We are inescapably consumers. Whatever choices we make and whatever we do, we are continually consuming. This is an obvious fact, perhaps, but its not one we often think about. We consume food everyday but we do so passively and rarely think about where this vital nutrition comes from. When it comes to meat, the amount of energy needed in its production and the volume of greenhouse gases that result1 mean that our choice to consume animals has a significant impact on deforestation, climate change and pollution2. As such, while we’re passively consuming, our choices are having an affect. The Bible is a radical book and Christians are called to live radical lives. Consumerism to an extent is necessary and good but should we as Christians consume passively or is there theological backing for consuming in a conscious and wise way? Do we need to live radically when it comes to the food we eat?
It will come as no surprise for me to say ‘Yes, we do!’. The first reason for this is creation. When God made the world he said that it was ‘ very good’ (Gen 1:31). His earth was over-brimming with bountiful life, he had detailed ecosystems feed into one another, he had pH levels and temperatures just right, he had the planets in balance to provide sunlight and night time and he placed creatures made in his own image to ‘rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’ (Gen 1:26). This exquisite piece of artwork was designed in such a way that it would work perfectly. Yet over time we’ve been messing it up, now species are extinct, animals have lost their habitats, crops fail, and our atmosphere is polluted. A significant cause of this mess is climate change of which our food consumption plays a huge part. As Christians we’re very ready to listen to what God says about how we should interpret scripture, or understand salvation or tell people about the gospel, but we should also be listening to him about how the earth should be working. Our current habits, including the way we eat, are running against God’s plan for his earth. Furthermore, it is our duty as God’s appointed stewards of the world, to care for it. God has given us a position and if we truly love him, we ought to take that seriously.
A second reason for consuming consciously concerns other human beings. When we’re in the supermarket picking up products, we never see the people affected by our choices and its easy to ignore them. Sadly, our consumerism and the consequent climate change are affecting the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people. This last summer I stayed in Uganda and for a few days I visited the north where I spent some time with local farmers. These people who rely totally on agriculture for their livelihood were having trouble planting and growing crops because the seasons have become so unpredictable. Listening to their stories made me see that climate change is a real problem and its having a real affect on people’s lives. And that’s not the half of it, climate change is exacerbating problems of human traffiking3, violence against women4 and displacement5 in the world’s poorest countries. The Bible frequently speaks against those in power who exploit the needy in order to maximise their own comfort (for example, Amos 4:1) and encourages the people of God to use their influence to lift up the weak and oppressed (Isaiah 1:17). Are we in danger of turning a blind eye to the suffering of fellow humans and falling into the mindset of exploiting the poor for the sake of a comfortable lifestyle? Using our influence to support the oppressed in today’s ‘global village’ means waking up to what we consume and the subsequent effects.
The final reason for consuming consciously is our relationship with God. We are a broken people with an attraction to sinning. We are easily seduced by material goods and we love the feeling of belonging that the world gives us when we indulge in its culture and way of life. However, a life with Jesus doesn’t look like this. Jesus tells us that giving our attention to money and worldly goods is detrimental to our relationship with God for we cannot ‘serve both God and money’ (Matt 6:24). Instead we should live lives of simplicity (Matt 19:21). Clearing our minds of the clutter of materialism enables us to engage in deep relationship with God.
It is clear that, due to the influence of our consumerism, there is a huge theological backing for waking up to what we eat on a daily basis. This is not easy at all, it requires sacrifice. Furthermore the question of how we consume ethically is huge. Just cutting out meat is not the complete answer but it is a starting point and certainly better than doing nothing. Doing nothing and consuming passively is simply not a viable option for the Christian. The demand to live for Jesus goes so much deeper. Our role in creation, the command to love others and the necessity of maintaining a healthy relationship with the Father all mean that as Christians we have to wake up to what we consume.
by Esther Platt
1.’Veggie vs Meat.’ Ethical Consumer. Last Modified April 2016. http://www.ethicalconsumer.org/shoppingethically/sustainablefood/veggievsmeat.aspx
- ‘Just Love Guide to Ethical Living’. Just Love. Last Modified February 2017. http://nebula.wsimg.com/064874b64b40933de9e88b1bb825ea16?AccessKeyId=31A3D4A1CE10BC5A786C&disposition=0&alloworigin=1
- Maddie Burnet, ‘Why does Climate Change lead to Human Traffiking?’ Tearfund Lifestyle. Mar 23, 2016. https://lifestyle.tearfund.org/article/why-does-climate-change-lead-to-human-trafficking/
- Josh Parikh, ‘How Climate Change affects Violence Against Women.’ Tearfund Lifestyle. Jan 9, 2017. https://lifestyle.tearfund.org/article/climate-change-affects-violence-women/
- Hannah Douglas, ‘Cityscapes: Why Climate Change is Driving People in Cities.’ Tearfund Lifestyle. Nov, 1, 2016. https://lifestyle.tearfund.org/article/cityscapes-climate-change-driving-people-cities/