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For three years now, I have been meaning to take on the journey of a vegetarian, but coming from a Pacific Island background in which large amounts of meat are cooked at home, this hasn’t been easy. I first considered being a vegetarian when I came across “Meet your Meat”, a video addressing the cruelty in animal slaughterhouses. A friend of mine had posted this video on their Facebook page, accompanied beautifully by some Baha’i writings relevant to the issue. The fact that some of my closest friends are vegetarian further reinforced this idea in my mind. My sister and I have recently taken on a pescatarian diet (which has made it much easier to resist the urge to eat meat) as part of a gradual process towards becoming a vegetarian. That being said, this blog post isn’t an attempt to convince you to become a vegetarian! Rather, it simply intends to create greater awareness about the way animals are treated around the world, and to share what the Baha’i teachings have to say on the matter.
If we observe the world around us, we can see that the beings closest to humans are animals. They eat, sleep, drink, walk, talk (or, at least, communicate), and most importantly they feel. They have feelings of sadness, loneliness, frustration and hurt – both physical and mental.
People also keep pets to bring comfort and love to their households, to provide companionship and to bring laughter to adults and children. Animals also bring other types of happiness and comfort in many other forms.
Unfortunately, mankind’s indulgence in animal products comes at the expense of the welfare of animals. Global meat consumption today is far higher than it ever was and the huge demand for meat and the pressure that has placed on the mean industry has resulted in a huge decline in standards for the ethical treatment of animals, with many of the current practices for the slaughter of animals amounting to outright cruelty. Yet, much of society remains unaware of the precise way animals are treated before they end up on our plates as food, on our backs as clothing or on stages as a source of entertainment.
The lack of awareness around the issue of the treatment of animals in many of our world’s thriving industries is a huge cause of the persisting problem of animal cruelty, as well as several others. People remain unaware of the effects an unchecked consumption of meat has nn the practices of the meat industry, human health and the environment.
A huge numbers of farm animals are being reared for consumption all over the world. This has a devastating impact on the environment – the amount of food and water that is fed to livestock can be measured in mega tonnes per farm; the amount of pesticides and fertilisers used is equally astounding; large amounts of limited resources such as water and energy are depleted; a large amount of pollution to water, air and soil is caused by agrochemicals and manure wastes. The list seems endless.
Additionally, numerous studies have shown the link of high levels of meat consumption to heart disease, osteoporosis, diabetes, and cancer. A study by Dr. Colin Campbell on the lifestyles of over 6,500 Chinese residents over a period of 20 years demonstrated how people who eat a plant-based diet are less likely to suffer from chronic diseases than those who ate animal-based foods.
In trying to be more conscious about our consumption habits, it is important to remember that the humane treatment of animals should be an issue that concerns us all.
Burden not an animal with more than it can bear. We, truly, have prohibited such treatment through a most binding interdiction in the Book. Be ye the embodiments of justice and fairness amidst all creation.Kitab-i-Aqdas
Similarly, ‘Abdu’l-Baha states:
But to blessed animals the utmost kindness must be shown, the more the better. Tenderness and loving-kindness are basic principles of God’s heavenly Kingdom. Ye should most carefully bear this matter in mind.Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Baha
In fact, ‘Abdu’l-Baha sets the standard for kindness to animals very high – saying that we are to be even kinder to animals than we are to our fellow man.
It is not only their fellow human beings that the beloved of God must treat with mercy and compassion, rather must they show forth the utmost loving-kindness to every living creature. For in all physical respects, and where the animal spirit is concerned, the selfsame feelings are shared by animal and man. Man hath not grasped this truth, however, and he believeth that physical sensations are confined to human beings, wherefore is he unjust to the animals, and cruel. And yet in truth, what difference is there when it cometh to physical sensations? The feelings are one and the same, whether ye inflict pain on man or on beast. There is no difference here whatever. And indeed ye do worse to harm an animal, for man hath a language, he can lodge a complaint, he can cry out and moan; if injured he can have recourse to the authorities and these will protect him from his aggressor. But the hapless beast is mute, able neither to express its hurt nor take its case to the authorities … Therefore it is essential that ye show forth the utmost consideration to the animal, and that ye be even kinder to him than to your fellow man. Train your children from their earliest days to be infinitely tender and loving to animals. If an animal be sick, let them try to heal it, if it be hungry, let them feed it, if thirsty, let them quench its thirst, if weary, let them see that it rests.Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Baha
In addition to the emphasis in the Writings on treating animals kindly, Shoghi Effendi also said that if a person can live on a purely vegetarian diet and avoid killing animals, that would be preferable. In fact, ‘Abdu’l-Baha has also indicated that in the future, all humans will be vegetarians.
As humanity progresses, meat will be used less and less, for the teeth of man are not carnivorous. For example, the lion is endowed with carnivorous teeth, which are intended for meat, and if meat be not found, the lion starves. The lion cannot graze; its teeth are of different shape. The digestive system of the lion is such that it cannot receive nourishment save through meat. The eagle has a crooked beak, the lower part shorter than the upper. It cannot pick up grain; it cannot graze; therefore, it is compelled to partake of meat. The domestic animals have herbivorous teeth formed to cut grass, which is their fodder. The human teeth, the molars, are formed to grind grain. The front teeth, the incisors, are for fruits, etc. It is, therefore, quite apparent according to the implements for eating that man’s food is intended to be grain and not meat. When mankind is more fully developed, the eating of meat will gradually cease.The Promulgation of Universal Peace
Fruit and grains. The time will come when meat will no longer be eaten. Medical science is only in its infancy, yet it has shown that our natural diet is that which will grow out of the ground. The people will gradually develop up to the condition of this natural food.Ten Days in the Light of Akka,Julia M. Grundy
Regarding the eating of animal flesh and abstinence therefrom, know thou of a certainty that, in the beginning of creation, God determined the food of every living being, and to eat contrary to that determination is not approved. For instance, beasts of prey, such as the wolf, lion and leopard, are endowed with ferocious, tearing instruments, such as hooked talons and claws. From this it is evidence that the food of such beasts is meat … But now coming to man, we see he hath neither hooked teeth nor sharp nails or claws, nor teeth like iron sickles. From this it becometh evident and manifest that the food of man is cereal and fruit. Some of the teeth of man are like millstones to grind the grain, and some are sharp to cut the fruit. Therefore he is not in need of meat, nor is he obliged to eat it. Even without eating meat he would live with the utmost vigour and energy … Truly, the killing of animals and the eating of their meat is somewhat contrary to pity and compassion, and if one can content oneself with cereals, fruit, oil and nuts, such as pistachios, almonds and so on, it would undoubtedly be better and more pleasing.From a Tablet of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to an individual believer, Selections from the Bahá’í Writings on Some Aspects of Health and Healing, a compilation of the Universal House of Justice
Thou hast written regarding the four canine teeth in man, saying that these teeth, two in the upper jaw and two in the lower jaw, are for the purpose of eating meat. Know though that these four teeth are not created for meat-eating, although one can eat meat with them. All the teeth of man are made for eating fruit, cereals and vegetables. These four teeth, however, are designed for breaking hard shells, such as those of almonds.From a Tablet of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to an individual believer, Selections from the Bahá’í Writings on Some Aspects of Health and Healing, a compilation of the Universal House of Justice
It is important to emphasise, however, that there is no Baha’i law prohibiting the consumption of meat! That being said, however, Baha’u’llah teaches the importance of moderation in relation to this matter:
Take heed, however, that ye hunt not to excess. Tread ye the path of justice and equity in all things. Thus biddeth you He Who is the Dawning-place of Revelation, would that ye might comprehend.Kitab-i-Aqdas
There is nothing wrong with eating meat – but we are taught to be concerned about the way in which animals are treated. This involves exercising moderation in our consumption habits and being mindful of how meat industry treats animals. If you’d like to find out more about how animals are treated in the various industries, you can watch Earthlings – a powerful and sombre documentary. (Warning: The documentary is extremely graphic, at some points, and might distress viewers.) What are your thoughts on the issues relating to the treatment of animals, and what the Baha’i Writings have to say on the matter?
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