I used to do a blog here on vb
that dealt with these topics but it kind of got chewed up in the server switch I think.
Quoting from my website (link in my sig) on the related topic of Jesus eating fish (the arguments I make can hopefully be applied to reading anywhere in the Bible):
One possible refrain vegetarians might hear from Christians - and this is true whether the vegetarian in question is Christian or not - is that Jesus wasn't a vegetarian. At the very least, he ate fish, and although there are no explicit references it would be unreasonable to assume that he entirely abstained from eating other animals (the most likely suspects being lambs or goats).
So what does this mean? Obviously if you're not Christian it means approximately nothing to you anyway: fair enough, and I hope in that case I can demonstrate to you that, despite Jesus eating fish in the Bible, Christianity is not an intrinsically flesh-eating religion. As I've mentioned elsewhere in blog posts and discussions in the comments, it's always worth remembering that Jesus was (theologically-speaking) Son of Man as well as Son of God, and as such he was bound by the time and place he was in, that is first-century Galilee. In this context most people ate animal flesh rarely, usually only on festivals, because of its expense as much as anything. But they ate meat, and they ate it as a part of religious rituals, and within the framework Jesus was working this was the background reality. This isn't an excuse, but it's worth remembering.
In any case, I would argue that Christians shouldn't be trying to draw their ethics directly from the Bible, for the simple reason that the Bible is equally bound by the various times and places it was written. Various things which are categorically wrong today are an assumed background norm in the Bible, from patriarchy to slavery, and so trying to derive ethics directly from the Bible is pretty obviously an unacceptable way to proceed. Rather than dwelling on why these things are mentioned, then (it is because they were the norm at the time the books in question were written), we should consider how the biblical writers negotiated these morally dangerous issues.
With regards to animals, the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament, if you prefer) casts an interesting light on their place in nature and the relation between them and humans. In the creation story, humans do not receive a special day for their own creation but are created at the same time as all other land animals; furthermore, the land animals are declared good independent of people whatsoever. The original creation, after all, was vegetarian (within the creation story - I'm not suggesting that the earliest humans, biologically speaking, were vegetarian). It is only after God realises the extent of the human capacity for exploitation and violence that flesh-eating is sanctioned, and when it is it is ritualised in a legal context which sees animal sacrifice introduced at the same time as capital punishment for murder. Post-Flood, God is shown to attempt to control human violence, and in this way eating animals is clearly cast as an undesirable form of killing. Not as undesirable as killing a human, true - there is no capital punishment for killing an animal, even if it is not ritually killed - but undesirable nevertheless. The limited allowance of meat-eating is in this way a concession to human sinfulness, and the Bible presents it in this way: over time, unfortunately, this aspect of the book of Genesis has been sidelined in the interest of allowing human gluttony to proceed unhindered.
It would be hard to deny that the New Testament played no role in this sidelining. The Early Church's need to differentiate itself from the Jewish religion, and in the process win converts in the polytheistic Roman culture, meant that early Christian writers tended to focus on Christianity as a religion of freedom from overbearing legalism, where Love, not Law, was the key. This is of course quite ironic, given the rise of Law and ritual in certain Christian traditions throughout human history, often to the extent of replacing Love altogether. In any case, freedom from laws included freedom from dietary laws, and so it is today that biblical verses intended to annul the Jewish dietary rules (such as Matthew 15:11, say) are used to justify Christians continuing to eat flesh in a wholly different context.
Paul in particular was no friend of the animal creation: a need to disassociate himself from the legalism of his pre-Christian days meant that animals were relegated to a sub-moral status for him. In dealing with a rift in the Roman church* between a vegetarian group and a flesh-eating group, Paul's primary concern with church unity meant that he essentially ruled that both groups could eat as they wished so long as they did not infringe upon the other group's faith. Whatever his intentions, Paul's ruling here has proved instrumental in instituting the influential view for Christians that vegetarianism is superstitious and so-called Christian 'freedom' requires the individualisation and therefore irrelevance of food consumption.
I'm not saying that we should focus on the Hebrew Bible and ignore the New Testament on this issue; I am saying, once again, that we must remember the context of the times and places these books were written in. In the book of Jonah, when Jonah wonders why God cared about the city he'd been sent to, God asks him "Should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?" It isn't only the people of Nineveh that matter to God; it's the animals too, even though Jonah clearly doesn't think so. For a Christian, these are the two strands of the Bible on animals in microcosm: the strand of God caring for all creation, and the strand of humans abusing and exploiting all creation. Both strands need to be borne in mind if we are to read the Bible in a way that does justice to what it can tell us about animals and how we are to relate to them.
This was a more theological/biblical blog post than usual so apologies and thanks to non-Christians reading who've actually made it through! I ummed and ahhed about whether I should post this here or on my website (which also has a new article today!) for that reason but I decided to go ahead because hopefully it can explain a bit more deeply some of the Bible texts some Christians unthinkingly and uncritically use to attack whatever they happen to disagree with. Like I said, it doesn't excuse everything the Bible says on this topic, but hopefully it goes a little way to explaining it, and demonstrating how being a Christian and being a vegetarian are far from being a esoteric combination.