When I say I'm vegetarian, a common reaction from some religious people is, "But didn't God put animals on Earth for us to eat?" As they have grown up believing that animals are food and not friends, they seem genuinely confused as to why anyone would refuse to eat something granted to them by God. I was equally confused by their reaction: why would God want humans to harm any of his other creations?
To better understand this sentiment, I decided to research a couple of key scriptures: the Christian Bible and the Hindu Gita. Here are a few choice quotations.
Here is a quote from Genesis 1:29: "And God said, 'Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree in which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.'"
Romans 14:21 purports vegetarianism even more clearly: "It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak."
There is also the Commandment, "Thou shalt not kill." It doesn't say "Thou shalt not murder."
Many people claim that the Bible frequently mentions that humans have "dominion" over the animals, but this means that we should protect and care for them. They are not to be killed or eaten.
The Bhagavad Gita
The Bhagavad Gita (17:8, 17:10) describes the types of foods preferred according to one's qualities: "Foods dear to those in the mode of goodness increase the duration of life, purify one's existence and give strength, health, happiness and satisfaction. Such foods are juicy, fatty, wholesome, and pleasing to the heart," and, "Food that is tasteless, decomposed and putrid, and food consisting of remnants and untouchable things is dear to those in the mode of darkness."
The Gita is aligned with the Bible's assertion that flesh is unhealthy and "weakens" the human body, while juicy, fatty, wholesome foods (fruits, nuts, grains, etc.) promote vitality because they are full of life; meat is dead matter that elicits darkness as it contains no life force ("praan" in Sanskrit).
What kind of food does God himself prefer? In 9:26 He tells us, "If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit or water, I will accept it."
Note that the Sanskrit word for "accept" is "asnami," which also means "eat."
Moreover, Chapter 5 of the Gita acknowledges animal (and human) rights, with the statement: "The humble sages, by virtue of true knowledge, see with equal vision a learned and gentle brahmana, a cow, an elephant, a dog and a dog-eater [outcaste]."
According to the spiritual texts of two of the world's major religions, God did not put animals on Earth for human consumption, but to live in harmony with us as we are both a part of nature.
To kill is the ultimate act of disrespect, and we should therefore do no harm to any of God's creations. He loves us all.