God’s Hygienic Food Laws, Wet Markets and COVID-19

Chinese Wet Market and God's Hygienic Food Laws
Chinese Wet Market

One of the enduring questions with the COVID-19 virus is its origin. We know that it came from the wet markets in Wuhan, China, but it is essential to look at what practices led to this pandemic. No one in the scientific community denies that epidemics and pandemics begin when a pathogen moves from one species to another. We need to consider how God’s hygienic food laws which He gave to the Israelites prevented epidemics and pandemics.

When you read the Old Testament, you see all kinds of restrictions on food. Those include not only what the Israelites could eat, but also how it was procured and prepared. From the earliest times, eating blood was forbidden (Genesis 9:4). Any preparation that allowed blood to remain in the meat was prohibited, so an animal that was strangled could not be eaten. Eating anything that had died on its own was forbidden (Exodus 22:31 and Leviticus 17:15). Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 give a long and tedious list of what could be eaten and what could not. There were even instructions on how to prepare the meat (Exodus 12:8-9).

The practice in the Old Testament was that eating meat of any kind (other than fish) was a rare situation and usually only for the wealthy. The main diet was grains and fruits. When humans began to build cities, this dietary practice changed, but the early Christians retained much of the Old Testament diet and restrictions. (See Acts 15:29; 21:25.)

As humans moved away from the biblical instructions of God’s hygienic food laws and the handling of animals, they instituted some very dubious practices. The July/August 2020 issue of Skeptical Inquirer (pages 20-24) carries a discussion titled “Did Superstition Cause the COVID-19 Outbreak?” The article describes traditional Chinese beliefs about meat and other byproducts of wild animals.

In China, much of the food is distributed in wet markets. In these markets, fish and a variety of other animals such as bats are slaughtered and gutted on-site to guarantee freshness. In places like Wuhan, the ground is wet with melted ice and the blood of various species. The animals to be slaughtered are kept alive in closely packed open cages where the blood and feces intermingle.

When we read through Leviticus and Deuteronomy, we may feel burdened with what appears to be an endless list of restrictions and rules. However, it doesn’t take much imagination to understand that the wet markets’ environment is conducive to the spread of disease. Epidemics of the past can be related directly and indirectly to cultural practices that would not have happened in the Israelite culture in the day of Moses. We have new problems today because of the size of the human population and the closeness of animals of all kinds and humans. The COVID-19 tragedy is a reminder of the wisdom we see in God’s hygienic food laws in the Old Testament.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

What Christians Can Eat

What Christians Can Eat

The COVID-19 virus has raised many new issues for Christians. There seems to be no question that the virus came to humans from animals. Specifically, it appears that bats are the primary source of many of the viruses that have plagued humans. So there is a question of what Christians can eat.

The Old Testament dietary laws did not allow the Israelites to eat certain foods. Genesis 9:2-4 says not to eat meat that “has its lifeblood in it.” Leviticus 11:1-47 and Deuteronomy 14 spell out a wide range of dietary restrictions. Today we know why those restrictions were put in place because the animals the Israelites were forbidden to eat were carriers of viruses infectious to humans.

In the New Testament, the picture changes. The early Church leaders met to determine what actions they should abstain from and what Christians can eat (Acts 15:28-29). They decided that Christ’s followers should avoid all trappings of idolatry, including licentiousness, drunkenness, and fornication. They should also avoid eating blood; specifically, animals strangled so that the lifeblood was still in the meat.

Colossians 2:14-16 tells us that Jesus nailed the legalistic rules of the Old Testament to His cross. The passage is clear that Paul is talking about “religious festivals, New Moon celebrations, and Sabbath Days.” Jesus did not do away with the lifestyle choices referred to in Acts 15, but with the Old Law’s legalistic demands that were difficult for the people to keep.

The other passage that deals with what we can eat is Acts 10:9-16. God gave Peter a vision in which he saw a sheet full of animals lowered to him, and a voice told him to kill and eat. What we tend to miss is that Peter identifies two kinds of foods he had never eaten. Verse 14 quotes Peter as saying, “Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten that which is COMMON (Greek word koinoo) or UNCLEAN (Greek word akathartos).”

The word “common” means ordinary, like everyone else. The word “unclean” means defiled, impure. God’s response to Peter was, “What God has cleansed don’t you call COMMON.” “Defiled” would mean what is referred to in Genesis 9:2-4 – having its lifeblood in it. “Common” would mean the things the Gentiles ate that were not defiled. Peter is about to convert a Gentile, a major change in his life. God makes it clear that he can participate in Gentile foods, but this passage does not approve drinking blood or any other impure foods.

What Christians can eat is virtually anything, but they need to avoid those foods that are dangerous for human consumption. By their diet, early Christians could be protected from diseases that were common in the pagan world around them.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Can We Produce Enough Food?

Can We Produce Enough Food?

Some have said that this is the only command of God that humans have fully obeyed. Whether that is true or not can be debated. There is also debate about whether there is enough food for the enormous population of humans inhabiting this planet. Every day organizations trying to stop the hunger stalking our planet send us heart-breaking pictures of starving people. Did God err in commanding humans to multiply and then not providing enough food? Can we produce enough food for the population with what God has given us?

The February 3, 2020 issue of Time magazine carried a pictorial article about “planet-friendly eating.” The article highlights companies that are producing food from plants and insects. Some of the companies are:

1) Exo sells what they call “Cricket Protein Bar” and roasted crickets. They say that crickets are the perfect protein source, high in essential amino acids, B12, and iron.

2) Plenty grows salad greens indoors with wind and solar providing power. They plan to add strawberries to their production line.

3) Just (which was formerly known as Hampton Creek) produces an egg substitute from mung beans. You can buy it at Walmart.

4) Mosa Meat grows meat from animal cells cultured in a bioreactor. It won’t be practical until the cost can be reduced unless you want to buy a $280,000 hamburger.

5) Beyond Meat bypasses the animal cells to produce burgers and sausage from peas, beans, rice, and sunflower seeds. You can buy their product at thousands of grocery stores.

6) Odontella uses algae to produce a product with the texture and flavor of salmon. They call it Solmon, and it’s available in vegan grocery stores in Europe.

7) Huel makes drinks that are supposed to have the nutrition of a meal with 27 essential vitamins and minerals as well as protein, fat, fiber, and phytonutrients.

8) Solar Foods uses microbial fermentation of nutrients, water, and carbon dioxide to produce protein that resembles wheat flour.

Can we produce enough food using these new techniques? These ideas are encouraging because plants and insects can be grown inside so that pesticides or herbicides are not needed. Cultivation can be automated, reducing the massive overhead of conventional agriculture. Add to that, the fact that much of the food grown outside is wasted by pests, war, pollution, unpredictable weather, and bad agricultural practices.

American tastes may take a long time to adapt to these new foods, but a starving child in Africa is not concerned about how the food was produced if it satisfies hunger and provides nutrition. God has given us the means to produce all the food we need, but greed, waste, and ignorance have led to starvation and misery.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Milk Production and Greenhouse Gases

Milk Production and Greenhouse GasesHow do you feed millions of humans and meet their nutritional needs without destroying the planet with greenhouse gases? The World Wildlife Federation has released data on one of the primary sources of food for more than six billion people worldwide – milk. The average person in the United States consumed 643 pounds (292 kg) of dairy products in 2017, including milk, butter, cheese, yogurt, and ice cream. Those foods came from 9.3 million dairy cows, but there are 278 million in the world. Milk production has grown by 30% from 2005 to 2015, and that comes to 909 million tons. India is the leading producer with 20% of the world’s supply. The U.S. has 12%.

The design of cattle that can produce that much milk was recognized in prehistoric times, and cattle were worshiped because they provided so much food for humans. Skeptics would respond that the environmental impact of cattle is so huge that it is a bad design. It does take 144 gallons of water to produce one gallon of milk in the U.S., with over 93% of it involved in growing feed for the cattle. The average dairy cow will eat 100 pounds of feed, and 9% of American cropland is used to grow feed crops for dairy cows. A cow will produce 17 gallons of urine and manure, which can pollute rivers and lakes, and they generate greenhouse gases.

The fact is that only 2% of the total U.S. emission of greenhouse gases comes from milk production. The Northern Great Plains cover 180 million acres in Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Alberta, and Saskatchewan. The land became rich in resources and healthy when grazing animals such as bison aerated and fertilized the soil. With the past numbers of those animals gone, scientists now say that something else must fill that niche or erosion will increase, and invasive plants will take over. Studies by the World Wildlife Federation show that cattle production areas in the Northern Great Plains have lower per acre emissions than row crop agriculture such as corn, soybeans, and wheat. The most recent study shows “done right, ranching can help conserve biodiversity while minimizing its own environmental footprint.”

Like everything else that God has given us, milk production must be managed carefully and with a concern about “taking care of the garden, dressing and keeping it” (Genesis 2:15). Milk is one of God’s great blessings, and a land “flowing with milk and honey” is held out as the most favorable place to live.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Reference: World Wildlife Federation Winter Quarter Report 2019-20. .

Ultimate Food Source

Ultimate Food Source - Antarctic Krill
One of the great necessities that a planet must have to support life is an ultimate food source that everything can eat. It must be highly nutritious, exist over a long time, and have very little waste. Modern oceanography has uncovered such a food source in an unlikely place. They found it in the frigid Antarctic ocean waters. The form of life is a small shrimp-like creature called Antarctic krill (Euphasia superba).

The amazing thing about these creatures is their abundance. Scientists found one swarm that covered several square miles and ranged in depth from 60 to 600 feet (12 to 180 m). They estimated the total weight of this one swarm is 10 million metric tons. That is equivalent to one-seventh of the entire planet’s weight of fish and shellfish caught in a whole year. It would amount to 98 pounds for every person in the United States.

Krill are rich in protein and have negligible bone and shell material. They consume microscopic animal and plant organisms as their primary food. Krill are near the bottom of the ocean food chain providing food directly or indirectly to everything in the ocean, including whales.

The Scripps Institution of Oceanography did the original studies of this particular swarm. Data from other oceanographic research ships show that krill swarms are common in the ocean. Since they can even be turned into food for humans, Antarctic krill seem to be God’s ultimate food source for all living things on this planet.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Does Earth Have Enough Food?

Does Earth Have Enough Food?
When God put the first man upon the Earth, He told him to take care of the garden–to dress it and keep it (Genesis 2:15). We have not done a very good job of keeping the Earth, and the result has been disastrous in a variety of ways. When Noah left the Ark, God told him, “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. As I gave you green plants, I give you everything.” (Genesis 9:3). Did God give us enough? Does Earth have enough food to feed our growing population?

The first point we need to make is that we waste most of the food we grow. Various research groups give different estimates of what percentage of our food is either discarded, spoiled, or not harvested properly. All studies of this topic have shown numbers indicating that we waste more than 75% of the food that is available.

One area where we do not use food efficiently involves plants and animals that grow at astronomical rates. Some fish and water invertebrates can produce many thousands of eggs from a single female. The Ocean Conservancy has called attention to the growth rates of mahi-mahi, an ocean fish found in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. That species offers a vast supply of meat for harvesting. In one year of growth, the mahi-mahi can attain a length of over four feet, and the fish can reproduce as early as four months of age.

God has provided a wide variety of food sources for us. Does Earth have enough food to feed a growing population? Yes, we do have the potential to produce enough food for all people on Earth to eat. World starvation issues are due to our failure to develop food resources and to our massive waste of food. It is not because God didn’t give us enough to supply our needs.
–John N. Clayton © 2018
Data from Splash published by the Ocean Conservancy for Fall 2016, page 3.

God’s Provision for Food

God's Provision for Food
In the September 2017 issue of National Geographic, there is a very interesting article titled “A Tiny Country Feeds the World” by Frank Viviano. The article shows how the Netherlands has developed agriculture to such an extent that they not only can feed their own dense population (1300 inhabitants per square mile), but they have become the globe’s number two exporter of food. They are second only to the United States which has 270 times the amount of landmass. As many people in the world are starving, the work of the Dutch people reminds us of God’s provision for food.

Since 2000 the Dutch have increased production of food by applying their intelligence to the problem. By improved scientific methods, they have reduced their need for water for crops by 90%, virtually eliminated the use of chemical pesticides, and cut the use of antibiotics in livestock by 60%. They have done this by fully utilizing all of the resources available to grow food, and not allowing the negatives that humans have introduced. The Dutch growers use greenhouses where they can control the light, nutrients, and water. They waste nothing and allow no destructive agents. The food is still “natural” but without those things which cause us to add carcinogens to control insects and blight.

The Netherlands is also a major exporter of seeds. Their agricultural technology uses molecular breeding, rather than GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms) to produce new seed varieties. Their method is faster and cheaper than GMOs, and the article says the method “is a direct descendant of methods used by farmers in the Fertile Crescent 10,000 years ago.” The Fertile Crescent, by the way, is the area of the Garden of Eden, bounded by the rivers which are still known today.

Projections are that by 2050 the Earth may have as many as 50 billion people to feed making is necessary for us to use all the intelligence as well as resources of God’s provision for food. We have the tools to do this, but it will take work and full utilization of God’s design to feed the world. God told Adam that he would eat by “the sweat of his brow.” God was saying it wouldn’t come easy, but He has taken care to provide the resources and tools to do it.
–John N. Clayton © 2017