The Peaceable Table

A Vegetarian Journal for Quakers and Other People of Faith

The Peaceable Table is intended for the mutual support, education, and inspiration of people of faith in the practice of love for our fellow animals and observance of a vegetarian diet

God' s Dream for Animals:
Process Theology and Animal Ethics

Fay-Ellen Ellwood and a friend

The Big Picture

Why are we here? "What's it all about?"

Any attempt to see the world as a reality that is not merely physical but also purposeful and spiritual—a perspective that includes God—must also speak to the issue of the place of animals. For many centuries, when Christians have tried to understand God's plan for the world, they have nearly always considered human beings as the only players of real value in the story, overlooking God's plan for animals or holding it as secondary, at best, to God's plan for humanity. We do not argue that the possible role of animals is greater than, or even equal to, that of humans, only that in focussing solely on humanity we do ourselves as well as animals a disservice. According to process thinker Alfred North Whitehead, one of the problems with religion is that it is often expressed in terms of ancient or expired human experiences: "Religion will not regain its old power until it can face change in the same spirit as does science. Its principles may be eternal, but the expression of those principles requires continual development."

If we agree that animals have feelings, and indeed souls as Whitehead believed, to dismiss animal suffering as a result of their being part of the "circle of life" is not adequate, any more than it would be to justify human suffering in such a way. Neither does it seem responsible to justify animal suffering with, say, traditional Biblical explanations such as God's giving Adam "dominion" over the creatures, while taking a more progressive understanding of the suffering of humanity as a wrong we should seek to right.

The Empathic God

What does it mean for animals to say that "God so loved the world"? We think of God as an all-loving being who works in partnership with the world. As God is the God of the whole world, S/He is also the God of the dog or cat we share our lives with, the bald eagle, and the opossum rummaging through our garbage can. When we take a moment to observe animals with an open mind, it is quite easy to see that they are capable of suffering and joy, and have aims and fears.

As there exists "that of God" in every one, we feel that God loves unconditionally, with compassion for both the oppressed and the oppressor. A God that is everywhere present is present to the consciousness of every creature. If we do to God whatever we do to "the least of these," then God shares the pleasures of every creature, and feels compassion for every creature that experiences need, oppression and violence. This would not make much sense if we could not bear witness to the reality of animal happiness or suffering. We may not always be precisely correct in our interpretations of what they feel, but overall the picture is clear enough. For example, our family's ginger tabby cat Isaac purrs and settles down on a lap when petted, and yelps and runs away if one accidentally steps on his tail. If we do not reduce such reactions to unfeeling mechanical responses in our beloved family companion animals, neither should we assume that is the case with cows or chickens.

Walking the Walk: Crucial Questions

It is fairly easy to understand the basics of the way in which the God of process theology loves and values animals. But to what degree are we obligated to act upon the ethical implications of these principles? This is the rub. Many Christians—many Friends—are reluctant to adopt lifestyles in which they consciously reduce the suffering of animal life, such as the elementary step of being vegetarian. Friends are for the most part comfortable with the place where most people in our western society draw the line of sympathy. This position is understandable; we work so hard for good and for justice in other areas of our lives, that we may feel if we take on one more cause we may very well exhaust ourselves.

One partial answer to this stance is that this may be more a matter of immediate emotional reaction than of a crucial decision about ongoing investment of time and energy. Not everyone is called to be active in working on behalf of animals; it may be merely a matter of ceasing to cause them unnecessary harm. After a very limited time spent developing vegetarian menus, one may continue as before to labor on the concerns to which one already feels drawn.

But it is a fact that for the most part, meeting human needs involves some injury to some part of God's creation, and it is not obvious to every person of good will just where the line between necessary and unnecessary harm should be drawn. In order to make land available to raise nonbloody food—broccoli, say, or grapes, or soy—the habitats of many wild animals were destroyed, and the animals lost their lives. Whole species may have been wiped out. If it is impossible for vast numbers of people to be fed without animals being killed thus, some may feel that it is quibbling to object to killing cows or chickens for us to eat.

It is true that vegetarians cannot wash their hands in innocence while pointing accusingly at the guilty meat-eaters, and in any case such self-righteousness makes for an ugly spectacle. We must face the fact that, willingly or not, we are all involved in the deaths of others in order that we may live and thrive. Then why not go ahead and eat our steak? Isn't it simply part of the package of life arising out of death?

To affirm that it is would be like saying "I am in blood / Stepp'd in so far that, should I wade no more, / Returning were as tedious as go o'er" —but this stance is no more valid for us than it was for Macbeth. It is mere rationalization meant to justify the self-indulgence of questionable desires. We can stop short in the river of blood; we can do as little violence as possible. We can opt for soy instead of steak.

Questions for the Process God

Some process thinkers image God as being the Soul of the world, and the world as God's body, who feels the pains and pleasures of every being, rather as a human psyche does those of every tissue and organ. One problem that arises out of this concept is that such a God shares not only the pain of the victim but the gratification of the predator. Not only does God share in the fear and anguish of, say, a gray whale hunted by orcas, God also feels the satisfaction the orca takes in eating the flesh of a freshly killed whale. It seems likely then that God experiences a deep tension between tragedy and beauty, between desire and pain. But if S/He shares in all the conflicting aims of different creatures and that is just the way things are, how can we claim that the nonviolent vegan diet is the will of God? God suffers the pain and frustration of the chicken who lives a miserable life pent up in a tiny cage, and the horror of being killed, but perhaps God also shares in the enjoyment of the diner eating a savory herb-seasoned chicken dish.

But what is different between God's experience and that of the human meat-eater may be that while sharing in her or his brief enjoyment of eating the flesh, God is also aware of what the diner is probably screening out—that there was a conscious being suffering protracted misery before being violently turned into a thing on a platter. Then God must also have a sense of the disproportion between these two aspects of the situation. When we factor in the harmful long-term effects on humans of a meat-centered diet—the pain of a young mother dying from breast cancer, of a father suddenly felled by a heart attack—then go on to the grief of families and friends suffering at their losses, it is clear how costly to God is the pleasure of those dishes. Nor would God be oblivious to the destructive effects of our huge factory farms and slaughterhouses on other animals, plants, people, on the earth itself—water depletion, toxic pollution, desertification, global warming, extinctions. God's pain is exponentially increased with every further dimension that is opened up.

Why, then, would God, who is so deeply enmeshed in our world as to be called the Soul of the world, be involved in something that seems so wrong? Clearly the whole animal agribusiness system is not simply "the way things are." A product of greed, technologies and out-of-control human population growth, this system is not even the Circle of Life; it is a wild, open spiral containing vastly and increasingly more death than life. It is a humanly-created monstrosity that humans can opt to change.

The Dream

Process theologies see not a particular Way Things Are but a dynamic situation in which God's Dream of a world of complexity, intense experience, beauty, love, and enjoyment is caught, however, dimly, by finite consciousnesses who are themselves developing. Complexity and intensity of experience entail a potential for pain, which is the cost God and finite creatures pay, but it is not at the heart of the Dream. God is not dominating or violent; God does not coerce creatures into realizing the Dream, but lures and inspires us to take up the adventure of co-creating.

The author of Proverbs says "Better is a dinner of vegetables where love is, than a fatted ox and hatred with it" (Prov. 15:17)—better for the health of the humans, and surely better for the health of the ox. A Peaceable Table holding a feast of plant food seems much closer to realizing a little of God's Dream of enjoyment for all than one containing severed pieces of animal bodies.

—Fay Elanor Ellwood and Gracia Fay Ellwood


Winter Root Vegetable Stew

1 large onion, chopped
2 tsp. sesame or olive oil
1 small burdock root, sliced 1/4 inch thick
1 cup rutabagas, chopped in 1/2 inch pieces
1 cup parsnips, ditto
1 cup daikon radishes, ditto
1 cup carrots, ditto
1 tsp minced ginger
5 cups water
3 Tbs. soy sauce
5 dry shiitake mushrooms
1 3-inch piece Kombu sea vegetable
3 Tbs kuzu or arrowroot powder

Saute chopped onions for few minutes, until they are transparent. Add all the chopped vegetables and saute for few more minutes, then add water, shiitake mushroms and kombu. Bring to a boil and simmer for 40 minutes. Slice the mushrooms and kombu and add them back to the pot, add soy sauce. Then dissolve the kuzu or arrowroot powder in 1/2 cup water, add to the pot, stirring until it starts boiling again. You can add a little bit of Stevia to increase the natural sweetness of the root vegetables. You can add thinly sliced green onions as a garnish. saute few minutes.

—Maria Elena Nava

Swiss Chard and Potatoes

2 medium Yukon potatoes, boiled and cubed in 1 inch pieces
12 Swiss chard leaves, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced.
1 Tbs sesame or olive oil
1 or 2 pinches of salt

Lightly saute the garlic, add chopped Swiss chard and potatoes, stir gantly, cover and simmer for 5 minutes. You can add a little water if is too dry.

—Maria Elena Nava

Tempeh Stew

8 ozs tempeh, cubed in 1-inch pieces
1 small leek, thinly sliced
1 carrot, thinly sliced
1 daikon, ditto
2 celery sticks, sliced
1 dry persimmon, chopped
1 Tbs sesame or olive oil
1 Tbs. soy sauce
1 cup water

Saute vegetables for 5 minutes, then add persimmon and tempeh. Add water and soy sauce and simmer for 15 minutes.

—Maria Elena Nava

Perfect Potato Pancakes

1 small yellow onion, peeled
3 large russet potatoes, unpeeled
2 Tbsp. of potato flour
Margarine (non-trans-fat) or vegetable oil
Peanut butter

Grate the onion and potatoes. Add flour and a little oil or margarine. Form into pancakes and fry in the oil or margarine. Top with peanut butter.

A dish fit for Heaven, but don't wait--unless you're trying to lose weight, 'cause these might put flesh on your bones.

—Benjamin Urrutia

Review: Tawny Scrawny Lion

Tawny Scrawny Lion by Kathryn Jackson; pictures by Gustaf Tenggren. Golden Books, 1952, 1997.

The title character is scrawny partly because he lives alone. Your normal happy-and-healthy lion lives in a pride of up to eighteen females (who normally do most or all of the hunting) and up to nine males. A solitary lion is an unhappy and malnourished creature.

He is also so scrawny because he rigidly follows a rather unrealistic hunting schedule:

  • Monday, monkeys--who are good at rapid tree-climbing, where lions cannot follow.
  • Tuesday, kangaroos--native only to Australia,where there are no lions. Wednesday, zebras--the only creatures in the list who are in reality prey to lions. Tawny Scrawny gets to eat one day a week.
  • Thursday, bears--who live in non-tropical mountain forests, and so do not normally encounter lions, who are dwellers in tropical savannas. But if they ever did meet, I daresay a sizable bear could give a lion as good as he got, or better.
  • Friday, camels--dwellers in the desert. Desert lions are extinct since the days of Tartarin de Tarascon.
  • Saturday, elephants. Not even the biggest and fiercest lion can hope to bring down a grown elephant, and the elephant children are well-protected by their mothers, grandmothers, and aunts.
  • Sunday, nothing. Apparently this is a God-fearing lion who does not hunt on Sundays. Must be part Narnian

Anyway, the poor cat lives a lonely, ill-nourished and unhappy life until he meets a trickster bunny--no doubt a relative of Br'er Rabbit--who tricks him into switching from red meat to carrot stew. Alas, this dish is not quite vegetarian; besides carrots, berries, mushrooms and herbs, it also contains fish. This makes sense as far as the lion is concerned; the prophecy of Isaiah XI is not yet fulfilled, and we do not know yet how to turn cats into vegetarians. But it does not make sense as far as the rabbit is concerned. Bunnies are the most perfectly vegan of creatures, God bless them. They do not and cannot eat fish.

Were it not for this point, I would give this book a full-hearted, not just a half-hearted, recommendation. But I am happy that the poor lion goes from being scrawny, lonely and miserable to being plump, sociable and happy. The book's many child readers from 1952 to the present will doubtless concur.

—Benjamin Urrutia

Review: Steer Madness

Steer Madness [computer game] by Veggie Games Inc., 2004. Available from $10.00

Veggie Games Inc. has created a wonderful alternative to violent video games! In their new game, Steer Madness, the player is a cow (actually, a steer) who escaped from an overturned truck that, we presume, was bound for the slaughterhouse. The cow is befriended by a young woman named Jacklyn who works at an animal clinic. He thinks of himself only as "E52," the number on his ear tag, but she removes it and helps him choose a name, Bryce. Loaning him her (environmentally-friendly) bicycle, she invites Bryce to go on various missions throughout the city, starting with distributing stickers to animal activists. This simple mission helps the player get used to handling curbs, dodging traffic and crossing at the intersections of streets with names like "Kale" and "Carob" and Granola." Next, when Bryce sees to his distress that Jacklyn was unable to save an injured rabbit rescued from a cosmetics testing lab--a poignant moment--he is able at once to go into action rescuing other rabbits from the lab, and try to get out before the alarm summons the authorities. Other missions include delivering soy burgers to replace hamburgers, and hijacking a truck full of chickens bound for the slaughterhouse. As Bryce already walks upright, it provokes no more than a smile that he can talk, ride a bike, open cages, and the like.

Some missions have no time limit, so the player can take her or his time exploring the city. Other missions, such as the lab break-in, are time sensitive and require some practice to be able to carry out in the specified time. Although I have not yet won the game, I have really enjoyed playing it. The level of difficulty was just about right for one who has a little experience with video games, but not so difficult that the beginner cannot catch on. The subject matter and story line is very pointedly animal activist in nature, and though it may at first seem tame to children used to the typical game with much blood and violence, it might speak to some who had never thought much about the effects of violence on the victims, especially animals. For the gratification of hitting and killing, it substitutes the healthy gratification of being a rescuer; it is a wonderful way to expose players to different ways in which they can themselves participate in helping animals. In this way it may serve both to develop awareness of those already concerned about animals, and to spread awareness about animal rights, including the alternatives to eating animals. Of course, since the subject matter is specific, it may well appeal only to a limited audience.

Animal conscious parents who purchase this game for their children can help to spread the word about animals to their children's friends. Moreover, the independent music soundtrack should appeal to many young people. We can hope that this inspiring game will also serve to pave the way for other animal friendly video games!

—Fay-Ellen Ellwood

Odds and Ends: Vegetarianism in Middle-Earth

"As a corollary to their different relations to nature, the representatives of Good tend to be vegetarian, to rely on the simplest of food--bread and honey, mushrooms, compressed grain cakes--whereas the evil powers eat corrupt flesh, drink intoxicating beverages compounded of dreadful, nameless ingredients." Thus Patricia Meyers Spacks in Understanding the Lord of the Rings. It is true, alas, that this is only a tendency, not a rule carved in granite. Sam and Frodo do have some rabbit stew, which is very far from being a vegetarian dish, and the Shire has butchers. On the other hand, the most ancient and noblest beings we encounter—Tom Bombadil, Goldberry, the High Elves, the Ents--are indeed all vegetarian. The vilest beings—Gollum, Orcs, Spiders and Trolls—are very carnivorous, often cannibals. Everyone else seems to be in-between.

In his movie version, Peter Jackson strengthens this tendency. Denethor is made to look even more evil by the disgusting way he devours his meat. It is Gollum's idea, not Sam's, to hunt Flopsy and Mopsy.

—Benjamin Urrutia

Pioneers: Bronson Alcott

Amos Bronson Alcox was born on a flax farm in Connecticut in 1799. He attended an ill-equipped, primitive schoolhouse where a library was unheard-of and the rod was freely applied. He taught himself to read and write in part by forming letters in charcoal on the wooden floor. To further their education, he and a cousin wrote journals on paper scraps they stitched together, and critiqued each other's work; they scoured the nearby farms looking for books to borrow, finding a few gems such as Pilgrim's Progress. His formal schooling ended at 13.

Amos became a peddler in the upper South. His needles, hair combs and other notions were welcome to the planters' families, and his charm and blue-eyed-blond good looks got him an entree into their art-lined drawing rooms, musical sessions, and libraries. The dependence of this cultured life on slave labor did not stop him from using these encounters as a kind of college-prep and finishing school. He gained a polished manner and changed his name to A. Bronson Alcott.

Whenever possible throughout his long life he read widely and voraciously, especially in philosophy and education. His educational and social ideas were more than a century ahead of their time, taking for granted that girls were as worthy of education as boys. Instead of drilling facts into children with the threat of beatings, his conception of teaching was to inspire them and draw out of them, by means of Socratic conversations, wisdom they did not know they had. The several schools he started were paradisal islands in an ocean of prejudice and rigidity, but none lasted long. One failed due to the unexpected death of its patron; another took a nosedive because he had the imprudence to publish some of his conversations with the children, which drew amazing ideas out of them, but questioned received wisdom about the Bible. It finally failed because he enrolled an African-American child, and refused to give in to parental pressure to expel her. Thereafter, most of the teaching he did was poorly-paid adult education in freelance sessions he called Conversations, on all manner of spiritual, philosophical and political-social topics.

Bronson married Boston aristocrat Abigail May and in time became the father of four daughters, to whom he was a devoted, hands-on father and teacher. The second daughter, Louisa May, went on to become the author of Little Women and other best-selling novels. The family was involved in the anti-slavery movement along with Thoreau, Emerson and other New England Transcendentalists, sometimes hiding Underground Railroad fugitives in their house. During the 1850s Bronson narrowly escaped death as part of a group of protesters trying to rescue a recaptured Black fugitive.

Bronson's commitment to compassion and justice led him into vegetarianism in his early thirties. Together with his colleague and financial backer Charles Lane and others, in 1843 he set up a community called Fruitlands that was to use no products of human or animal slavery. The down-to-earth Abigail was dubious about these innovations, but was willing to give them a try. It might have worked had Bronson and Lane added to their idealism a large dollop of common sense, but Louisa May's later image of her philosopher-father as living up in the sky with his family trying to pull him to earth by a rope had too much truth to it. Bronson and Lane were quite willing to do hard manual labor, but at other times would hold profound conversations while urgent farming tasks waited, or go off to recruit other members when a storm threatened the harvest. Their linen garments, designed by the ascetic Lane, had an outre appearance that called down derision on them and hindered their attempts to communicate. As winter came down their finances failed, their provisions dwindled, and in January, 1844 the community collapsed. The farm was bought by one of the supporters, who eventually made it both a prospering business and an open-door soup kitchen for the poor of the area. Today it is a museum.

Even had the leaders had more practical minds, it is difficult to say whether Fruitlands might have succeeded as a vegan farm community given the insufficient funds available before it could become self-supporting, and the rather primitive technology of the times. For example, they had to compromise their determination never to use animals, and ended up borrowing a team of oxen for plowing. Perhaps there are stages of civilization in which a partial enslavement of animals cannot really be avoided. But the story of Fruitlands is witness to the need for a sensible grasp of practicalities as well as compassion and vision.

Bronson continued to be a vegetarian his whole life, although Abigail, who believed that a little meat was necessary for health, did not follow him. He remained in very good health nearly all his life and continued his work for justice and enlightenment into his eighties, surviving his wife and two of his daughters.

—Joan Gilbert


Margaret Cavendish, 1623-1673, aspiring scientist, proto-feminist and writer of verse and fantasy literature, did not perhaps produce poetry of the first rank, but her moral sense is far ahead of most thinkers of the seventeenth century (or, indeed, of the twenty-first). She is one of the few early defenders of animals who not only protested against sport hunting, but questioned the very idea of eating animals.

from "The Hunting of the Hare"

Betwixt two ridges of ploughed land lay Wat
Pressing his Body close to Earth lay squat
His nose upon his two forefeet close lies
Glaring obliquely with his great grey Eyes
His Head he always sets against the wind....

Swift Hounds as tenors next in place;
of The little Beagles, they a treble sing.
And through the air their voice a Round did ring;
Which made a Consort as they ran along:
If they but Words could speak, might sing a Song:
The Horns kept tyme, the Hunters shout for Joy
And Valiant seem, poor Wat for to Destroy.
Spurring their Horses to a full Career,
Swim Rivers deep, leap Ditches without fear;
Endanger Life and Limbes, so fast will ride,
Only to see how patiently Wat died.
For why, the Dogs so near his heels did get
That they their sharp Teeth in his Breech did set.
Then tumbling down, did fall with weeping Eyes,
Gives up his Ghost, and thus poor Wat he dies....

Man doth think that Exercise and Toile
To keep their Health, is best, which makes most spoile.
Thinking that Food, and Nourishment so good,
And appetite, that feeds on Flesh, and Blood.
of When they do Lions, Wolves, Beares, Tigers see,
To kill poore Sheep, strait say, they cruell be.
But for themselves all Creatures think too few,
For Luxury, wish God would make them new.
As if that God made Creatures for Mans meat,
To give them Life, and Sense, for Man to eat;
Or else for Sport, or Recreations sake,
Destroy those Lifes that God saw good to make:
Making their Stomacks, Graves, which full they fill
With Murther'd Bodies, that in sport they kill.
Yet Man doth think himselfe so gentle, mild,
When he of Creatures is most cruell wild.
And is so Proud, thinks onely he shall live,
That God a God-like Nature did him give.
And that all Creatures for his sake alone,
[Were] made for him, to Tyrannize upon.

—Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle

The inverted syntax makes her last stanza somewhat unclear in places, but she seems to be saying that "People think the most healthy form of exercise and work is that which is most destructive; that flesh and blood is the best food. They think that wild predators are cruel when they kill sheep, but think all creatures are too few to satisfy their own luxurious appetites, and wish God would make them all over again [so they could kill and eat them again]. They make their stomachs into graves for murdered bodies; they think only they have Godlike natures, and that all creatures were made only so they could tyrannize over them.

The Peaceable Table is intended to resume the witness of that excellent vehicle of the Friends Vegetarian Society of North America, The Friendly Vegetarian, which appeared quarterly between 1982 and 1995. Following its example, and sometimes borrowing from its treasures, we publish articles for toe-in-the-water vegetarians as well as long-term ones, poetry, letters, book and film reviews, and recipes.

The journal is intended to be interactive; contributions, including illustrations, are invited for the next issue. Deadline for the March issue will be March 10, 2005. Send letters and articles to or 10 Krotona Hill, Ojai, CA 93023; send reviews to We hope to operate primarily online in order to conserve trees and labor, but hard copy will be available for interested persons who are not online. The latter are asked to donate $12 (USD) per year. Other donations to offset the cost of the domain name, server and advertising notices are welcome.

Image credits: Fruitlands Museum.

Editor: Gracia Fay Ellwood
Book and Film Review Editor: Fay Elanor Ellwood
Recipe Editor: Maria Elena Nava
Technical Architect: Richard Scott Lancelot Ellwood