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The Pagan Ethics of Food

Author: Patrick McCleary
Posted: February 15th. 2009
Times Viewed: 2,922

Let us take a few moments and take a long look at the current conditions of the food production in our modern world from genetically modified foods to the overuse of fertilizers and pesticides. The stories of the horrors of slaughterhouses to the sometimes cruel conditions that animals are kept in. Just as a small example: remember the stories of the chickens, kept in tiny coops, not allowed room to run free? The recent outbreaks of salmonella and e. coli?

Are you scared yet? I sure am.

So scared that I decide to take another long look. This time at my diet and the inclusion of meat in it. Now don't get upset, all you non-vegetarians out there. I am not advocating the shunning of meat in your, or even my diet. In fact I love a good steak more then anyone I know.

But what I am advocating is for us to think about the ethics of our diet and our moral responsibility as to where that food comes from. We, as Pagans, frequently espouse harm none but are only worried about what we directly do and not so much about what we condone by our actions or lack of actions.

So what is a concerned Pagan to do? This was the question that plagued me for a long time. And after much research the answer that I came up with included a few options.

In no particular order those options are as follows: We can become vegetarians or we can look outside of our religion to the dietary rules and restrictions of other faiths.

Now as you remember, I said that I was not advocating becoming a vegetarian. There are plenty of other articles floating around out there that do just that. Rather I am going to share my own personal choice.

And what is that choice? Well I have personally chosen to look outside my personal Wiccan faith for a solution to this problem.

In doing so I have come across the Halal and Kosher diets of the Islamic and Jewish religions. Which entails in great detail exactly what is supposed to be done with our food. From birth or planting to harvesting or slaughtering and even into how the food is prepared there are rules that govern each action. These rules, as I hope to show, are really the most moral ones on food, eating and diet that I could find.

But what does kosher dietary restrictions have to do with the ethics of eating? The short answer: a lot. Now I know that certain rules do not apply, for example the prohibition against milk in wooden bowls. But there is a lot that does apply. Their ideas on how to keep, house, feed animals and the appropriate ways to slaughter them, fit right in with a sound ethical system on food. One that Pagans can adopt and modify to their own needs and uses.

That being said, the question arises: What is the definition of kosher or halal? Kosher food is food that meets Jewish dietary laws, or kashrut, which comes from the Hebrew word for fit or proper. And Halal is the Arabic word for fit or proper. Essentially the same as kosher.
In one of the articles I read in researching this idea, I came across one of the largest requirements; that the animal being slaughtered must die with no pain.

"Kosher slaughter is more humane than non-kosher slaughter, as it kills the animal in a painless fashion. Although kosher slaughter does not kill the animal instantly, the animal passes out from the sudden drop in cranial blood pressure and dies in a minute or so. There is no pain."

But this is not the only reason, although it is an important one, to choose kosher meat. One of the other benefits is that cold-water plucking of poultry helps prevent the spread of salmonella bacteria, and meat from diseased animals cannot be considered kosher. Also animals killed in kosher slaughterhouses die in less pain and tend to be healthier then animals in normal slaughterhouses.

And kosher rules are not restricted to just the housing conditions and slaughtering practices for animals. They are also extended to include rules against pesticides and fertilizers. In other words they were the original proponents of producing organic produce.

Now compare this to the modern system found in the USA, where I live, our animals are slaughtered and then the scraps unfit for human consumption are fed to other animals. They are fed on grains covered in fertilizer and pesticides and then they are pumped full of antibiotics. This is, of course, before they are slaughtered cruelly.

Then in some cases the butchered meat is pumped full of carbon monoxide which is to allow the meat to keep its pretty red color for sale in the big box stores. And they are even talking about radiating meat to kill off any of the bad germs, which is supposedly will make the meat safer.

I believe that these reasons alone are enough to win the argument that we as Pagans should look to buy our meat from kosher or halal butcher shops. The prohibition against animals suffering, either in life or in death, is an idea that fits in with Pagan ideals and ethics.

At the core of both, halal and kosher, outside of the part about God and religion, there are sound principles for both dietary restrictions and for food preparation that translate well into Paganism.

So take the time to research Kosher and Halal practices and see if they are able to fit into your own personal tradition. Go to local kosher butchers and ask questions.

If we are going to say, 'harm none' and hold it as the center of our ethical system then we should make sure that it extends to every part of our daily lives. And if enough of us decide that the rules against cruelty to animals also applies at the time of their slaughtering for food, then the food processors will inevitably have to change their habits and practices as well.



Patrick McCleary

Location: Zephyrhills, Florida


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