Why Jesus Ate Fish: An Open Letter to Vegetarian Christians

I should begin by saying that I am both a vegan and a Christian. There are compelling reasons to be both. Several Christian publications offer valid reasons for the Christian to consider the vegetarian lifestyle. These include the fact that God’s original intent was for human beings to be vegetarians (Gen 1:29) and Isaiah’s inspiring prophecy in which the lion will someday eat straw like the ox (Is 65:25). So it seems that, according to the Christian worldview, the order that has proceeded, and that which will proceed, this current state, will be peaceful and bloodless. Not much to argue with so far. But many Christian vegetarians are appalled by Luke 24: 42 & 43, “They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence.”

What can this mean? Some insist that this passage is a forgery, it can not be authentic. Others claim that this single verse makes vegetarianism completely incompatible with Christianity. But lets take a closer look.

If we take this verse to be an authentic account of Jesus Christ after the resurrection, and we uphold the belief that he was without sin, then we must deduct that eating meat is not inherently sinful. This point may seem like anathema to any vegan, Christian or otherwise. But once we analyze the politics of food, it becomes clear that the option to avoid meat is sometimes available only to a privileged few. For example, the impoverished and starving child hardly has the option to refuse any meal that is provided. The natives of extreme elevations or frozen tundras haven’t had the luxury of choosing a vegetarian diet (until recently, but which still remains highly unsustainable). And as any honest vegan will tell you, even we are not without blood on our hands. The vegan philosophy is not about the impossible task of eliminating any and all animal suffering in our lives, it is about minimizing it. Animals suffer and die in the process of farming and shipping vegetables. Animals suffer and die in the process of mining the metals, and harvesting the lumber, that is used to make the household objects that people use everyday. Hell, even people suffer and die in the process of securing the petroleum that is used to make the plastic used to build the computer you are looking at right now. There is no one who has lived without causing harm to another living creature, whether directly or indirectly. No one. Not even Christ.

So, in that simple act of eating a piece of broiled fish, Christ has placed himself in solidarity with the poor of world. He has removed the guilt from those who are without the luxury of being vegetarians. But my argument here is not that people should choose to eat meat. It is precisely the opposite. If offered the choice, people should choose to minimize animal death and suffering to the best of their ability. That choice, however, should not make them feel superior to any other human being. As in the words of the Apostle Paul, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:8-10).

4 responses to “Why Jesus Ate Fish: An Open Letter to Vegetarian Christians

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