When I am grateful for my food, I will eat prudently, and likely less, than if I’m just mindlessly eating. With gratitude, I recognize that my life has been sustained through the grace of God, and will not be inclined to be wasteful.
Especially in terms of meat, gratitude means I fully, consciously understand that another living thing has ended it’s life so I may continue mine.
To quote Kahlil Gibran:
When you kill a beast, say to him in your heart:
By the same power that slays you, I too am slain, and I too shall be consumed.
For the law that delivers you into my hand shall deliver me into a mightier hand.
Your blood and my blood is naught but the sap that feeds the tree of heaven.
For most Americans there is inherently something spiritually corrosive about our eating of most things, but particularly meat. I believe we want to imagine subconsciously that the tidy, lean, plastic-covered protein packets came from a wholesome chicken tree. Most of us say, “I could never do that” when considering slaughtering our own livestock for meat, yet by not even witnessing any routine harvesting of animals ourselves, we are able avoid the truth about the sacrifice of life that we required, albeit one that is ordained for us. It is a life we are justified in taking with prudence and gratitude if we need it to save our own. If we are cold, hungry, and plants are not in season to eat. Can we be fully grateful without really thinking of the sacrifice of another living thing?
More than any other institution, the American industrial animal farm offers a nightmarish glimpse of what capitalism can look like in the absence of moral or regulatory constraint. Here in these places life itself is redefined—as protein production—and with it suffering. That venerable word becomes “stress,” an economic problem in search of a cost-effective solution . . . . The industrialization–and dehumanization–of American animal farming is a relatively new, evitable, and local phenomenon: no other country raises and slaughters its food animals quite as intensively or as brutally as we do.”
How does that align with our view of animals as fellow spiritual and physical creations of our same Heavenly Father? A proverb observed that “a righteous man regardeth the life of his beast: but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel.” (Prov. 12:10.)
In March 1831, it was revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith that though vegetarianism was not to be enforced as a doctrine for mankind, men were still responsible for their killing of animals.
“And whoso forbiddeth to [says you may not] abstain from meats, that man should not eat the same, is not ordained of God;
“For, behold, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and that which cometh of the earth, is ordained for the use of man for food and for raiment, and that he might have in abundance.
“And wo be unto man that sheddeth blood or that wasteth flesh and hath no need.” (D&C 49:18–19, 21.) (Emphasis added, full article is great reading: source)
From the same article:
During the Zion’s Camp expedition in the summer of 1834, an incident occurred that allowed a practical application of concern for animal life. As related by the Prophet Joseph Smith in his history:
“In pitching my tent we found three massasaugas or prairie rattlesnakes, which the brethren were about to kill, but I said, ‘Let them alone—don’t hurt them! How will the serpent ever lose his venom, while the servants of God possess the same disposition, and continue to make war upon it? Men must become harmless, before the brute creation; and when men lose their vicious dispositions and cease to destroy the animal race, the lion and the lamb can dwell together, and the sucking child can play with the serpent in safety.’ The brethren took the serpents carefully on sticks and carried them across the creek. I exhorted the brethren not to kill a serpent, bird, or an animal of any kind during our journey unless it became necessary in order to preserve ourselves from hunger.” (Documentary History of the Church, vol. 2, pp. 71–72.)
Brigham Young said:
The more purity that exists, the less is the strife; the more kind we are to our animals, the more will peace increase, and the savage nature of the brute creation will vanish away.” (Journal of Discourses, vol. 1, p. 203.)
Same article as above:
“… The unnecessary destruction of life is a distinct spiritual loss to the human
family. Men cannot worship the Creator and look with careless indifference upon
his creations. The love of all life helps man to the enjoyment of a better life.
It exalts the spiritual nature of those in need of divine favor. “Every moving
thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things. … And surely, blood shall not be shed, only for meat, to save your lives; and the blood of every beast will I require at your hands.” (JST, Gen. 9:9–11.)
Just because we cannot see the source of what we eat in our Taco Bell taco, and what happened during the life and death of that animal, does not mean we are not accountable and spiritually effected.
To eat meat to save our lives in cold, winter or famine with prudence and thanksgiving means that we ensure that the animal was treated as every creation of God deserves to be treated, even if ordained for our use.
This seems almost impossible in our time, but we don’t need to allow the status quo of inhumanity in our own consumption. We can find humane sources and pay the higher prices that go along with it, we can find creative sources and means to eat meat in accorance with this law, and we can choose not to participate and condone the lack of prudence and thanksgiving by not supporting with our money those who take part in it.
Mormons are not asked to be vegetarian unless there is no way to eat meat in the authorized way: with prudence, thanksgiving, without waste or extortion, sparingly, and preferably only in winter or famine.