In part one of this series, we discussed the distinction between clean and unclean animals, and its health implications. In this piece, we will discuss the biblical principle of avoiding blood, the health advantages of vegetarianism, and veganism.
What About the Blood?
After the Flood, God gave mankind permission to eat meat. But He was very clear that, “you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it.” (Gen. 9:4) This command was repeated by Moses to the Israelites, and it is just as important as the rules on clean and unclean animals. (See, Lev. 3:17; 7:26-27; 17:10; 19:26; Deut. 12:16, 23; 15:23; 1 Sam. 14:32-34) The Jerusalem Council, which was called to rule on the extent to which gentile converts needed to follow Jewish customs, particularly circumcision, said nothing about the clean/unclean distinction but did direct that gentile converts should avoid eating blood. (Acts 15:20, 29; 21:25) Given the health benefits of avoiding unclean meats, we should expect that there will be similar health benefits from scrupulously avoiding the consumption of blood.
All modern slaughtering and meat packing techniques include draining the blood, but the meat is never completely drained. The blood vessels, especially the smaller vessels such as the capillaries, still contain blood. Koshering is the process of removing as much of the blood as possible. The koshering process, known as melichah (“salting”), involves the following steps: (1) washing or rinsing off the meat; (2) soaking it in water for at least a half hour (but meat soaked for 24 hours or more becomes non-kosher); (3) salting it with a large-grained, coarse salt (sold as “kosher salt”) that draws out the blood—the salted meat is to remain on the board or rack for at least an hour (but meat salted for 12 hours or more is non-kosher); and (4) triple rinsing of the meat to remove the salt and the residual blood drawn to the surface. The koshering process will reduce or eliminate dangerous microbial contaminants, like salmonella. Removing the residual blood in the cuts of meat will reduce the risk of transferring blood-borne bacteria and viruses, and hence blood-borne disease, to someone who is preparing or eating the meat.
Often, blood is added back into processed meats, soups and gravies. Even vegetable soup has ingredients like beef and chicken stock that may contain blood. “Meat glue,” which is included in some vegetarian products and meat substitutes, is made of blood proteins that play a role in coagulation. Of the two brands of meat glue, “Activa” is produced by fermenting a bacterium that has been genetically engineered to produced the enzyme transglutaminase, but the other brand, “Fibrimex,” is made of the enzyme fibrin that has been extracted from pig blood or beef blood. (Some venders use meat glue to join multiple cuts of meat into a fake “steak” that appears to be a single cut of meat; this creates a health risk, because a steak cooked rare is still cooked well enough to kill surface bacteria, but not if surfaces are glued together in the interior of a fake “steak.”) We should read labels carefully, with the goal of avoiding all animal blood.
Is Meat the Best Food?
It was not in God's original plan for mankind to eat meat. At the creation, man was given the fruits and seed-bearing plants to eat. (Gen. 1:29-30) After the Fall, man was given permission to eat all “plants of the field,” not just seed-bearing plants. (Gen. 3:18) Only after the Flood was man was given permission to eat flesh food. (Gen. 9:3-4) God created us to consume the Edenic diet; meat-eating was never the ideal, but was introduced after the Flood as a temporary concession to radically changed conditions:
God gave our first parents the food He designed that the race should eat. It was contrary to His plan to have the life of any creature taken. There was to be no death in Eden. The fruit of the trees in the garden was the food man’s wants required. God gave man no permission to eat animal food until after the flood. Everything had been destroyed upon which man could subsist, and therefore the Lord in their necessity gave Noah permission to eat of the clean animals which he had taken with him into the ark. But animal food was not the most healthful article of food for man. Spiritual Gifts, v. 4, p. 120-121, 1864
Moreover, Ellen White tells us that a meat diet was one method by which God intentionally shortened lifespans after the Flood: “He permitted that long-lived race to eat animal food to shorten their sinful lives. Soon after the flood the race began to rapidly decrease in size, and in length of years.” ibid. But since our lifespans have dropped from 700 – 900 years (see, Gen. 5; 11:10-26) down to about 70 - 90 years (assuming good health), I would suggest that we no longer need to reduce our lifespans, and had better stop eating meat. The best and most recent scientific research has shown that a vegetarian diet is much healthier than eating meat.
Heath Benefits of a Vegetarian Diet
Beginning in the early 1980s and continuing through the late 1990s, studies found that a vegetarian diet is far healthier than a diet that includes meat. This conclusion is backed by redundant, measurable statistical results, and has included such organizations as the British Medical Association (BMA), The China Study, The World Health Organization (WHO), the Oxford Study, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), and the American Dietetic Association. The basic finding is that eliminating meat reduces the chances of contracting many types of chronic diseases and some types of cancer. Meat eating is associated with an increase of total mortality, cancer mortality, and cardiovascular disease mortality. Vegetarians are 50% less likely to develop heart disease, and they have 40% of the cancer rate of meat-eaters.
Research has found that vegetarians have lower rates of a number of health problems, including overweight and obesity, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, cancer, gallstones, kidney stones, constipation, and diverticulitis. Although vegetarians generally have a lower body mass index (BMI) and tend to be more health conscious than non-vegetarians, health outcomes remain better for the vegetarian even when compared with meat eaters of the same BMI. These benefits flow from avoiding harmful dietary components such as saturated fat, cholesterol, animal protein, red meat, and heme iron, and an increased consumption of beneficial items such as fruit, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts, which are rich in dietary fiber, antioxidants, and phytochemicals.
Numerous long-term, large-scale studies have shown increased longevity among vegetarians as compared to meat eaters; some of these have involved Seventh-day Adventists, and have been conducted by Adventists researchers affiliated with Loma Linda University. They have found that Adventists have 50% less risk of heart disease, certain types of cancers, strokes, and diabetes. Vegetarian men under 40 years of age can expect to live more than eight years longer than the general population, and women more than seven years longer. Interestingly, Adventist vegetarian men live more than three years longer than Adventist men who eat meat.
A 2009 article published by the Harvard Medical School stated:
Traditionally, research into vegetarianism focused mainly on potential nutritional deficiencies, but in recent years, the pendulum has swung the other way, and studies are confirming the health benefits of meat-free eating. Nowadays, plant-based eating is recognized as not only nutritionally sufficient but also as a way to reduce the risk for many chronic illnesses.”
The debate is over. Most qualified experts now admit that a well balanced vegetarian diet is more healthy than eating meat. Ellen White's urgent counsel of vegetarianism has been vindicated by modern scientific research.
Spare a Thought for the Animals
Many have an idyllic picture of cattle happily grazing in a spacious green pasture. This sometimes will be their life for the first year or so—disregarding the painful ordeals of branding and castration—but not their final months, when the cattle are trucked to a feedlot to be fattened and readied for slaughter. There, they are crammed by the thousands into dusty holding pens, required to stand in their own manure, urine and mud, routinely injected or fed growth hormones, and fed unnaturally rich diets designed to fatten them quickly. Since cattle were created to eat a high-fiber grass diet, their concentrated feedlot rations cause metabolic disorders. Because it is difficult to keep cattle healthy under such atrocious conditions, they are shot full of antibiotics.
A typical slaughterhouse kills 250 cattle an hour, some as many as 400 per hour. The high speed of this dis-assembly line means that it is impossible to treat the animals humanely. United States law requires that cattle be rendered unconscious by “stunning” prior to being hung up by their hind legs and slaughtered. A worker with a hand held pneumatic tool drives a metal bolt about the size of a thick pencil into and out of the skulls of the cattle. The need to process four to seven cows per minute means that not all are properly stunned, resulting in conscious animals being hung upside down, kicking and struggling, while a worker slices their throats.
Chickens are also victims of the inhumanity of factory farming. Of the seven billion chickens raised and killed for meat every year in the U.S., 99% are factory farmed, and spend their entire lives packed together in filthy sheds with tens of thousands of other birds. They are bred, fed, and drugged to grow so large so quickly that their legs and organs cannot keep up, making for heart attacks, organ failure, and leg deformities; some become crippled under their own weight and die because they can’t reach the water nozzles.
When the chickens are seven weeks old, they are trucked to the slaughterhouse, where their legs are forced into shackles, their throats are cut, and they are immersed in tanks of scalding-hot water to remove their feathers. Chickens are not required to be stunned and are still conscious when their throats are cut; many miss the throat cutter, and are scalded to death in the feather-removal tanks. Because male chicks of breeder hens cannot lay eggs and are not of the breed that is fattened for meat, they are killed as chicks; every year, more than 100 million are ground up alive (macerated) or tossed into bags to suffocate.
Exodus 23:4-5 states that “if you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help them with it.” Proverbs 12:10 states that “the righteous care for the needs of their animals,” and Christ observed of the Jews, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out?” (Mat. 12:11) and “Doesn't each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water?” (Luke 13:15).
Clearly, Christians are stewards of God's creation, with a duty of kindness and humanity toward the animals over which He has granted us dominion (Gen. 1:27-28).
Ellen White was concerned not only with the health effects of eating meat, but also with the cruel treatment of the animals, and the brutalizing effect on the men who slaughter them:
Think of the cruelty to animals that meat eating involves, and its effect on those who inflict and those who behold it. How it destroys the tenderness with which we should regard these creatures of God!
The intelligence displayed by many dumb animals approaches so closely to human intelligence that it is a mystery. The animals see and hear and love and fear and suffer.. . . They manifest sympathy and tenderness toward their companions in suffering. Many animals show an affection for those who have charge of them, far superior to the affection shown by some of the human race. They form attachments for man which are not broken without great suffering to them.
What man with a human heart, who has ever cared for domestic animals, could look into their eyes, so full of confidence and affection, and willingly give them over to the butcher’s knife? How could he devour their flesh as a sweet morsel?” (Pacific Health Journal, September 1, 1905)
A diet that causes suffering to animals does not please God, nor glorify him, but rather glorifies the god of appetite.
I have not even mentioned the negative environmental impact of intensive factory farming, but I urge you to research that on your own. (If you are concerned about man-made global warming, note that livestock are responsible for eighteen percent (18%) of greenhouse gases—more than automobiles, airplanes, and all other forms of transportation combined.) Christians who would live and eat to glorify God must be concerned about inhumane, unsanitary, and environmentally degrading food production practices.
The Vegan Diet—the Ultimate in Health and Stewardship
The next step in health reform is veganism. Perhaps the surest way to stay trim and fit is to give up not only flesh foods, but all animal products, including eggs and dairy: Meat-eaters are nine times more likely to be obese than vegans. The cholesterol and fat in eggs and dairy foods is unhealthy, and unhelpful in the constant struggle most of face to maintain a reasonable height-weight ratio. Ellen White stated:
The diet reform should be progressive. As disease in animals increases, the use of milk and eggs will become more and more unsafe. An effort should be made to supply their place with other things that are healthful and inexpensive. The people everywhere should be taught how to cook without milk and eggs, so far as possible, and yet have their food wholesome and palatable.” Ministry of Healing, p. 321 1905
Let the people be taught how to prepare food without the use of milk or butter. Tell them that the time will soon come when there will be no safety in using eggs, milk, cream, or butter, because disease in animals is increasing in proportion to the increase of wickedness among men. The time is near when, because of the iniquity of the fallen race, the whole animal creation will groan under the diseases that curse our earth. God will give His people ability and tact to prepare wholesome food without these things. Let our people discard all unwholesome recipes.” Testimonies, v. 7, p. 135 1902
Although it has been a century since these words were written, many Adventists who long since embraced vegetarianism are no closer to dispensing with eggs and dairy. Cheese and ice cream have become Adventist indulgences that need to be re-examined. Because many of the humanitarian and environmental degradation issues attached to intensive factory farming of meat animals also apply to dairy cows and egg-laying chickens, the vegan diet is not only the healthiest diet, but also the most consistent with kindness to animals and stewardship of the creation.
I do not insist that all animal products be avoided. Hardcore vegans will not eat honey because it is produced by bees, but honey is a healthier alternative to refined cane sugar because it contains anti-oxidants that table sugar lacks. Some vegans do not eat sugar if it is refined by activated charcoal, most of which comes from animal bones. There are good reasons to avoid refined sugar, but this one seems extreme.
“It’s true that we can’t win God’s approval by what we eat” (1 Cor. 8:8), yet “whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” (1 Cor. 10:31) The Christian who wishes to glorify God with his eating and drinking, and best preserve his health, and his mental and moral faculties, will adopt a vegetarian diet. Humane concern for animals and stewardship of the environment also point in this direction. The Adventist Church has strongly promoted vegetarianism, which is as it should be. Our churches should continue to insist that potlucks and church-provided meals be free of meat dishes.
The next hurdle we face is to phase eggs and dairy out of our diets. Some Adventists have already embraced this challenge, others have not. Still others are lax even on vegetarianism, and seek to relax church standards and include meat in potlucks and church-supplied meals. This must be firmly resisted. We need to press forward with the health message, which has served our people so well for so long, and has been a beacon and a witness to the world around us.