Ethical eating

As Adventists, we have an acute awareness of the God’s principles for ideal health (Genesis 1:29; 3:18), and we believe that, as we draw closer to our redemption, God seeks to more fully restore His image within His people, and His final call to reform is for all areas of life, including diet. 

Sometimes, however, we find ourselves (and others) thinking at least one of two things: “What I eat is not a moral issue; it is nobody's business but my own”, and/or “Diet is not a salvational issue”. As I have considered these two claims from time to time, I have come to the conclusion that both are false. Before consigning me with the unrighteous to the lake of fire, allow me to explain.

Any question of morality only makes sense within a relational context. Therefore, to identify food as a potentially moral issue, we need only determine if it bears a positive or a negative sway in our relational spheres. Christians ought to recognise the fact that relationship has two dimensions: The horizontal, or earthly, and the vertical, or heavenly. Even if it were true that our dietary choices had no bearing on the earthly, the divine element would still need to be addressed. We are compelled to admit that dietary choices have a direct influence on our quality of life, which ultimately belongs to God (1 Corinthians 6:19). We were not only created in His image (Genesis 1:26, 27), but we were bought at an unimaginable price (1 Corinthians 6:20; 1 Peter 1:18, 19). Our very breath is in His hand (Daniel 5:23), and our lives are continuously being upheld by the word of His power (Hebrews 1:3). These texts assure us that we have been given essential worth and value. Therefore, is it not imprudent for us to wilfully mar the image in which we were created, to systematically break down that which God's power works to uphold, and to destroy the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16), for whom Christ shed His blood to redeem? Are we fully surrendered to God when we deliberately imperil His gift of life? If our mission and our message are to give glory to God (Revelation 14:7), are we not delivering a deficient Christian witness by endeavouring to glorify Him in spirit, but not in body? 


Our ability to care for and protect family and friends suffers to the same degree that our health suffers. The outward expression of affection is only as strong as the physical ability of the lover to express it. Think of it: A person in good health is better able to attend to the wants and needs of loved ones. Secondly, if we suffer ill health we cannot fulfill our mission to go to all the world and proclaim the glad tidings (Matthew 28:18-20). How can we answer God’s call to minister to the souls of the needy? Why create needless hurdles and difficulties for ourselves?

John Donne famously said that no man is an island. When you choose a bad lifestyle and as a result suffer poor health you not only wreck your own life, but you actually burden those who love you, and perhaps even those who depend on you. Moreover, if the disease is severe, undue and unnecessary distress (emotional and spiritual) is imposed upon family and friends. 

Perhaps we do not appreciate the gravity of the fact that our dietary choices may actually add to the problem of suffering in the world; not only our own, but others' as well. One would think that the portion of hurt doled out to us in life as a result of circumstances beyond our control is sufficiently unsavoury to our sensibilities that we would not see fit to actually go about creating our own share of misery. It is proper for us to take cognisance that whenever we decide to gratify our own desires (appetites, or otherwise) without regard for potential consequences to those around us, we are indulging a spirit of selfishness.

What of our children? Here is a sobering thought. The reality is that our lifestyle choices have a profound effect on our children on a genetic level. It is not the purpose of this article to go into the scientific detail (neither does the author think he is qualified), but the reader is challenged to look into what is called 'Epigenetics'. The bad news is that what we choose to put down our mouths will have an effect on our children. The good news is that our kids do not necessarily have to be utterly hopeless prisoners to our propensities. The short of it is this: You are what you eat, but you are also what your parents ate, and by parity, your children are what you choose to eat. This aside, bear in mind that we raise our children according to our own habits and customs, and thus they become unwilling heirs of our misguided ideas, and, consequently, inherit the effects of our lifestyle decisions. 

They experience reduced quality of life due to no conscious effort, nor due to any fault of their own. It is an injustice that we would inflict needless affliction on future generations only because we are unwilling to part from cherished, harmful practices. As you can imagine, this process is passed on multiple generations, and so the travesty only increases in magnitude the longer it is allowed to go on unhindered.

Now, stop to think that if it is true that we are what we eat, even to the genetic level, then it follows that what we eat must necessarily have an effect on our brain. We cannot indiscriminately consume whatever our eyes see and our hands can lay hold of without paying the price. Food will influence our moods and our judgement as surely as day follows night. If this were not true, oral medication would have been a complete waste of time and money for pharmaceutical companies. These drugs find entrance into the body and are assimilated exactly the same way as our meals. It may well be that some of our foolish decisions, which we later regret bitterly, are caused, at least in part, by poor dietary choices.

Lastly, most of us have at least a vague awareness of the cruelty perpetrated against the other creatures of God's domain (Psalm 50:10) for the sake of gratifying our palate, but we rarely give it sufficient thought for this reality to be noticeable in our lives. As Christians, we, above all people, ought to have a surpassing sympathy for creation, for it is motivated by a divine imperative. When we were given the commission to have dominion of the earth, this command was given us within the immediate context of having been created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-28). Therefore, the derivative dominion we exercise over our fellow creations ought to reflect the kind of dominion that characterises God's government. Though we live in a fallen world, this should not be an excuse for failing to at least mitigate animal cruelty as far as possible. 

I hope the preceding content helps to show the bearing that the first question we started with has on the second. Even though diet is not a means of obtaining salvation, it can have an indirect influence on our moral choices, which may prove ourselves disqualified from salvation. It is like being a pilot: Not drinking does not qualify you to be a good pilot, but drinking can cause even a good pilot to crash the plane. While God's love is unconditional, salvation, though free, is not. By stubbornly making bad appetitive choices, we make abidance with those conditions unnecessarily hard at an hour when we can ill afford to forfeit the benefits that have been so gracefully provided us. 

It has been said that we cannot eat our way into heaven, but we can eat our way out. While this aphorism does apply to the main burden that this article endeavours to communicate, I would suggest that it applies equally to the monster of fanaticism. We must at all times strive to be gentle, peaceful, patient, understanding. Let us be sensitive and sensible in dietary reform. The kind of character often associated with fanaticism is precisely the kind that reflects a satanic spirit, rather than a Christ-like one. Both snares (that of hard-heartedness and of fanaticism) do nothing for the cause of God and only dishonours Him in the eyes of the world