By Devita Parnell
“So, why did you become a vegetarian?” I find myself answering this question a lot. It’s a question I’ve asked countless others along the way in an attempt to understand their food journeys. I was curious, like I am about a lot of things. But to be honest, becoming a vegetarian was the last thing on my mind. Cutting out sugar or carbs was more my speed.
Answers typically fall into the same general camps: health reasons such as lowering cholesterol and the risks of cancer, ethical reasons due to the mistreatment of animals, religious reasons and my answer: environmental reasons. And I’m not sure I even knew what “environmental reasons” meant until about two years ago.
In the summer of 2017, I participated in CBF’s Kutana Kenya environmental mission immersion experience led by my colleague Sam Harrell, associate coordinator of CBF Global Missions. Sam grew up in Kenya, and along with his family, remained there as CBF field personnel for many years. His love for Kenya and its varying and beautiful ecosystems with a diversity of plant and animal life was contagious.
Preparation for the journey involved reading a stack of articles focused on caring for creation as a part of Christian mission, developing a spiritual practice of “falling in love three times a day” with aspects of creation, and recognizing all the ways humanity has knowingly and unknowingly taken advantage of, dominated and used the natural world for our purposes without understanding the implications for the future. In a culture that is so dependent on the land, it was easy to see the impact of climate change. When the rains don’t fall, the grass doesn’t grow, the livestock can’t graze, and people go hungry.
By the end of the trip, each of us was challenged to embrace new practices, however small, that might honor our new-found understanding of the interconnectedness of all of creation. Our lives are dependent on the Earth and the Earth’s life is dependent on ours. What we do impacts Creation, and Creation has an impact on our lives. I left Kenya with a determination to waste less, to learn more about composting and permaculture and to lean into my new love for Creation and God’s desire to see it renewed. I did not plan on becoming a vegetarian, but now I now recognize that seeds were planted during those weeks in Kenya.
Three months later on a Saturday morning in mid-October, after an encounter with another one of CBF’s field personnel who had recently chosen a vegan lifestyle, I woke up and quit eating meat cold turkey. It wasn’t hard because it’s where my journey had led me. When it was time, I was ready.
More than ever, I am aware of the level of meat-dependency that exists in our culture. Most people I know (especially the members of my family) haven’t eaten a “meal” unless they’ve consumed a piece of chicken or slice of beef. It’s how we were raised, and it’s a message that continues to be reinforced on restaurant menus and on food charts. As a result, the rate of demand for meat far exceeds what seems sustainable for our planet. High carbon emissions, polluted waterways and deforestation result from the rearing of livestock. A 2018 article in The Guardian stated that “scientists are increasingly pointing to a deeper lifestyle change of eating far less meat as the single biggest way to help the planet. Huge reductions in meat eating are required if the world is to stave off dangerous climate change, with beef consumption in western countries needing to drop by 90%.”
I have long recycled, chosen a simpler lifestyle focused on less consumption, and now I am choosing a vegetarian lifestyle as my ways of participating in God’s renewal of all of creation. Where is God leading you?
Devita Parnell is the director of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s Young Baptist Ecosystem.