The world is anxiously watching the coronavirus. Appearing suddenly in December 2019, the virus—now labeled COVID-19—quickly spread across the Chinese city of Wuhan in Hubei province (population 58 million). Within a month, COVID-19 had already caused more deaths than the 2002–2003 SARS virus outbreak. Thousands have died in China, with scores of thousands infected. China’s government has severely restricted travel, attempting to quarantine several cities, but despite drastic measures the deadly virus has spread to Australia, Europe, and North America.
While questions remain, Chinese health officials and the World Health Organization link the illness to human consumption of wild animals, including scaly anteaters, badgers, salamanders, scorpions, hedgehogs, snakes, bats, and even wolves. Exotic dishes—called yě wèi, “wild flavors”—are very popular in Chinese culture. While markets that provide these animals for food are illegal, the prohibition of their sale has not been strictly enforced, and they often end up in the bowls of millions.
China is also the world’s leading consumer of pork, and homes near pigs and other livestock lead to human diseases referred to as “zoonotic.” Swine influenza and other epidemics have originated in China in times past.
Other cultures promote similar diets. In parts of Africa, people consume “wild meat”—including monkeys and bats. Because of these practices, the Ebola epidemic stubbornly lingers in those countries, causing suffering and loss.
What’s more, spread across almost all cultures is the consumption of shellfish such as oysters, shrimp, lobster, crab, mussels, and clams. Health warnings against eating these crustaceans in certain seasons are common.
The obvious question is, “Should the animals described here be considered food for human beings?” Anciently, the Creator God distinguished “clean” (edible) meats from “unclean” (not to be eaten) meats, explaining in detail which kinds of mammals, fish, birds, and insects He created for people to eat. He tells us plainly, “You shall not eat any detestable thing. These are the animals which you may eat” (Deuteronomy 14:3–4), then goes on to list the approved and prohibited items (vv. 4–21).
Sure enough, along with pig and shellfish, bat is among the prohibited meats! Our loving God allows His people a wide variety of foods, such as the meat of animals that chew the cud and have split hooves. Why, then, would He limit the types of meat, fish, and fowl that we may use for food? The “unclean” creatures essentially form the “clean-up crew” in our planet’s ecosystem. Animals that eat carrion contain in their bodies much of the harmful matter they consume. They balance nature and clean the environment, but were not created for human consumption.
Feasting on these “wild flavors” can cause serious health problems and illnesses, including the deadly diseases mentioned above. While this information is not widely accepted by the general population, reams of medical literature contain warnings about the long-term use of the aforementioned creatures as food.
Hopefully, the countries affected by the COVID-19 epidemic will successfully halt its progress. They are working hard to do so. It is sobering to realize that many infectious diseases could be prevented, and humanity’s general health improved, by simple obedience to the Bible’s food laws.