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A debate with my inner vegetarian

02 October 2015

IT WAS shocking news for all carnivores that Kerry McCarthy, a vegan, should have been appointed Jeremy Corbyn’s spokesperson on farming. Then we heard that she thought that meat should be treated "like tobacco, with public campaigns to stop people eating it".

This has provoked a conversation with my inner vegetarian, who rarely gets a chance to speak, but niggles away somewhere, supported in the outer world by vegetarian Christian friends and colleagues. I say: "The Bible is full of meat-eating: there are endless examples of goats, sheep, and bulls being sacrificed for meat and consumed, often with strong drink."

She says: "But permission to eat meat was given by God only as a concession after the Fall. The mandate of creation (and therefore re-creation) permits only a vegetarian diet, and in the peaceful Kingdom, even the animals become vegetarian (‘The lion will eat straw like the ox’ — Isaiah 65.25)."

"But we are not in the Kingdom yet! In the wilderness, God sent a storm of quails to satisfy people’s craving for meat."

"Yes, and it made them very sick (Numbers 11.33)."

"But that was because they lacked faith, not because God was anti-meat."

She says: "When Daniel chose to live only on vegetables, he was healthier than anyone else."

Having failed the Old Testament argument, I go on to the New: "Jesus must have had lamb at Passover meals."

"It never says he actually did."

"Well, he ate fish."

She says: "We can’t be sure that he did. At the loaves-and-fishes meals, the food was given out, but we don’t know that he had any."

I reply: "But in St Luke’s Gospel, Jesus asks for a piece of grilled fish, and eats it in front of the disciples."

"A mere concession to their lack of faith."

Somehow, I feel I have not done well in this argument, but I am not yet convinced by my biblically minded inner vegetarian. I am with G. K. Chesterton in saying that Christianity is a full-blooded faith; wine and festival cry out for meat.

Then there is the whole sacramental principle: everything in this universe feeds on everything else. It is not very exalted, but I like the implicit theology of "On Ilkley Moor baht ’at": "Then we shall have to bury thee . . . then worms shall come and eat thee oop, then ducks’ll come an’ eat oop worms . . . then we shall go an eat oop ducks." The cycle of creation goes on, and we are part of it.

And if that argument fails, then at least we don’t have to be vegan. The Promised Land flows with milk and honey, and the Messiah has curds with his (Isaiah 7.15).

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