I already think eating is an ethical issue. The Apostle Paul recommended we give glory to God, whether we eat or drink (1 Cor. 10:31). His concern was food offered to gods/idols and then sold in the markets. Paul's context is not our context, unless we (very seriously) think of how the foods we purchase in the market come from the feet of such gods as Mammon, Capitalism, Convenience, and Oil, among others.
For now, I want to take Paul out of that context, which should not be the sin some might think it is. Paul's words, like most people's, say more than he realized.
"Whether you eat or drink, do all to the glory of God." With the help of Michael Pollan (and my ecosteward internship this summer), I am recurrently considering whether my eating and drinking can glorify God. Paul might allow you to eat meat sacrificed to idols, but what does God say about eating meat produced in a way that degrades the earth, whose fullness belongs to God, whose fullness humans are commanded to care for (1 Cor. 10:26; Ps. 24:1; Gen. 2:15)?
I wish meat was the end of the story and the end of Pollan's book. I can give up meat. Being a vegetarian doesn't serve Convenience, but it is doable. Unfortunately, being a vegetarian doesn't proscribe serving Mammon, Capitalism, and Oil. The human omnivore lives a dilemma at the smorgasbord before which the affluent of us choose and plan our meals.
If meat were the problem, I would go vegetarian. If chemicals were the problem, I would go organic. If globalization were the problem, I would go local. If slave labor and unfair prices were the problem, I would go fair trade. Well, scratch that last one. OK, scratch the last three. Vegetarianism is easy. Going completely local, completely organic, and completely fair trade are a lot harder and, in some cases, unhealthy (trying to lose weight, gain muscle, and eat ethically are proving increasingly hard in combination)--and perhaps even impossible.
Not everyone has access to local foods. Others have limited access. How often is local food organic? How often is organic food local? Besides, Pollan has removed my blinders: organic doesn't mean better. Or, maybe it means better, but not good, not quite ethical.
Reflecting on his visit to the place young cows go to become steak and hamburger, Pollan says:
Hungry was the last thing I felt. Yet I'm sure that after enough time goes by, and the stink of this place is gone from my nostrils, I will eat feedlot beef again. Eating industrial meat takes an almost heroic act of not knowing or, now, forgetting (84).
Forgetting and forgiving aren't always connected, but when reading Pollan's words I thought about forgiveness. Can I forgive or forget about those who make it nearly impossible for me eat godly? Should I forgive those lost in the intricate webs of capitalism, petrochemicals, herbicides, pesticides, pollution, convenience, and consumerism or should I try to forgive those who left these problems as our inheritance? Can I be mad at the God who allows these problems to ferment into unavoidable realities, the God who does not keep me from temptation, despite my prayers? If I can, can I forgive that God?
I'm not always sure if my eating and drinking practices glorify God, but they sure put me in conversation with God a lot. Maybe the conversation, or, perhaps, the struggle is better, anyways.