Ian Martin is correct in saying that Genesis 1:29 prescribes vegetarianism for the ancient Hebrews. So why do their descendants, the modern Jews (and also the Christians, who revere the same scripture), eat meat?
The answer comes later in Genesis, after the Flood, when the deity expressly authorises Noah and his descendants to eat meat: “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; and as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything.” (Genesis 9:3.)
Why does the deity change his mind? Later, Moses institutes dietary laws that nullify this permissiveness and prohibit eating all sorts of creatures (including pigs, lobsters, shrimps and squid), on the grounds that they’re unclean. (See Leviticus 11:4-8, 10-20, 29-30, and 41-43.) This makes it impossible for any orthodox Jew ever to enjoy eating a pork chop, lobster, or tom yam kung. Later still, in the Christian dispensation, the deity reverts to his earlier permissiveness by sending a voice from heaven to tell Simon Peter to eat anything he likes. (Acts 10:9-16.)
We would be very stupid indeed if we did not consider the possibility that these inconsistencies do not reflect the shifting will of an indecisive deity, but rather the changing positions of different human authorities writing at different times and in different places, who put their own views into the mouth of the deity. If the deity exists, he must surely have a special place in hell reserved for those who dare to put words in his mouth.
But there is one ethical imperative that gives us an unassailable mandate for vegetarianism. That is the famous Golden Rule, which is probably the greatest, simplest, and most all-inclusive moral law ever written. It occurs in many cultures and religions, and is worded variously; but basically it tells us: “Treat others the way you would want others to treat you.” (See Matthew 7:12 and Luke 6:31.)
Would we want our fellow creatures to eat us? No. Then neither should we eat them. If there’s a good counter-argument to this, I’d like to hear it.
Ye Olde Theologian