‘We are going to be eating the rainforest in our burgers,” said a scientist named Holly Gibbs. “This is our moment as Americans to step forward and leverage some pressure to save the world.”
According to The Washington Post, forest advocates are convinced that deforestation in the Amazon is something that we can influence through our food choices. They argue that “smarter choices at the dinner table would go a long way toward safeguarding the world’s largest rainforest.” The world’s appetite for cheap meat — with demand coming from the United States, Europe, and China — “is responsible for the clearing of millions of acres of tropical forest a year.”
We are eating the rainforest in our hamburgers.
To preserve the Amazon and other tracts of valuable land, we should shift toward a plant-based diet. My fellow pastor David Williams has written a book called Our Angry Eden: Faith & Hope on a Hotter, Harsher Planet. In this book, he says that the words of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke are the “moral core” of the Christian faith. “A good measure … will be put in your lap,” says Jesus; “for the measure you give will be the measure you get” (6:38).
For David, these words are a reminder that we “are connected to all things, and our every action will be returned to us.” In terms of our management of God’s resources, we should eat far less meat, because the eating of meat is hard on the planet. The measure we give will be the measure we get. “I don’t eat meat,” writes David, “because to do so is to place greater demands on our planet than can be sustained.”
While I’m not a vegetarian, I am trying to eat a more plant-based diet. And I’m doing this not just for my health, but because I believe it is a faithful way to manage God’s resources. Substituting vegetarian ingredients for meat is an environmentally-friendly choice to make, because it means that you are eating lower on the food chain. The growing of fruits and vegetables is also gentler on the environment, since the meat industry discharges waste into the water and soil, and emits high levels of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere.
Small steps lead to big results
In my novel Windows of the Heavens, a Methodist pastor named Harley Camden had a hard time believing that his ministry had any room for environmental issues. One night, a Jewish friend named Leah Silverman met him for dinner.
“I don’t know if I told you,” said Leah, “but I’ve been attending meetings of the Creation Care Council.”
“What’s that?” asked Harley.
“It’s an interfaith environmental group: Jews, Christians, Muslims . . . a few Hindus and Buddhists, as well. They are working on issues such as recycling, energy efficiency, solar panels, community gardens. I went to a meeting to recruit for the river clean-up and got hooked.”
“Doesn’t sound very spiritual,” said Harley.
“Well, that depends,” Leah said. “You read the same Book of Genesis that I do. It says to ‘have dominion’ over the earth.” She had been a religion major at Duke, so she knew her Bible. “What does that mean to you?”
“Control, I guess. Mastery.”
“Yes, but also responsibility,” she said. “Good stewardship. For years, ‘have dominion’ was understood as endorsement of environmental exploitation. But now, most people of faith support efforts to be good stewards of natural resources.”
To Harley, Leah had always been a sexy nerd, and he loved to watch her get worked up about a topic. But tonight, he wasn’t being charmed by her passion. “Well, you studied a lot of Bible in college,” he admitted. “I guess you’re right.”
“Darn right I’m right,” she said, emphatically. “A survey just revealed widespread support for stricter environmental laws among religious people. We Jews were at the top—yay!— followed by Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, and mainline Protestants like you.”
“Well, good for you,” said Harley, raising his beer mug in a toast.
“Know who was at the bottom?” Leah asked.
“Satanists?” said Harley, sarcastically.
“No, evangelical Christians,” said Leah. “But even some of them are getting on board. After all, conservatives should be conservers, right?”
“At our last meeting, I heard about the pastor of a 27,000-member Baptist church in Texas. How big is your church, Harley?”
“A little bit smaller,” he admitted, doing a quick calculation in his head. “One hundred times smaller.”
“Anyway, this pastor has come to believe that Christians should not abuse the earth. He recently led them through an energy audit that resulted in savings of one million dollars in one year.”
Small steps lead to big results. Whether you are eating a hamburger or changing a light bulb.