.

Some of these reasons may be more valid than others, but what if their validity or perceived validity all point back to the same root cause?

In other words (assuming these three claims are valid), what if the reason it is cruel to eat animals, the reason red meat promotes heart disease, and the reason meat doesn’t taste good* are all actually the same reason?

*Yes, I have a hard time fathoming it too.

What if these objections are all rooted in some form of primal instinct or spiritual sixth sense?

Why Humans Couldn't Eat Meat Pre-Flood (Even Though They Probably Did Anyway)

Yes, I know I sound crazy, so let’s back up a bit and see if there’s anything to this theory.

Shortly after creating mankind, God said something interesting to his new creation:

Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. 
Genesis 1:29

Conspicuously missing from this allowance: the mention of meat. Yet this should come as no surprise because prior to the fall, death—including the death of animals—was not a thing:

Sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned. 
Romans 5:12

Now this passage doesn’t explicitly state that animals did not die prior to the first sin, but as I read the Scripture and contemplate Eden, the context of the biblical narrative seems to imply that the first death of any created thing occurred when God procured animal skins as coverings for Adam and Eve after they realized they were naked (Gen. 3:21).

If my assumption is correct, the idea of eating animals would have been foreign to Adam and Eve. Doing so would have seemed bizarre and unnatural—cruel even; the thought would not have crossed their minds. Remember, Adam and Eve didn’t even have to eat to survive because death was not a thing. Therefore food existed simply for their pleasure.

But then Eve and Adam sinned.

Those bites changed everything. Death became reality; God sacrificed animals to make coverings for his sixth-day creations.

Yet still God never gave Adam and Eve permission to eat meat. Instead he ejected them from the garden, a place where food was abundant and easily gathered, out into the cold, harsh, dog-eat-dog world. As punishment for sin the ground produced thorns, and vegetation was no longer a given. Now Adam would have to toil to produce food for his wife and children.

As you know, it wasn’t long before the sin of humanity spiraled out of control and God sent a global flood to reboot humankind. I bring up the flood only to reference what God told Noah after the fact. Post flood, God provided Noah and all of humanity this allowance:

The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth and upon every bird of the heavens, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea. Into your hand they are delivered. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. 
Genesis 9:2-3

Because of this explicit allowance, and because of the absence of prior permission, it seems God prohibited consuming animals until after the flood.

Now, it is totally possible—one might even say probable—that humans began eating animals long before this moment. After all, the earth was a bad place to be with all kinds of treachery and depravity the status quo. What difference did it make to eat something prohibited by God, when “every intention of the thoughts of [man’s] heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5)?

Additionally, Able offered up animal sacrifices to God, which God accepted. So we know humans were sacrificing animals. Scripture tells us on several occasions that the burnt offering aroma was pleasing to God (Gen. 8:21, for one), and smoked meat certainly smells good to me too. It’s not a far trip from the nose to the tongue.

And last, since the ground was cursed, growing crops may have proved difficult, meaning people had to eat meat simply for survival. (I, obviously, don’t know if this is true; it’s pure speculation.)

So I would say it is quite probable that humans were eating meat prior to the flood even though God had not yet granted us permission.

What We Lost When Animals Became Food

Which brings us to today.

Once more, people abstain from meat for all sorts of reasons: fear of heart disease, taste*, and perception of cruelty.

*Again, baffled.

But before we proceed, let’s get this out in the open: eating meat is not a sin. As we just saw, God allowed the practice in Genesis 9.

And, in fact, for the Hebrew people God commanded eating the Passover lamb, so it would have been a sin were they not to eat the lamb (see Exodus 12). He also provided quail for food to his people during their wanderings in the wilderness after the Exodus.

Furthermore, Jesus declared all foods clean according to Mark 7:19.

So with this context established, let’s return to the original question at hand.

Do vegetarians know something in their guts that we omnivores don’t comprehend? Is it possible they have some insight, if only on the subconscious level, animal eaters aren’t keen to?

I’m referring to the reality of our disjointed and disharmonious relationship with nature—an intuition that we have lost the paradise that once belonged to Adam and Eve. Perhaps this sentiment is best communicated in lyrical form rather than my blabbering. Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote the following, called In Memoriam A.H.H., as a lament for the death of a friend:

Man, [nature’s] last work, who seem'd so fair,
Such splendid purpose in [God’s] eyes,
Who roll'd the psalm to wintry skies,
Who built him fanes of fruitless prayer, 
Who trusted God was love indeed
And love Creation's final law—
Tho' Nature, red in tooth and claw
With ravine, shriek'd against his creed— 
Who loved, who suffer'd countless ills,
Who battled for the True, the Just,
Be blown about the desert dust,
Or seal'd within the iron hills?

While Tennyson is not dealing with carnivorous habits, bear with me for a moment; I believe the sentiment is the same. The poet here is struggling with the conflict between God and nature. Between the material world and matters of spirit and faith. If God is love, why is nature so cruel? The death of Tennyson’s friend was an unsavory reminder of the brutality of the natural world.

We believe, deep down, love is creation’s final law, but nature—i.e. death—shrieks against this belief causing disillusionment and doubt. No matter how much we love or battle for truth and justice, we all will return to the dust from which God created us. Yet we know in our bones that death is not compatible with the way things should be. Both our instincts and Scripture remind us we aren’t in Eden anymore.

You see death was never God’s intention for creation, man or beast. It was the decision by Adam and Eve that ushered in death.[3] After those bites of forbidden fruit, everything changed. They would die. Now they had to eat for survival instead of for mere pleasure.

Animals too.

The world went from one of peaceful paradise to survival of the fittest. Thus emerged the predator-prey system in the animal kingdom. Even the plants grew thorns as a result of the curse. Yet all of creation seems to know by instinct these things are not as they should be. As the apostle Paul wrote:

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 
Romans 8:18-23

In addition to cursing the ground with thorns and thistles, God said Eve would have pain in childbirth as Paul alludes to above. The consequences of Adam’s sin are a constant reminder for all of creation that things are not as they should be. As we groan we perceive that creation has lost something, and we long for the day of restoration.

So what if, for some, their vegetarianism is a manifestation of the instinctual knowledge that things are not as they should be? Consider what Isaiah wrote:

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
    and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat,
and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together;
    and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze;
    their young shall lie down together;
    and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra,
    and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder's den.
They shall not hurt or destroy
    in all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord
    as the waters cover the sea.
Isaiah 11:6-9

Now, some may consider this passage metaphorical, and they may be correct. But literal or not, do you see what the prophet is trying to communicate? Because of the corruption brought on by sin, violence abounds. But when the Messiah restores justice and defeats darkness once and for all, pain and destruction will be replaced with peace. Rather than eating cattle, the lion will eat straw beside them.

Death, whether by fork or by natural causes, is the antithesis of the reality Jesus offers all of humanity. As he said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6, emphasis mine).

The TL;DR: I Don’t Get Vegetarians, but Maybe They’re More in Tune with the Fall Than I Am

In years past I have been tempted to write off human herbivores as kooks or worse: morally deficient personalities because of their dietary decisions. But upon a further examination of Scripture and thinking through some of these matters, I can understand a little better the perspective behind the lifestyle.

Don’t get me wrong, plenty of vegetarians are downright insane because they use their diet as a moral platform from which they choose to judge and convict those who don’t adhere to their beliefs. This is, quite frankly, wrong. For those who consider the Scriptures authoritative, passages like Genesis 9:3, Exodus 12, Exodus 16 in which God provides quail to the Israelites, Romans 14:2, and Mark 7:19 make it pretty clear that God is not opposed to our eating of meat. And again, in the case of Israel, absolute vegetarianism is not an option since the Torah mandates eating of the paschal lamb. Jesus also ate animals like the lamb at Passover and also fish after the resurrection in Luke 24.

On the other hand, although omnivores stand on strong scriptural footing, it is also undeniable that the world as it stands is not as God intended. With sin came death, including the death of animals. Maybe vegetarians are simply romantics pining for Eden and attempting to usher it in by their palettes. Or maybe they just find meat disgusting.

Whatever the case may be, I think both meat-eaters and herbivores can agree on one thing: we all look forward to the day when the wolf and lamb will graze together, when Jesus sets everything right.

In the meantime, the best way to stay connected to God is through daily quiet time with him. But if you're anything like me, you've struggled to maintain consistency in reading the Bible and in prayer.

No more.

In 2012 I got serious about spending time with God, and ever since I can count on one hand the number of times I've missed more than one day of quiet time.

I don't say this to brag, but rather to encourage you. If I can do it, you can too.


I've put together a short guide called How to Establish a Habit of Daily Quiet Time with God that will show you the exact steps I used to initiate a habit of reading my Bible and to maintain that habit all of these years.

If you're interested, simply enter your email address below and it's yours. You'll also be signed up for my monthly newsletter, but once you grab your guide you can unsubscribe at any time. No hard feelings! (Unless you're my mother. That might sting a little, Mom.)

So go ahead, grab your copy now:

Now, if you'll excuse me, I think I'll go get something to eat. For some reason, I'm really craving a cheeseburger.

1. Gray, Kevin. "Tony Gonzalez's Plant-Based Diet." Men's Journal. Last modified March 4, 2013.
2. Tennyson, Alfred. "In Memoriam A.H.H." The Literature Network. Emphasis mine.
3. Yes, being all-knowing, God knew this would happen but in spite of the resultant pain and suffering, He considered it worth it to be able to share his love with beings created in His image. He knew that the end result would be better than never having created humans in the first place.

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