“Then God said, ‘Behold, I have given you every seed-bearing plant on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit contains seed. They will be yours for food.’ – Genesis 1:29
Today’s question is about veganism and religion—specifically, Catholicism. A lot of people probably don’t immediately think of Catholics as a group that is highly likely to go vegan. But you might be surprised how much the two actually mesh.
So, can you be Catholic and vegan? Yes, you can be Catholic and vegan. There is nothing incompatible between Catholicism and veganism. Furthermore, Catholic vegans often feel that being vegan is an embodiment of their Catholic moral values of mercy, compassion, and caring for God’s creation.
Below I’ll share a bunch of ways to look at this issue, sharing quotes from Catholic vegans and from the Bible itself. I’ll also cover some of the opposing viewpoints, from Catholics against veganism!
Why Catholicism and Veganism Are Perfectly Compatible
If you’re looking for specific references to animals and meat in scripture, well, I’ve included some of that below. But let’s start this discussion with a more basic look at Catholicism and veganism.
One of the simplest observations you can make about Catholic morality is that it’s about protecting the weak and down-trodden, being merciful, loving, and compassionate. And animals on today’s farms are most definitely in need of that compassion and protection.
Catholic vegans tend to view themselves as stewards of the animals God put here on Earth with us. We should be loving, compassionate stewards. Since eating meat isn’t needed for health today, some feel that it’s more merciful to stop killing animals for it.
Many Catholics also passionately believe in protecting the sanctity of life. This is also one way to look at veganism, too, as I touched on in my post on vegans and abortion.
Explaining why veganism must be pleasing to God, catholic vegan T. Smith put it this way:
“The Bible shows us that living a cruelty-free life was part of God’s original, peaceful plan in the Garden of Eden where man ate plants and lived in harmony with his animal companions. The 5th Commandment clearly forbids the taking of another’s life, the Beatitudes boldly proclaim, ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy,’ and Jesus expressly told his followers, ‘Love one another as God has loved you.'” (source)
Hear It From a Passionate Catholic Vegan
In the above video, a YouTuber named Emily explains why she is vegan, as a Catholic. Says she would not be vegan if she wasn’t catholic. She also says being vegan has deepened her relationship with Christ.
Watching this video was one of my jumping-off points while writing this article, so I wanted to give some credit upfront and the option to watch a video if that’s your preference! Emily has great energy and makes good points.
Treating Your Body Like a Temple
God gave us bodies that are amazing, and a common-sense Catholic belief is that we should take care of them, treating your body like a temple.
Going vegan means no longer treating your body like a graveyard.
Put living foods like fresh fruits and vegetables in your body. Put in wholesome whole grains and nuts and seeds. Not the flesh of an animal who suffered a sad life in a factory farm.
Aside from the sad life lived by today’s farm animals, there’s also the actual nutritional science behind why meat is not healthy for us in significant quantities. It’s not a great ingredient to add to your body if you want to treat it like a temple.
Animal Agriculture Is Destroying God’s Creation (the Environment)
Animal agriculture is very inefficient—it uses a ton of resources. Rainforests are being clear-cut to make room for more soybean farming just to feed livestock. Catholics should be concerned about this!
“Care for God’s creation” is one of the 7 themes of Catholic social teaching. It’s about stewardship of this planet and all the amazing life God created here. We must take care of it.
“Humans are commanded to care for God’s creation.” – Genesis 2:15
All the animals were originally on this planet doing what God created them to do. They would run around, play with each other, defend their territory, or whatever it may be. But that has been horribly twisted.
Life for animals on factory farms is so sad—and so unnatural. These animals have no joy. Their families get separated. They have to live in disgusting filth. They’re just used for profit until they’re old enough to be killed.
Animal Ag: Spreading Misinformation That Kills
Beyond the production side of things, there’s also destruction happening in our society from the influence of meat, dairy, and egg lobbyists. This is part of why we have an obesity epidemic.
Nutritional recommendations for our country’s schools, families, and children have been swayed by lobbyists and pressure from industry.
Why is the best nutritional science not getting out and saving lives? It’s because these industries profit from selling unhealthy food. This has millions of victims when it all plays out in our global dietary patterns.
“The land itself must be given a rest and not abused.” – Leviticus 25:1-7.
Bottom line: Being Catholic means doing your best to make responsible choices against these industries you know are messed up. It’s about stewardship of God’s creation—and taking care of our human family, too.
Human Workers Are Exploited on Factory Farms, Too
Even if you care more about your fellow human family than about animals, there are still good reasons to object to modern factory farming.
As documented by the Food Empowerment Project, workers on factory farms are often abused and exploited in many ways. They are underpaid and work in dangerous, filthy settings. Often enough, they are immigrants who can’t speak up against the abuse, for fear of deportation.
This was actually depicted in Richard Linklater’s popular film Fast Food Nation, too.
Here’s another source on the physical and psychological traumas commonly experienced by workers at modern slaughterhouses.
It’s an issue that often doesn’t get enough focus in vegan advocacy, but factory farming is horrible for human workers as well as the animals.
Did God Create Animals “For Our Use”?
Even if you believe God created animals “for our use,” most would agree that He didn’t create them for us to exploit or abuse however we please.
In John 10:11, Jesus said, “I am a good shepherd, and a good shepherd lays his life down for his sheep.” Dominion isn’t domination. Stewardship means taking care of animals.
Most Catholics would agree that they’re opposed to cruel practices on animal farms, but it’s another step to actually start aligning your life with that belief.
Maybe some Catholics will decide that “humane beef” or “cage-free” eggs are more in line with their beliefs. But others (like vegans) may feel that “humane slaughter” is an oxymoron.
Many “cage-free” or “free-range” farms end up being just as cruel in other ways. The chickens may be crammed with thousands of other birds in bigger sheds, defecating on each other and pecking each other from stress. (source)
So it can be very hard to separate “use” from “exploitation” in today’s animal agriculture. The forces of capitalism are always trying to cut costs and maximize productivity. The rights and well-being of the animals tend to get lost in the mix.
Whatever you believe about animals being here “for our use,” can you take a close, honest look at the way your food is produced and feel good about it?
Christ’s Sacrifice Ended the Need for Animal Sacrifice
Before Christ, animals were sacrificed to atone for original sin. But we don’t need to sacrifice any more animals because Christ already made the sacrifice for all.
This was a point Emily touched on in the video I embedded above. For those who want more discussion of this point, she cites Brant Pitre’s Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist (Amazon link).
Do Vegans Think Humans and Nonhuman Animals Are Equal?
Most Catholics believe that humans are above nonhuman animals in a sense: We have souls, they don’t. We were made in God’s image with free will, they weren’t. (Some Catholics may disagree with these points, but I understand them to be the common view.)
So, is this Catholic view compatible with veganism? Yes, I’d argue that it is. Being vegan only requires that you choose to act with compassion for other animals. It doesn’t require putting them fully on the same level as us.
When vegans talk about “speciesism,” we’re usually just pointing out that other animals’ suffering should be taken seriously. That is, no individual’s suffering should be ignored just because of their species.
Being opposed to speciesism doesn’t necessarily mean you think humans and other animals are equal in every way.
It also doesn’t necessarily require to you value human and nonhuman life equally. It just requires compassion and backing that up with your diet and lifestyle. It’s definitely compatible with a Catholic view of humans and other animals.
Was It God’s Original Plan for Humans to Be Vegan?
Most people would agree that the Bible allows for us to eat meat, but it does not dictate that we eat it. Most agree that the Bible does not consistently argue for or against a plant-based diet.
But there are some who disagree with this. Some people believe that the Bible actually suggests that we should be vegetarian or vegan
Arguably, Genesis describes God creating a vegan world initially. Here is the often-quoted passage from chapter 1, verses 29-30:
“God said, ‘See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.’ And it was so. “
Now, notice that God here seems to prescribe a plant-based diet not just for humans but for all land-based animals. Does this mean God intended the world to be vegan?
Well, that’s a matter of debate.
Passages in Scripture Against Vegetarianism?
Clearly, there are moments in scripture where God seems to give permission to eat meat. Here’s just one example from Deuteronomy:
“When the LORD your God enlarges your territory, as he has promised you, and you say, ‘I will eat flesh,’ because you crave flesh, you may eat as much flesh as you desire.” – Deuteronomy 12:20
Below, Bible Answer Man points out that Jesus ate fish even after his reincarnation. Therefore, he emphasizes, there is no prohibition against meat in the Bible.
He also quotes from Genesis 9:3-4, when God was speaking to Noah after the flood. God here gives Noah permission to eat meat:
“Everything that lives and moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.”
These are common lines quotes by those arguing against Christian ethical vegetarianism. But there are often good rebuttals.
In the case of Genesis 9:3-4, some argue that God was only giving temporary permission to eat meat, based on specific circumstances. Let’s look at a couple of other examples.
In Leviticus 11, God spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying “From among all the land animals, these are the creatures that you may eat…” Then he lists off different animals.
In that same passage, God also gives permission to eat fish: “Everything in the waters that has fins and scales, whether in the seas or in the streams—such you may eat.”
So again, God at least seems okay with humans eating meat and fish in these specific instances. But that’s not to say we should eat it or God wants us to.
Another tricky passage is in Mark 7:14-15 when Jesus says, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.”
This seems to suggest that there are no sinful foods. As Mark writes, Jesus “declared all foods clean.” But as you might expect, there are lots of debates about the true meaning of this passage, too.
Jesus’s main point in saying this seems to have been to emphasize that you shouldn’t just follow religious rules. It’s more about what’s in your heart. Jesus said, “it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come.”
So interpreting this passage seems to come down to asking what counts as evil intentions. Is it an “evil intention” to eat meat when you know that animal was mistreated on factory farms? Some think so, others not.
More Scripture on Veganism and Animals
The video below dives into many more Biblical quotes about animals, meat, and what humans should eat. Again, there is plenty of debate over how these quotes should be interpreted.
If looking at specific moments in scripture is of particular interest to you, be sure to check out the Wikipedia page for “Christian Vegetarianism,” too. There are a ton more citations of scripture there, with details on how they’re commonly read.
Overall, it’s no surprise that there are people who argue passionately on different sides of this issue. But whatever your view, there is nothing in the Bible that mandates eating meat. I haven’t seen anyone argue that yet.
Does Any Religion Mandate Veganism?
“Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce.” – Jeremiah 29:5
Buddhism is more associated with vegetarianism and veganism compared to Christianity. Buddhists practice compassion toward “all sentient beings.” But when it comes down to it, no religion strictly mandates veganism.
That said, no religion mandates eating meat, either.
Even in this debate (below) between a vegan and a devout Catholic (non-vegan), the Catholic clarifies that God wouldn’t be against veganism.
He says God is neutral on veganism, or even that veganism is noble but not an ethical requirement. And this seems to be the most common conclusion reached by Christians: veganism is noble, but not morally required by God.
Can Vegans Take Communion?
Vegans can take communion. Communion wafers are made of wheat and water, no animal products. Even if you take literally the idea that the communion wafer is the body of Christ, it is still given by someone who consented to it, so it does not violate the principles of veganism.
Interesting, funny question—but that’s the simple answer, as far as I’m concerned.
Some wines are technically not vegan due to ingredients like isinglass (fish gelatin), so you could check with your church if you want to be extra safe on that front. Or you can decide it’s okay not to be picky in this case.
One Last Point to End With
In the end, veganism is basically this viewpoint: If there’s no need to harm an animal, then don’t. And nothing in Catholicism, or any other religion, contradicts that.
Even if you see humans as being above other animals and having souls that animals don’t, that doesn’t mean we should unnecessarily harm animals.
In addition, many Catholics find that living a vegan lifestyle affirms their Catholic values of compassion, love, justice, and caring for God’s creation. Veganism is absolutely compatible with Catholicism.
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