Transcript of the No-Bullsh!t Vegan podcast, episode 99
Jess Peacock on the critical intersections of religion and veganism
Karina Inkster: You're listening to the No-Bullshit Vegan Podcast, episode 99. Jess Peacock joins me to discuss the intersections between religion and veganism.
Hey, welcome to the show and thank you for joining me. I'm Karina your go-to, no BS vegan fitness and nutrition coach. Just a heads up that we are planning something extra special for our next and hundredth episode, so make sure you tune into that one.
I also wanted to make sure you know about our fantastic new resource: a vegan-specific portion guide. It's an alternative to calorie counting and my team and I made it specifically for vegans. You can download yours for free at Karinainkster.com/portionguide. Our guide uses a hand based system where you measure approximate food amounts using your hand, which is a pretty perfect measurement tool, because it's always with you. You don't have to do any math. It is proportionate to your body and you don't need an app. So our guide is modelled on one made by the company Precision Nutrition, which is an awesome company.
They have a portion guide that isn't vegan. And at the time that I started developing ours, the Precision Nutrition Guide was gender-based, and it also wasn't very ethnically inclusive as all their hand illustrations were the same skin tone. So we made our guide non-gendered and more ethnically inclusive. Then right before we published ours, I noticed that Precision Nutrition had updated theirs to be non-gendered and ethnically inclusive as well, which is awesome, but theirs isn't vegan and ours is. So we have four main food groups: protein, veggies, carbohydrates, and fats, and it comes with a tracker in case you want to print that out and keep track of your portions. So again, you can download your copy at Karinainkster.com/portionguide.
Introducing our guest for today: Jess Peacock. Jess is a researcher, adjunct professor, United Church of Christ clergy, and author of, “Such a Dark Thing: Theology of the Vampire Narrative in Popular Culture.”
They're also the former director of the Columbus Coalition for the Homeless in Columbus, Ohio, and part of the KI team. A vegan for 16 years, Jess is currently exploring and researching plant-based outreach opportunities to religious communities, challenging people of faith as to how they might hear the proclamation of St. Francis of Assisi, that animals should be viewed as cohorts rather than property. Jess's favourite vegan meal is, and I quote, “hands down the seitan wings from Chicago Diner with their classic chocolate milkshake.” Here's our discussion.
Hey Jess, welcome to the show. I'm looking forward to speaking with you.
Jess Peacock: Thank you for having me.
Karina Inkster: Well, let's jump right in because I actually really appreciate when I'm listening to shows or when I'm listening to interviews, watching YouTube videos, et cetera, I really appreciate listening to civil discussions, maybe I'll even call them civil debates, between two people who have really different viewpoints.
Now, whether that's like politics, veganism, religion in this case, it's kind of the same concept where I think a civil discussion is really going to lead to more positive outcomes than what people usually call a debate.
Jess Peacock: Absolutely.
Karina Inkster: Not that I think that's what we're going to have, but you and I do have fairly different viewpoints on some things and similar viewpoints on other things. We're both long-term vegans. I'm a lifelong atheist and you're clergy, so this is going to be kind of a cool discussion about honestly, something I don't know a ton about. So I'm going to learn through this discussion.
Jess Peacock: Yeah.
Karina Inkster: So I just want to make clear to our listeners, this is not a debate about religion itself. We're not saying does God exist? We're not having that debate. We're talking about religion and its intersections with veganism specifically, which is something we have not touched on in this show, maybe a little bit in passing, but we haven't done a focused session on it. So I’m really looking forward to that. So let's start with that kind of more broad piece. Can you share with our listeners a little bit about your history with veganism and then how it shapes the work that you're currently doing?
Jess Peacock: Absolutely. Actually not to immediately go down a rabbit hole and sidetrack us, but even before that, I think it's important when someone introduces themselves or they're introduced as clergy, one of the things that - because I taught religion in Chicago to college freshmen and sophomores like introduction to Christianity and things along those lines - and one of the things that I always start my classes with is that there's no such thing as Christianity. There are Christianities. There are a multiplicity of viewpoints and belief systems revolving around sort of the institution of Christianity. So myself, because you say someone's a pastor, you say someone's clergy, that carries a lot of baggage. And I get that a lot. I’ve had side eyes, I've had people just come out and just sort of be angry with me before they even knew me knowing that, you know, either I teach religion or I'm clergy of some kind.
So I would really like to preface this entire conversation by sort of just a quick nutshell of my theological beliefs. And that is I'm not a literalist. I do not believe that the Ark sailed with all the animals in it. I do not believe that Jesus literally died and rose from the grave. And very much when we talk about the next life, what some religious beliefs call Heaven, I'm very much an agnostic in that sense, because I don't know what's next.
Karina Inkster: Interesting.
Jess Peacock: For me religion, whether Christianity or any religion, for me it's an engine for positive social and cultural change, primarily the avenues of compassion, justice, love, et cetera. So that's sort of where I fall into things theologically. I describe my spirituality as incredibly earth-based.
Karina Inkster: That’s a cool term.
Jess Peacock: Yeah. And the next world will take care of itself, no matter what it is, it will take care of itself. My gut tells me that we shut down, you know, once we're done, we're done. And that makes this world even that much more important for us to be living in a compassionate manner, in a just manner.
Karina Inkster: Absolutely.
Jess Peacock: But I do think there is power within some of these religious narratives. Now, have they been bastardized throughout history? Have they been used to dominate and control and kill and hurt? Absolutely. But they've also been used on the other end of the spectrum as well. And so that's sort of where I fall into religion. Getting into what I call this, “clergy gig”.
Karina Inkster: Good term.
Jess Peacock: Yeah, for me, it was a justice issue. It was that I see within these narratives avenues toward justice. So that definitely then connects to my veganism. Compassion, creation care, issues of justice and intersectional justice - that brings me into veganism. Well, I guess it didn't bring me into veganism actually. My connection to religions came somewhat after I went vegan, but it all connected for me, it made complete and total sense that these two things were peanut butter and jelly. They worked together and they work together in a very natural kind of way. For me, one informs the other, one feeds the other in sort of like this constant cycle. And so having said that, jumping back a little bit to your original question, I've been vegan since late 2004, going into 2005. It was kind of a stop and start kind of thing, you know?
Karina Inkster: I think that's pretty common.
Jess Peacock: Yeah and especially back then. I mean, obviously there's people that have been vegan far longer than that, but even in 2004, 2005 we didn’t have Beyond, we didn't have Impossible, we didn't have Just Egg. We didn't have these things that do I think - and I’m a full supporter of them in the sense that they help ease the transition for people. I mean I don't think you should be eating a steady diet of Beyond burgers or Impossible burgers or any of the, you know, vegan junk food that's coming out. But as far as sort of a bridge and a transition for people, oh my God, they're amazing right? I mean, what an incredible tool to be able to take someone out to a vegan restaurant and they try a Beyond burger and it tastes amazing. That does so much to help people make that transition versus the rice and beans and the black bean burgers I was sort of chowing down on back in the day.
Karina Inkster: I remember those days, man!
Jess Peacock: Yeah! Kind of cardboardish. You know, we didn’t have the early attempts at the cheeses yet. I mean, it was difficult, it was a wasteland, right? It was sort of a food wasteland to some, unless you were a really good cook and you knew how to like prep tofu or had these other ideas that you could do. But I wasn’t a good cook!
Karina Inkster: I know that you own that about yourself.
Jess Peacock: Oh yeah, no, I mean, I've been working on it for sure, but I'm not a great cook. But ontologically, I had made this connection to animals, non-human animals, having the same value as human animals, the right to live, the right to exist. And that ontological connection came about as I started to examine just how intimate of a process eating was and that we don't always stop and think about that. It's actually one of the most intimate daily acts we commit as human beings. There's a closeness to it. There's you know, the preparation and the smells and the proximity, the actual act of consumption. There's a certain ontological power and a sense of the nature of being that is attached to that act of eating as well as, and here was the thing for me, as well as to the food itself.
I started thinking about that. I started thinking about this food that I was putting into my body and not viewing it anymore as this food is keeping me alive. I started viewing it as I'm putting death into me. This is a dead creature. And so I started making that connection to myself and my desire to live, and how is that any different from a pig or a cow or a fish? You know, any living creature desires to live. And I was fortunate that I had that sort of mental breakthrough, right? So few of us actually step back to ponder our very intimate relationship with food. We so rarely ask ourselves, what do our food choices signify? What do they communicate about ourselves? What do these food choices and these food systems and the mass destruction they cause?
And at this point I wasn't fully tuned into the connections to global climate change. I was mostly tuned into animal welfare, but what does it say about these issues about society that we are willing to allow this what 25 billion land animals killed every year? What does it say about society that we're willing to allow this for our tastes? And ultimately it came down for me to, what does it say about people's religious beliefs? When we talk about life and the value of life as spiritual people, and yet we exist on a matrix of death?
Karina Inkster: Well, that's a pretty powerful way of putting it.
Jess Peacock: Right! And I just live in my head a lot. I’m very much that way.
Karina Inkster: You don’t say Jess!
Jess Peacock: And so once that process started, it just became… it wasn't something that… the light was on and I couldn't turn the switch off. It was just something that I knew that I didn't really have a choice in the matter at that point. I couldn't go about my regular habits of food because I would have those thoughts. I would have that voice in the back of my head. And I'm someone who came from you know, a big meat eating family. My parents owned a grocery store and my dad was the butcher. And so I came from a family of hunters. I personally could never do it. Which I think was sort of like a seed that blossomed later. But yeah a huge, huge family of meat eaters. So this was a huge moment for me to be faced with these question I had just never thought about before.
I didn't think about what I was eating or wearing despite being a self-professed animal lover. And there I was. So fast forward a little bit to grad school, the early part of the last decade, 2010 through 2017, 2018 or so. And the institutions that I attended, one was a Methodist theological school in Ohio. In Chicago, Theological Seminary in Chicago, both very progressive schools, progressive in any setting, they were Christian institutions, but incredibly progressive from a justice perspective. Chicago Theological in particular is a Christian seminary that is extremely focused on social justice issues. But at both of them, I found it stunning that after the chapels and after every racial justice event and after just every gathering that was justice-focused, the schools would provide catering that was all animal-based products.
And that just made no sense to me, especially in the context of, like I said, intersectional justice which is a very common talking point amongst students and faculty, particularly at Chicago Theological. I even presented - it's called an open house lecture and they do two of them a year and I was selected to present a lecture - and I discussed the movie “OkJa” and its correlation with the concept of the Christ. It was called, "OkJa and the Blood of The Lamb," and Jesus being referred to as The Lamb was in scripture and whatnot. And I had to push to ensure that the food that was provided at the lecture was plant-based. Here I was speaking on veganism. It was very much a major part of the lecture. Plant-based choices, the effect it has on animals and the climate and et cetera.
And I had to push to make sure that that the food that was being provided did not have meat in it. And so that really opened my eyes to the reality that in particular, the Christian Church and those within religious circles had a serious, a very serious blind spot when it came to the importance of a plant-based lifestyle, while topics like racial justice and climate change and misogyny, and you name it, they were often and rightfully deconstructed within those circles. If you tried to include animal oppression within those efforts you could even be mocked. That connection wasn't being made, despite you have the United Nations report on the effects of animal agriculture and global climate change and it being the largest factor, more so than the transportation sector with regard to global climate change.
And so it just ended up becoming another moment of awareness for me that was just like, wow, the Church doesn't get it. And that's unfortunate because the oppression and suffering that you and I know is endemic within animal agriculture, it's an oppression that emits waves of suffering throughout all walks of life. I mean, once climate change is a part of it that in itself affects so much, but also the suffering of workers within the meat industry, which has kind of come to light with the pandemic, maybe briefly come to light. It seems like we're getting back to normal really fast. But that was brought to the forefront last year. You know, like I said, the suffering of animals, the suffering of those whose health is affected with skyrocketing rates of childhood obesity and heart disease and adult onset diabetes, right?
The suffering of those living in poverty and who are starving while the world produces enough grain and legumes and what have you, to feed the entire planet. When we talk about care and compassion and creation care, that's a part of most religious beliefs, if not most Christian beliefs, and that all of these issues just sort of fall through the cracks because food is tasty, right?
Food has power, particularly within religious circles as well, because there's a lot of tradition that's attached to food. I mean, dear God, don't take the potlucks away. Churches won't know what to do without them, you know? So kind of a funny story is when I was moving here in Chewelah where I'm a pastor at, small town Eastern Washington, out in the country, beautiful land. We're in a valley, we're surrounded by mountains, just a gorgeous area to live, but, I'm moving out here and this was told to me later by another person, and this individual said, “I was talking to one of the older women in the church, and I told her, I said, you know Jess is vegan. And she goes, well, what is that? Well, he doesn't eat animal products or anything like that. And she goes, well, what are we going to cook for ‘em?”
You know, so yeah, food is important within the Church, right? But all of these issues which are connected to our food choices, to eating animals, I believe that they are in direct opposition to living in alignment with the spiritual or faith or Christian, whatever you want to call it, the ethics of community and peace and connectedness that I believe are sort of the bedrock of a strong Christian theology. And I would argue, based on my somewhat decent knowledge of world religions, that it's the bedrock of most major world religions. Because I mean, if nothing else, the call or the mission of spiritual people on this planet should be to alleviate suffering. And what we see from our food choices is nothing but suffering. So that might be a long winded way of getting to the answer of your question, but that's sort of the connection that I see between spirituality, or I'll just be more specific, between Christianity, Christian, spirituality and veganism.
Karina Inkster: Right. And of course that could be a whole discussion in itself, these very particular intersections, and when you mentioned blind spots in this concept here, I'm assuming you mean like the connection between suffering, and that could be of the animals, of the planet, of fellow humans. So the connection between suffering and our food choices. Is that what you meant by the blind spot that is kind of intrinsic in a lot of these religious communities?
Jess Peacock: Yes, absolutely.
Karina Inkster: Okay. So can you elaborate a little bit on these blind spots in particular? Like, why is there this massive blind spot or multiple blind spots? Why do they exist? And maybe you could give us some examples of what this looks like in practice.
Jess Peacock: Well, I think they exist because it - and I don't think this is just true within religious circles, I think this is true culturally - they exist because it helps us remain comfortable. We don't want to think. I think it was Paul McCartney, maybe, forgive me if I attribute this wrong, but someone said, there's a reason why there's not windows in slaughterhouses.
Karina Inkster: Yeah. That is Paul McCartney. If all slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be vegetarian.
Jess Peacock: Exactly. We don't want to be confronted with these things. We build up emotional barriers, spiritual barriers, cultural barriers, so we don't have to think about what we're eating now. I do know some people who - I mean, I still don't agree with their meat eating - but they are very much in tune with the fact that they are eating a living thing. They understand the process, and that's all well and good, but by and large, 85, 90, 95% of the people don't want to think about that this was a living thing. I mean, like I mentioned the movie Okja. I remember after Okja came out, people tweeting left and right: “I'm never eating bacon again! I'm never having a burger burger again!” because that movie forced them to think about it. It made what was intangible, tangible. Seaspiracy, you know, this confrontation for people like yourself and myself and others, we've been aware of these facts.
We've been aware of the depletion of the oceans and the dead zones within the oceans that are actually a lot of a result of runoff from factory farms. So we've been aware of these things, but so many people haven’t been, and they've been getting confronted with that. Some people just want to shut that off and not even look at it and continue eating their food without thinking about it. But some others, once they began again, that sort of ontological revelation that some people might have, it's difficult not to just kind of shove it out of your mind. It sticks and it eats away and you have to make a decision one way or another of what you're going to do. Are you going to continue supporting a system of oppression, supporting a system of cruelty, or are you going to do something about it in whatever way is available to you with whatever resources you have, that you are going to do something about it.
So I can't fully answer why those blind spots exist, but I suspect that a lot of it has to do with comfort. One of the things that I try to convey to religious folks, as a way to sort of ease into the process of ultimately sort of taking those blinders off or getting people to see the connection between their beliefs in what they say they believe in creation care and animal issues is I espouse - and I didn't come up with this, this is not my theological creation. It's been around for awhile - but it's something I buy into and it's called an Incarnational Theology. And what that means is that the Divine Spirit, God, Allah, whatever you want to call it, isn't this sort of separate force apart from us. It actually moves within and amidst everything. The rocks, the us, the animals. You might even call it The Force, right? I mean, it's not Midichlorians, but that concept of this energy, the spirit that moves in and through everything.
And so through that Incarnational Theology for me that makes all of creation sacred. And this idea massively shapes my work in the church with regard to everything, not just spirituality and veganism, but everything because if the Divine Spirit is present in all living things, all animals, not just human animals, then the oppression and cruelty that's faced by billions of animals every year within industrial farming CAFOs, et cetera, that realization, that understanding, that theological belief might then propel us into action that ultimately involves a change in our food choices, but also might open our eyes to how that oppression is linked, so animal oppression is linked to other forms of oppression, such as racism, enableism, and classism, because I firmly believe that the issues of animal exploitation should be considered alongside other issues as well. Feminist issues, you know, because -
Karina Inkster: Absolutely!
Jess Peacock: Yeah the stripping of the moral value that nonhuman animals face is not all that different from what women face through objectification on a daily basis. Or the exploitation of animals being viewed in correlation with the exploitation of undocumented immigrants within the meat and poultry industry, and we mentioned global climate change. That's the massive intersectional issue, right? Because you know, climate change is destroying ecosystems around the world specifically, and those who are hit hardest and first are the poorest countries or the poorest regions, right? So long story short, what I try to do to make those blind spots visible is make veganism the core of my work in the church.
It's the core of my advocacy effort. Now that doesn't mean I'm preaching veganism from the pulpit every Sunday. That's not what I mean. I just mean the compassion and the care and the creation care that is integral in veganism affects everything. It's the heart, it's the beating heart of everything I do theologically and through my advocacy and it strengthens in turn my choice to be plant-based because ultimately I just want to encourage people to face those questions. I want to encourage people to face the blind spots, not just of veganism, not just of animal issues, but of race relations, of racial injustice, of feminism, of all these issues that also have their blind spots. And some of those blind spots are biggest in the church and how ultimately, how can we expect to lead lives of justice? How can we expect to lead lives of compassion and mercy and peace, when through our food we are actually sowing seeds that are antithetical to mercy and compassion and justice?
Karina Inkster: Well that's a pretty frickin’ powerful way of putting it. So there's a lot to unpack here, but when you're speaking with groups of folks who are religious, how does veganism come up? Like do you use theological tools of some kind specifically in those groups to talk about veganism? So I'm talking about like bringing up veganism specifically. I know that what you were saying just now is a lot of the constructs involved in veganism, like compassion, aren't necessarily like talking about eating plants; they're kind of more general and more nebulous, right? But when you are specifically speaking about hey, maybe we shouldn't eat animal products anymore, here's why, and maybe we should eat more plants, here's why - how does that play out in religious circles? What kind of tools do you use and how does it kind of logistically happen?
Jess Peacock: It's not all that different from talking about veganism in other arenas. It's very contextually based. So it depends on who exactly you're talking to, number one. Like if it's a one-on-one situation or is it a church service setting I'm giving a message or something like that, you know? So it varies. So from sort of like a broad sort of like delivering messages on Sunday, I regularly include, even though like a message may not be about necessarily animals or plant-based issues or something like that, I include those issues of oppression in other issues of oppression I'm talking about. So like, literally just this past Sunday, you know, I don't need to talk about what the message was about per se, but I listed off some issues of oppression.
I talked about the deaths in Palestine. I talked about, you know, people refusing to mask up and putting their neighbours at risk, et cetera. And I threw in also 25 billion land animals being killed every year, you know? So that’s one aspect. So to normalize it, to include this oppression with these other forms of oppression, so I'm not just like picking a message once a year, like this is my vegan message time, it becomes organic. It's part of what I regularly talk about when talking about issues of oppression.
So that’s one way. Another way is just living by example. You know, the area that I live in is not vegan-friendly by any stretch of the imagination. I've literally had someone in this town come up to me, they actually waited by my car because I have vegan stickers on my car, wait for me to - I don't remember, I might've been in the coffee shop. I can't remember what I was doing, but wait at the car for me to ultimately come back to the car, so they could yell at me that their husband was a cattle rancher.
Karina Inkster: Good Lord. That's insane.
Jess Peacock: Yeah. So not an incredibly vegan-friendly area. It's a very conservative area by and large. We have Nazis here, like literal professed Nazis that have their camps and whatnot. I'm about 40 miles from Spokane. There's a little bit of vegan choices there. There's a really great vegan pizza place called Allie’s, and there's a vegan restaurant called Roots, but there's like two or three tops within the whole town. So it’s sort of evangelism in a way. I hate to use that term because of how negative of a connotation it can be. But because there isn't a lot of examples of veganism of plant-based choices around here, living by example is sort of another avenue. And I don't think we should ever negate the power of living by example. When people see that you have made an ethical choice and that you live by that ethical choice, even people who may not necessarily agree with you, they see your consistency and they see that it's an important issue for you.
It can open doors. It can open doors and the conversations that who knows what might happen for those individuals down the road after you've had a conversation, or maybe you've taken someone to a vegan restaurant to have a nice meal, and they see that, oh, I'm not eating necessarily like a rabbit or something. So those two elements are very important. And again, at the core of my theology, which I think is, in the Church specifically, reemphasizing and continuing to emphasize the core of your theology. I mentioned it being an Incarnational Theology, but it's also a very Liberative Theology, what some people call liberation theology. And so while Incarnational Theology speaks to the intrinsic value of creation as a benefit in and of itself and not a benefit simply because it can be exploited, Liberation Theology speaks to actually subverting those forms of exploitation and oppression.
Liberation Theology began in the late sixties, early seventies in Latin America and one of the fathers of Liberation Theology, his name was Gustavo Gutiérrez, and Liberation Theology being very much a view of compassion and care, the view of the Divine through the lens of the oppressed.
Karina Inkster: Hmm. Interesting.
Jess Peacock: Yeah. So while religion unfortunately is often very much top-down the privileged make the rules, you follow those rules, if you don't follow those rules, you're in trouble by God or whatever, Liberation Theology flips that. And so spirituality, faith is then viewed through the lens of the oppressed. Now Gustavo Gutiérrez focused on the poor. That's where Liberation Theology began was working with the poor, but it's expanded into Queer Liberation Theology, Feminist Liberation Theology, Womanist Liberation Theology. And I firmly believe that Liberation Theology speaks to the plight of the animals. Viewing our faith, viewing spirituality through the lens of, I might even argue, if we're just talking numbers, the most oppressed, which is through the lens of the non-human animal.
And so talking to church folks, that's something that I emphasize as well, because look, if we just want to simplify it, you know, when we look in Genesis, the first book of the Judeo-Islamic-Christian bible, the Creation Myth, right? You know, God created Adam and Eve, dah dah dah dah dah, from the Hebrew Bible. It's a story about where we come from. It's a story about what some people call Kingdom Come, I call Kindom Come, K-I-N-D-O-M. We're all kin. We're all connected. That's what the Creation Story is about. And God told the humans specifically in Genesis, so if people really want to be literalists and they want to be like, you know, God gave us dominion over the world and we can eat all the animals. Okay, fine, but you didn't read well enough because God tells the humans, “I've given you every plant on earth and every fruit, and that will be your food.” It's literally at the start of the Bible.
Meat eating didn't begin, it didn't occur until narratively - again, this is a myth, this is a mythology, but it tells us about who we are right? That's what myths do. And meat eating didn't occur in the narrative until after Adam and Eve’s expulsion from Eden. So that begs the question within the story, well, if meat eating didn't happen till after The Fall, and we were supposed to eat the plants and the fruits et cetera, why were non-human animals even created within the story? If it wasn't for food, the intent I believe was most likely relational. So that tells me that the earliest writers of scripture were very focused on our connection to non-human animals.
At least that makes the most sense to me. Now like I said, I don't take that literally, or at least I don't take the story literally. I take the intent behind the myth literally, and so it creates a discussion point or not literally, but I take it seriously, but it creates a discussion point of what kind of world we are working for here. If it's Kindom Come, if it's a transformative world where we grow closer in alignment with the Divine Spirit, if it's living in alignment with the spiritual ethics of community and peace and connectedness, then I believe that we should look at this example of Paradise. Even if it's metaphorical or mythological, there seems to be an element of truth here, because we do connect to animals. We do have relationships with animals, but we're very picky about which ones.
Karina Inkster: Well that's an interesting point because you were saying, you know, if you're looking at these stories or these myths as exactly that, stories and myths, you know, you can take the message away. You don't have to take it literally. What about just the animals existing for themselves? I mean, it doesn't have to be human-centric at all, does it?
Jess Peacock: No, absolutely not. And we've anthropomorphized history, which of course we did, right? Because I mean, we're the centre of our universe, and everything else is meant to - I mean, that's what capitalism does. We're the centre of the universe and everything else is exploited for money, for resources. That's what we've done. That's why we live in what's called the Anthropocene. It's ‘us centred’. And even though within the narrative of Genesis, it is ‘us centred’ - Adam and Eve are the primary figures. Again, pre-Fall there was I believe a sense of community with these creatures. And it wasn't just dogs and cats. The story says that all the animals were created and Adam had the ability to name them and everything, but we were to be in community with all of that. And for me, there's so much truth there because we can see how meat eating has fucked up the planet It just has!
Karina Inkster: Absolutely!
Jess Peacock: It's unarguable. The facts are clear. So for me that myth, that narrative, that scriptural story holds incredible power. And I think even if you move into the New Testament, the figure of Jesus continues, I think, to speak to that notion of living in alignment with sort of that incarnational spirit, right? The spirit moving in and through everything and thusly living in alignment with animals and nature because the writer of the Gospels, I don't think this was for nothing. The writer of the Gospels saw fit to identify Jesus with non-human animals. He was called The Lamb. Within the narrative, his sacrifice on the cross ended all other animals’ sacrifices because previous to this, particularly within Jewish culture but not necessarily just in Jewish culture, if you sinned, you brought an animal to the alter and that animal had its throat slit, and the blood would trickle down over the altar, and that was symbolic of you being forgiven of your sentence.
And so theologically, narratively, et cetera, Jesus represents an end to that animal slaughter. So not only was he named The Lamb, he brought an end to animal slaughter. When he was getting ready to tear up the temple, there's a classic story of Jesus walking into the temple and it's being used to sell things. So basically the temple had been turned into a capitalistic centre and Jesus begins flipping over the tables and chasing everyone out. He's pissed off that - he says, you know, my father's temple is basically being turned into a casino. And before he did that though, and all these animals are being sold there, there's sparrows, there's birds in these cages.
And before he begins flipping over the tables, he tells people take the birds out. He doesn't want to hurt the birds. He says something to the effect of that even sparrows are important to God. When he travelled out into the desert to be alone, to sort of think about his life and his mission and what was coming next, the passage says that he was accompanied only by animals. So I don't think any of that was an accident. I don't think any of this identification of Jesus with the non-human animal was an accident by the writers. And so all of this should, it should, doesn't always, but it should resonate for religious folks.
Because again, like I said, you know, you factor in the United Nations report that says livestock produces more greenhouse gases than the emissions of the entire transportation sector. Or that raising animals for food is, it's something like the animals being raised for food is something like responsible for 30% of the world's water consumption.
It occupies like half of the arable land. It's responsible for like 90, 95% of the Brazilian Amazon Rainforest destruction. Throw in ocean dead zones, habitat destructions, species extinction, then you can start to see how this theology of like incarnation and liberation speaks to veganism. And it speaks to plant-based choices. And it speaks to the dangers of what our food systems pose, not just pose future tense, but pose right now that have the damage it has been done to the world. And so I think these, again, these are things that religious people don't always think about. And I see sort of one of my missions, my goals, my hopes, is to begin opening those eyes.
Karina Inkster: That’s amazing. So clearly the veganism piece, even if it's not veganism as in, “hey, let's eat more plants and fewer animal products,” veganism as a construct is underlying pretty much everything you're doing.
Jess Peacock: Yes. Very much so.
Karina Inkster: Which is amazing. And so do you ever get negative responses to this from folks in the church? I mean I would assume there are a lot of folks who, first of all, don't really get veganism. Like the lady who was like, “well, so what are we going to feed Jess then?” Has there been pushback? I mean, these arguments that you're making and using theological tools actually make complete sense to me and I'm an atheist. So like, it makes sense to me, but I can assume because veganism is veganism and especially where you live in the world is not vegan-friendly, I can only assume that there has been pushback to that piece of the messaging. So I'm just curious what that has been like.
Jess Peacock: Yeah, well, within the congregation that I work with, surprisingly not much. I like to think that's because of my approach. Maybe, maybe not, or maybe they're just incredibly polite. I mean, it's a wonderful congregation. It's an absolutely wonderful congregation. And I'm leaving here in a bit and that's been a source of sadness for me because it is a very wonderful congregation. So it might be a bit of both. They might be a wonderful congregation and my approach to these things. But yes, one moment in particular that really sticks out for me was I was at - and this was pre pandemic - and I was at our conference, our Pacific Northwest Conference for the UCC. I was at a meeting of ours.
One of the things they wanted to do was break everyone up into groups that were going to discuss different topics. So there was like a racial justice group and there was a global climate change group and et cetera. Well, I wanted to be a part of the global climate change group because I felt that my personal ethics and the information that I have would very much work in conjunction with that. And so one of the things that these groups, these action groups were tasked with doing was come up with program ideas for what can the conference do to move us forward on these issues.
I suggested because of the connection between animal agriculture and meat, eating and meat processing to global climate change, that we begin an educational process around plant-based choices, having the conference themselves through their activities and the food opportunities that they have at meetings and stuff to begin going more plant-based, transitioning to more plant-based choices, having resources for congregations to discuss how they could go plant-based et cetera. And I don't think it's too much of a stretch to say that I was mocked. I was mocked. Oh, but bacon! And oh, I could never give up cheese!
Karina Inkster: Oh, the usual bullshit, right?
Jess Peacock: Yeah! And whenever someone says that, I want to be like - when someone's like, oh, I could never give up cheese. And it's like, well, you know what? We don't give people passes for not giving up white supremacy do we? So I'm not going to give you a pass on cheese personally. And not to equate the the racial injustice that people of colour face every day with non-human animals. I'm not saying they're the same thing. I'm saying that they emerge out of the same systems of oppression that our culture and society are based upon. So it's shocking and not shocking at the same time.
Karina Inkster: Right. Yeah.
Jess Peacock: I mean these are intelligent people. These are, if not progressive people, they are at the bare minimum liberal because the UCC is a very liberal denomination, which is why I'm in it. But it was just like, wow. I mean, just like that. I mean, we're not even gonna, you know, what about the facts, the figures, you know? This is a solid way to address global climate change. So yes, to some extent. But also I've been pleasantly surprised at times to where you just have people you did not expect to basically say, tell me more. And you're like, oh, okay. Oh yeah. Well, how much time you got?
Karina Inkster: I can tell you right now, based on our conversation, I am certain that it's at least 50%, if not way more your approach to this and your arguments, your way of bringing it up. It's for sure that in large part, I can tell you that right now.
Jess Peacock: I hope so. Because one of the things I've never wanted to come across as - I mean, and we all know who I'm talking about - the crazy vegan, right?
Karina Inkster: Oh yeah. We all know at least one.
Jess Peacock: I mean, and you get that within religious circles as well. You get the zealots, right. And that doesn't do anything for anyone. I mean you may get a convert here and there, but when it's based on fear, when it's based on anger, when it's based on you know, turn or burn, again, you may get some converts and it's questionable how long those converts will even last. Because when you're making your decisions out of someone berating you or fear, it's just not going to last. Now having said that I think we should be concerned and maybe a little afraid of our future right now from a global climate change perspective. But I want people to engage with veganism, not as a, “oh dear God, I don't want to die from frying under the sun.”
I want people to turn toward plant-based options, to turn towards veganism, because it's an all encompassing, healthy choice physically for your own body, for the body of the earth. Spiritually, I believe it's a healthy choice because again, your choices are not based on a system of death. So I want to emphasize the positive aspects of changing your diet, of changing your meal choices, and also encouraging people that they don't have to do it all at once. It’s not something that you have to just suddenly switch over, because that decreases the rate of success. And this may be anecdotal on
my part, but -
Karina Inkster: No, I'm with you on that. I've seen it myself. Absolutely agreed.
Jess Peacock: Yep. And so I encourage take a meatless Monday, then add a day as you get comfortable, or, you know what, if you're doing everything, but your cheese for awhile grapes! You know, if you're eating Beyond burgers, if you're topping your rice and beans with regular cheese for the time being, you know, I want to get you out of that ultimately, but steps. I'm okay with that transition point, because someone going vegan once or twice a week is doing far more than the person who's not.
Karina Inkster: Absolutely.
Jess Peacock: So I'd rather have a billion people being vegan imperfectly than a thousand people being perfectly vegan, personally.
Karina Inkster: Same. Yep. I'm with you. It statistically makes sense. But I think to a lot of hardcore vegans, there's a right way of being vegan and there's a wrong way of being vegan. And I think that's, I mean, that's a whole other conversation, but that's doing our movement a complete disservice. So I'm with you on that.
Jess Peacock: Yeah it’s purity culture, right? And we just don't see that in veganism, we see that in other political issues as well, that if someone is not doing everything perfectly right, then they can't sit at the table with you.
Karina Inkster: Exactly.
Jess Peacock: Right? And that just scares people away. They just give up because why try at that point? Because if I'm not good enough in my attempts, in my tries, if you're not going to accept that I'm actually trying to get there, then why do it at all? So yeah. No, totally.
Karina Inkster: Well, one more question for you. And this is something that you mentioned earlier, which is this concept of collective liberation. And so you were saying this could, or collective Liberation Theology in this case, and that could apply to all sorts of different forms of oppression, right? Animals, humans, different concepts within human oppression, different concepts within animal oppression. So now I'm not sure where you're at with this. Do you kind of see this as a kind of all religion construct where anyone who relates to religion or anyone who is spiritual can kind of join in this collective Liberation Theology? Do you see it as being kind of all encompassing? Do you see it as mostly you're working within Christianity? Like how does this play out and what are the next steps here?
Jess Peacock: I think it's all encompassing. When we talk about Liberation Theology - and remember at the top, like I said, my theology is very much earth based. And so for me, it's open to everyone no matter where they sit. And again, I'm very much agnostic on the next world and a lot of people within the Christian community gasp at that and are like, “But your clergy!” And it’s like, nobody knows! You don't know! There's no way for you to know. I'm sorry there isn’t and because you don't know you are agnostic too, whether you want to admit it or not.
So that's all to say that I think it's open to everyone because we're all just sort of trying to find our way and we use different constructs to do that, okay? So whether someone's an atheist, agnostic, Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, whatever, I think liberation applies. And so I think the first step then is to define what we mean by liberation. Within Liberation Theology, liberation is not just sort of simply flipping the script of oppressors and oppressed. Like that's a very western way of thinking, right? The bad guys get their comeuppance and the good guys take over. And that's basically what, within the United States, that's what our elections are based on.
You know, oh the bad guys are in charge. We’ve got to figure out a way to get the bad guys out of charge. So that's not Liberation Theology. It’s not about removing one group from power and inserting a different group of previously oppressed people, cause that doesn't work either. We see in South America, Latin America, that has been going on for ages where the oppressed get power, and then what do they do? They begin oppressing those underneath them.
True liberation through at least through the eyes of liberation theologians like Gustavo Gutierrez and others, is that everyone, everyone, the good, the bad and the ugly, all of us, oppressor and oppressed, needs to be liberated because oppression is its own form of oppression. We can see that as an example within slaughterhouses. The stats of people who work in slaughterhouses, those who are directly oppressing the animals, who are killing the animals, high rates of alcoholism, high rates of partner abuse, spousal abuse, high rates of suicide, high rates of outside violence. Because oppression is its own oppression. It harms the oppressor too.
So for collective liberation to be a reality we need all of us, whether we're religious or whether we're non-religious, we need to work toward the elimination of hierarchies in every facet of life. These systems that declare this life has value, this life doesn't have value. We can profit off this life, this life has no profit potential whatsoever. And that includes our systems of food production and our food choices. It includes our religious structures, our political structures. But ultimately with our discussion here, it is very pertinent to what we're putting into our body and how those systems of hierarchies have said it's okay to put this in your body, this cow or this pig, but you know, dogs and cats get a pass, right? This group gets oppressed this group doesn’t.
Because if our food choices could sort of be seen as sort of like narrative performances of how society constructs our ideas of ourselves and what it means to be a community, then through these systems and through these hierarchies, we have to ask what are we saying about ourselves by participating and performing within these systems that are basically filled with unspeakable violence? That what's the vast majority of our food is based upon. And so then how can we advocate for liberation on any level, all of us religious or not, how can any of us advocate for liberation on any level when our food choices, the very thing keeping us alive, the very thing propping up our existence exists within a matrix of oppression and death? I talked about that subversion that Liberation Theology promotes. The subversion of these systems that aims towards subverting our food systems. And I am convinced that Liberation Theology, that subversion was modelled by the figure of Jesus.
I believe that Jesus exposed and critiqued the rise and growth of systems of death within society, and whether that was in first century Palestine or the United States in the 21st century, this figure of Jesus challenges us to act ethically and responsibly when it is least convenient. That figure of Jesus, I believe, I mean, for me, it’s black and white. When I read the Gospels, I see it, not everyone does, but I see the subversive Jesus smeared throughout the Gospels. And he challenges us to stand against exploitation even when we directly benefit from those exploitative systems. And then in response, to act compassionately while embracing sort of this intersectional ethos of what I would call the sacredness of of all life.
Karina Inkster: Wow, this is powerful stuff. So what if - let’s just have this kind of a, “what if” scenario here - what if we have listeners who are in religious circles, and I mean I know for a fact we have listeners who are vegan, clearly, it’s a vegan show, but I also know that we have folks who are curious, so they're on the spectrum somewhere, but they haven't started yet. So are there resources out there, or do you have any recommendations for folks who have both of these lenses? Like they want to learn more about veganism and they're coming from this religious background, like maybe this has clicked in someone's brain. Like, oh, I didn't see this connection before but now I do. What do I do next?
Jess Peacock: Yeah. And you know, I think if you're a religious person and you're looking to make these arguments and connections and do research on it, I mean, I personally don't even feel like you necessarily need religious oriented books on the topic, but having said that, there are resources. One of the first individuals that, or authors that I read who was making the connection between theology and animals and care and plant-based options and veganism, his name is Andrew Lindsey. And he's written a number of books on theology and animals. That was sort of a, I mean, I was making the connection myself, but what he did was dive deep into sort of the scriptural and theological aspects of it. And so there was a lot of meat on the bone there for me. But having said that, if you're already sort of at a place religiously or spiritually where you're like, yeah, no, I'm all about subverting oppressive systems. I'm all about subverting hierarchies. You're already there. I think like Aph and Syl Ko who wrote, “Aphro-ism” together.
Karina Inkster: Oh right! That's on my reading list thanks to you by the way.
Jess Peacock: Oh, it's fabulous. They deconstruct notions of animality and the systems that are in place that have us thinking a certain way, not just about animals, but about race and the connection between animality and race and how we've turned people into colour through our lexicon, into animals, that kind of thing. It's powerful, powerful stuff. So I think those are excellent books, but also - and I always get the title of her book wrong - Melanie joy, who's PhD, why we love dogs, eat cows and or why we love dogs, eat pigs and wear cows.
Karina Inkster: Oh yeah! She speaks a lot about - what term does she use? Not carnivore-ism, but there's some term that she uses.
Jess Peacock: Carne-ism I think.
Karina Inkster: Carne-ism! That’s it! Yes.
Jess Peacock: She does a very good job of talking about the systems that we've been born into from day one, you know, milk makes you strong, meat is where your protein comes from, and these systems that were in place the minute you came out of the womb and we've baked in them, right? We've soaked in them, So the difficulty of breaking free from the matrix, so to speak, of these things that we've been taught for so long. That's really good.
And she just wrote another book called, “Powerarchy”, that while it's not necessarily focused on veganism, it's a great companion piece to that book because she's expanding on those systems, those invisible systems that have sort of kept us complacent for so long with regards to again, not just food choices, but racial justice and feminism and other forms of oppression that we just have accepted. And not question for some of us, for a good chunk of our lives.
Karina Inkster: Absolutely. Well those are fantastic resources. I would love to actually include those in our show notes for listeners. So we will put in some links there to some of these resources. And if you have any others you want to add to that list, throw them over, we'll add them. Cause I think this is definitely going to be one of those resource focused kind of like think pieces almost, where are like, I gotta consider this some more.
So thank you Jess so much for speaking with me. I have learned a ton. This is a fascinating conversation, and I'm really glad that we both had the opportunity to do this. Love your work on our team. So stoked that you're part of it. And thank you again for taking the time.
Jess Peacock: Thank you for having me on Karina.
Karina Inkster: Jess, thanks so much for coming on the show. I loved our conversation and it got me thinking about a whole new angle of veganism that I hadn't thought about before. Head to our show notes at nobullshitvegan.com/099 to connect with Jess. And don't forget to download your free vegan-specific portion guide as an alternative to calorie counting at Karinainkster.com/portionguide. Thanks so much for listening.