Adventist Vegetarianism, The Czech Way – On European Adventism III

Being vegetarian is one distinctive characteristic of Adventism, even though the way of interpreting it may deeply vary – from a country like Norway to a country like Argentina. This diversity ranges from ascetic forms of veganism, realistic strategies of occasional meat-eating to various idealistic and romantic modalities of circumstantial or regional vegetarianism. But, compared to this worldwide Adventist individual diversity, institutional Adventism appears instead as homogeneously and massively vegetarian. Except for Czech Adventism. At the SDA Sazava Seminary, near Prague, where students study to become SDA pastors, they have decided to serve meat at the Adventist cafeteria – with the option to have vegetarian food as a reasonable alternative. It was not to accommodate non-Adventists (as could be the case in some Adventist hospitals) but basically for Adventists themselves. This could appear inappropriate, even blasphemous to an engaged, end-time Adventism. But actually it's not. It's rather the fruit of an historical and cultural wisdom typical of some European Adventist communities. In fact, even though the SDA Czecho-Slovakian Union Conferencetotals less than 10,000 Adventists, and the Czech Republic itself is sometimes considered part of Europe's periphery, Czech Adventism helps us think about Adventism at large in a different way. It pushes us to change the perspective from “Adventism” to “Adventists”, from “ideology” to “persons”.

The temptation to arbitrarily reduce “Adventism” to “Adventists” is always real but still minor, particularly these days. The greater temptation is to think of Adventism as above, and even contra, Adventists themselves. At Sazava they have done a simple thing. They have decided to include people's feelings, opinions and requests in what Adventism should be. We must not give up ideals, but even less ought we to give up the students themselves. A religion, a doctrine, a principle is always more perfect than real people. But also poorer. Real persons, groups or communities shouldn't always be judged by ideals or values, rather the other way round. The validity of principles and values is such only if they survive among real people. And if they do, necessarily, they are transformed. Willing persons are transformed by good ideals. But serious principles are also transformed by being in touch with people. Doctrines and principles can be difficult or complicated but by nature are still straightforward. Only persons are complex and existentially opaque to pure rationality. This is what Czech Adventism teaches us about vegetarianism. And, in a larger dimension, this is also what Czech essayist and thinker, Milan Kundera teaches us about European culture in general. In his book “The Art of the Novel” he reminds us that Europeans have a double paternity. They are children of Descartes' rationality but also of Cervantes' “Don Quixote”. In Descartes' rationality, as in any other, lay or religious, there prevails the “reductio ad unum” (reduction to one) strategy in the form of obsession with synthesis, coherence, clarity or understandability. While, in the Cervantes novel (and “Don Quixote” is the first “modern” novel), according to Kundera, we have the co-existing tension of hardcore and inerasable multiple events and plots at whose center are found specific, unrepeatable and unique persons and characters that resist a final synthesis. And there is a narrow parallelism, in this perspective, between Cervantes' character Don Quixote (and the novel in general), and the Bible’s pluralistic, heterogeneous and polycentric narratives and poetry.

But what is vegetarianism in Adventism? It is a lifestyle choice to preserve health in our own bodies. A choice mainly understood ethically or soteriologically. In other words we mainly chose to be vegetarians for medical reasons, or to please God, or both. This classical dilemma is too theologically impregnated. Let's enlarge this perspective by describing the cultural conditions and potentialities of Adventist vegetarianism from three different perspectives.

First, vegetarianism in Adventism undoubtedly takes an idiosyncratic anthropocentric form. We renounce eating meat not by compassion for animals or for ecologic reasons but rather because we want to live longer. The center of interest and reasoning here are humans and their personal, medical or religious benefit. Consequently this is also a typically voluntaristic vegetarianism, based in the strength and nobility of self-control and self-determination in preserving and managing our health. This ethical vegetarianism, strictly speaking, is not holistic. It considers only the human aspects and not the ecological implications on the cosmos. Adventism still remains entrapped in this anthropocentric reductive perspective almost totally today, in practice and scientific research. This is the case with the noble initiatives of researchers such as Joan Sabaté, Gary Fraser and, in general, all that is done at Loma Linda University.

Second, more individually, a few Adventists have started to question, here and there, the absolute and exhaustive validity of this traditional anthropocentric approach. They introduce in our vegetarianism some new environmental concerns and considerations. Some of them try to maintain both. But in practice the introduction of animalist considerations necessarily implies a downsizing of the typical anthropocentrism of traditional Adventist vegetarianism. This is not bad at all. On the contrary it represents an improvement and particularly a cultural bridge to non-Adventist vegetarians who, for instance in Italy, actually represent more than the 10 % of the population (a higher percentage than in the Adventist church itself) and who are vegetarians for ecological reasons. We Adventists shouldn't have any problem at all in integrating these new more contemporary (and less ideological) environmental motives in our vegetarianism that aspire to be more dynamic and inclusive. An example of this is what two Adventists are doing in the Netherlands: Marianne Thieme (house of representatives) and Niko Koffeman (senate), founders of the first worldwide “animal” party, present in a parliament.

Third, aside from our current institutional “anthropocentric vegetarianism”, and beside this emerging “ecological vegetarianism”, I would like to propose another type that could be called an Adventist social vegetarianism. This because our vegetarianism, in addition to its strong anthropocentric burden, tends to be also heavily individualistic, exclusive and ideological. Even the emerging “animalist” Adventist vegetarianism (Marianne Thieme/Niko Koffeman) doesn't correct these trends and might easily become radical and fundamentalist. But, in fact, vegetarianism and lifestyle are less conditioned by the “what” (meat – yes or no) and more by the “how” (how do we or don’t we – eat meat). This sociological approach to food is far more influential in people's life, Adventist or not. This is in synthesis with broader thesis of “Slow Food”, a movement founded by Carlo Petrini – now an international movement – headquartered in Cuneo, Italy. We invited Petrini to present one of his books in our Italian Adventist Seminary of Villa Aurora some time ago and perceived this common accent on the necessity of a new lifestyle in our societies, but also the big difference between a medical-individualistic approach (Adventism) and a socio-cultural approach to food and lifestyle (Slow Food).

In fact, according to the French anthropologist from the University of Paris, Claude Fischler, the food anomaly today in rich societies is more related to the “how” rather than to the “what” we eat. This is what Fischler calls today's big paradoxical “gastro-anomie” in western societies. And this new socio-cultural way of producing and consuming food is what makes us Adventists more like non Adventists. Adventism usually chooses to underline the difference between us, vegetarian Adventists – who live longer, and them, those meat-eaters – who live shorter. But that is a quantitative difference. In a deeper analysis this fact is less important. Instead, for Fischler, the qualitative common characteristics to vegetarians and non vegetarians are more important. And typical signs of this contemporary “gastro-anomie” are given by three sociological facts: 1) the industrial production of food today; 2) the privatization and individualization of common and shared moments of eating; 3) the permanent availability of food through home refrigeration and the various networks of omnipresent, proximate food-markets. In other words, we don't follow and are not involved any more in the complete chain of food production, we have learned to eat alone and in a hurry, and we don't know any more what food scarcity means. All these three characteristics are sociological because they tend to detach us from others and reinforce an already overdeveloped individualism.

So, between Adventist “individualistic and ethical vegetarianism” and today's western societies' “individualistic dietetic hedonism”, there is much more in common than we usually think. There is the shared overlooking that food and eating is a radical social experience and not only an economic, esthetic, ethical, medical or religious one. That even more important than “what” we eat (meat or not) is “how” we eat (stress or relaxed) and “who” we eat with (alone or together). And here the Adventist Czech way of interpreting and applying our traditional vegetarianism is less contradictory than it seems and more meaningful because it dares to consider as more important: “Adventists” and “vegetarians” than “Adventism” and “vegetarianism”.

Hanz Gutierrez is a Peruvian theologian, philosopher and physician. Currently he is Chair of the Systematic Theology Department at the Italian Adventist Theological Faculty of “Villa Aurora” and director of the CECSUR (Cultural Center for Human and Religious Sciences) in Florence, Italy.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6861
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the last known meal that The Lord prepared for His disciples was charbroiled fish. The first beverage The Lord prepared for His other guests was wine. Of course in Eden it wasn’t so. I am closer to Galilee than Eden so I eat charbroiled Fish on occasion sometimes with a little wine. Of course my main diet is either salads or cooked vegetables.

it is what come out of the mouth that pollutes, it is hurtful to both speaker and hearer. Tom Z

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Thank you for this. This is a complex topic, both in the US and in other parts of the world. Finding vegetarian options when eating out (including at someone’s home) has always been difficult in Europe outside of the larger urban communities—and being vegan would eventually malnourish a person under those circumstances (although one of the more satisfying restaurant experiences I regularly enjoyed was at a vegan restaurant right in the middle of Prague, where lines were always long, and rarely filled by Adventists (although it’s harder to tell over there) but by many patrons from the US and the UK, as well as by the local population (especially students). Meals are social events, not simply nutritional ones, and social development is nearly impossible if the only people you sit down to break bread with are just like you—one must be flexible. The traditional approach to eating among Methodist-based, middle-class Adventists was “simplicity,” and not joyous celebration through food—we were suspicious of noticeably flavored food for decades, for example, which was as much as reflection of the food available to them and a rationale for putting up with it as anything else (combined with a somewhat Xenophobic approach to how we model good health). I am a bit surprised that meat has become part of the seminary menu recently than had I known that in recent days, it had been removed, given the growing interest in plant-based diets for environmental as well as ethical and health reasons . But Doctor Gutierrez’s point about “vegetarianism,” and being a “vegetarian” is a good and useful one. This is not entirely unlike the thinking behind the growing VB6 diet over here—you’re vegan until you become a really annoying, hard-headed fanatic and start losing friends (which usually begins with the social hours, around 6:00 PM [See Mark Bittman on this]). I will toss out a personal observation: “individual dietetic hedonism,” is more common among men than women, certainly here in the US.

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A further observation: Traditional Adventism did, in fact, teach an ethical abhorrence to eating animals on the basis of both an environmental stewardship notion (different from mainstream Christians) and Ellen White’s (admittedly derivative) beliefs and writings about the nature of animals (see The Ministry of Healing, and other writings up through 1905). I think Dr. Gutierrez is missing an important part of Adventist religious heritage that didn’t cross The Channel. Ironically, this belief is rising in acceptance among non-SDAs, as is being either a vegan or vegetarian—both graduate schools I attended (in the US) went out of their way to provide tasty and nourishing meals that are respectful of both dietary habits.

There is at the heart of Christianity a deeply selfish concern with “salvation”–i.e. avoiding the “wrath to come.” Classic Adventist vegetarianism is an extension of this concern. To EGW’s generation, vegetarianism had nothing to do with longevity (they did not believe that time would last much longer); it was instead seen as a holiness enhancer, a way to avoid the tug of sin and the depletion of vital energy. Meat-eating, to EGW (before she relapsed for good), was synonymous with the sex drive, and according to the health reformers of that day, nothing depleted your vital energy more than sex. And that was also the reason for the ban on spices and condiments. Bland was good because it suppressed men’s sex drive (to my knowledge, EGW did not believe women had a sex drive; in all her writings, her concern is with men inflicting their urges upon their wives. That may have been why she could justify resuming her habit of meat-eating after the death of her husband).

While Jesus also predicated his ethics on the “wrath to come,” his concern was not individual holiness. The Sermon on the Mount is an ethical manifesto for the Kingdom of God. This is how you need to live to be part of God’s kingdom. Jesus was not trying to rescue people from this life, but to transform life by living it in harmony with divine values. I can’t imagine Jesus–even if he had had the luxury of living in a culture with abundant food–would have urged vegetarianism on his people. He was a non-ascetic Jew who was as yet unfamiliar with Augustine’s doctrine of original sin. Jews were concerned about loyalty, not degrees of holiness. But what he would for sure have done was to condemn excess and gluttony, whether indulged in by vegetarians or meat-eaters. And I can’t imagine he would have been happy to hear that the 90 percent of grain wasted in raising California’s beef, would have been enough to put an end to world hunger.

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40+ years of healthy lifestyle education and longevity statistics were not incentive enough for me to adopt vegetarianism as an Adventist. A fairly recent personal epiphany of compassion for animals (friends don’t eat friends), concerns regarding large scale meat farming/processing, global hunger, and ecology did the trick. I would now remain a vegetarian even if it provided no personal health benefits. With most restaurants now offering vegetarian options, it’s now easier than ever to adopt the lifestyle.

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These aberrations from the inspired counsel are the result of rejecting the inspired counsel. In the so-called “civilized” world, meat is no longer a necessity. All arguments to justify its consumption are extremely weak. For those into environmentalism, it is much better for the planet to go vegetarian. More people can be fed from a hectare of crops than from the same amount of land dedicated to the raising of animals for food. It’s a no-brainer, really. No one needs to eat dead animals. The only reason people in the so-called western world eat meat is because they like it; not because they need it.

And if our only reason for eating meat is that Jesus did so, then we should all be wearing robes and walking; because He did that, too. Only once did He travel by something other than His own two feet–during the Triumphal Entry.

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I am struggling to see what point the original author is making. I don’t see being vegetarian or a meat eater as any type of issue. Surely it’s just personal choice.

Certainly in continental Europe, it is more difficult to be vegetarian ; there isn’t a lot of vegetarian choices in the supermarkets or restaurants.

In the US and UK, this is not the case. .

Where I agree with what you are saying is the sheer quantity of meat being consumed. Traditionally in Asia the amount of meat on a plate for a whole family would equate to one individual portion in the West.

The quantity being consumed in the West, is not only harmful for health but also for the environment.

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Really? It was not difficult 45 years ago when I spent 9 months there as a student, or several years later when I traveled around on foot and by train. I never had trouble finding vegetarian food. Surely their choices haven’t decreased in that time.

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I think 45 years ago, the expectations of vegetarian options was very different to today. Certainly Italy would be fine for vegetarians, but other countries, not so much.

45 years ago, the UK would have been awful for vegetarians, as no doubt it would have been for meat eaters!

Thank goodness for immigration.

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If the denomination does not officially consider the question of meat eating a “test of faith”, then I believe the decision is meant to be left to us individually. And to even suggest that someone is less of an Adventist or ignoring inspired counsel is nigh unto abusive. I consider vegetarian a gift from being a lifelong Adventist, but I’m thankful to understand that it has nothing at all to do with my salvation.

Interestingly, I’ve observed more and more people who are vegetarians although they have never had contact with Adventism. And in the U.S., it is increasingly common for a vegetarian option to be offered at business functions (conferences, etc.). Nearly 40 people report to me at the public institution where I work, and at least 10% of them are vegetarians.

Somehow I still lean toward the preference that Adventist church potlucks, at least in North America, remain vegetarian. And I would be disappointed if, at a time when vegetarianism is becoming more common and valued, North American Adventist institutions started serving meat in their cafeterias/dining rooms.

Hopefully, though, we can learn from this that a one-size-fits-all approach does not work for a world church. What may seem best for Czech Adventists is not necessarily best for North American Adventists. Could we extrapolate from this a principle related to other topics of significant concern in the church right now?

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Actually I have found it quite easy to be a vegetarian when traveling in England, Norway, France, Germany, etc. for the last 25 years. Unless you’re vegan, a vegetarian pizza, cheese & bread with fruit, pastys (cheese/onion filled turnovers), etc. are easy to find. Besides, at least in England, there are a growing number of vegetarian restaurants.

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I think AAGE has brought up the ROOT of the matter in discussing the actual and real changes that have occurred in the Seventh day Adventist health message.
A Stimulating Diet, a Less Animal Passions Diet.
These are basically what are the MAIN emphasis are in the Testimonies and the other books derived from them Counsels on Heath, Counsels on Diet and Foods.
ANIMAL PASSIONS.
Actually some of her counsel to married women is to NOT Stimulate their husband’s ANIMAL PASSIONS.

It has ONLY been in the 20th Century that there was talk about the “SDA” diet having OTHER health benefits and preventing degenerative diseases. And we essentially stopped advertising the SDA Diet as preventing Animal Passions and Animal Behaviors. But these Notices are STILL in the Red Books for ALL to be influenced by. Actually, the booklet by James White and endorsed by Ellen to Mothers is STILL available for Sale and Still influences a certain portion of SDA families and their Sons with scary information.

As an aside. Steve and Karen Wickham [friends] have developed a Reversing Diabetes program based on just increasing one’s fiber intake to about 40 grams a day. A lot of research went into this. Where they live, Grundy Co., TN has the highest incidence of Diabetes in the state. Their community program has made a good impact on many. Many now have normal blood sugars and off medications. The fiber of course is plant based [animal products do not have fiber], but it is not vegetarian. Just have to watch the calories in the animal product intake. Count Fiber first, just be aware of calories and serving sizes of food.
So a plant based diet can have an impact on Diabetes and preventing the degenerative problems associated with that condition. The body’s impaired use of Glucose and Fats.
There is a similar program which Steve and Karen plugged into by the Mid-America Hospital, Ardmore, OK. Stuart Seale, MD and others, with a book titled, The Full Plate Diet. Based on the same food behaviors. Karen and Steve have a DVD with 6 Lessons and handout that can be printed for individual or group. But this is a 21st Century benefit of a new way of looking at the SDA Diet.

Note was made that increasingly more people are opting out of meat [and dairy].
At my Sunday Episcopal church when we have church dinners food in the line have one of 3 labels. Meat, Vegetarian, Vegan. This began about 2 years ago. It began with the “knife and fork” movie being passed around among the group.
Even in the youth group when food is provided, several are vege and vegan.

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I am not going to argue the point. . I think it depends on each of our perspectives and tastes.

Certainly in the UK, there is a significant proportion of vegetarians, so there is a healthy market to cater to.

One of the problems for me personally is the range of foods my family and I eat regularly , Indian, Thai, Japanese, Greek, Italian, Mexican, Moroccan etc. Supermarkets in the UK generally cater for these ok. In most areas there are reasonable restaurants. This is to do with immigration and the diversity that now exists.

In a lot of European countries, such diversity is much more restricted, both geographically and the spectrum of different nationalities.

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Czech Adventists are not all tee-totalers, either—many drink beer, which is as much a part of Czech culture as apple pie is ours. We do have to allow for local custom that is not harmful to ourselves or others. My own position is that meat-eating is quite harmful to cows and chickens (and sheep and baby sheep, and baby cows . . . . ). But, as many have written, here, that is not a test of faith but an enlightened personal decision and a delicate balance between being an appreciated member of a community and a social irritant.

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That is quite the understatement!

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I’ve noticed the same thing. Many of our customers are vegetarians, and quite a few are vegans. And the vast majority of our customers are not Adventists. By contrast, a significant number of Adventists eat meat, which is puzzling, since Ellen White said that those waiting for the coming of Christ will give up eating flesh foods. So, I must conclude that they have rejected her counsels, since I’m quite sure they all profess to be waiting for the coming of the Lord.

Here is why I cannot accept EGW as authoritative on vegetarianism, let alone any link between that and being saved:

  1. She ate meat up to near the end of her life. Including oysters. (Documented fact.) Yet she expected to go to heaven!
  2. If the Bible doesn’t say so, I don’t care what EGW says. And many Adventists today would agree. The Bible says nothing about a link between eating meat and salvation. The Bible does tell of many who ate lamb (including Jesus), beef, fish, etc.

Do try again, Bird. Credibility is important. And being consistent is important.

In spite of this, I am a vegetarian with the exception of eating clean fish and sometimes eating chicken at Panera.

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Since local Czech beer was mentioned.
Does anyone know the PerCent Alcohol of their beer?
To compare with American store-bought beer.

Concerning Ellen White’s comments on these issues, I just received a message from a longtime reader who preferred not to comment directly, but had an interesting perspective:

While I’m a lifetime vegetarian, I love this quote from EGW. I think it really helps put in perspective where she was coming from, and how usage of language has changed:

“I am happy to assure you that as a denomination we are in the fullest sense total abstainers from the use of spiritous liquors, wine, beer, [fermented] cider, and also tobacco and all other narcotics. . . . All are vegetarians, many abstaining wholly from the use of flesh food, while others use it in only the most moderate degree.” Letter 99 (Jan. 8), 1894

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