Why should you and your religious community consider adopting a plant-based diet during Lent? There are many excellent reasons, including your own health and the health of those you love, but we will focus on just three here: 1. Spiritual, 2. Ecological, and 3. Concern for animal welfare. We also offer a long list of resources to help you and your community reflect upon and live out your commitment to giving up animal products during Lent.
I am sure you have heard many people say, "I could never give up meat, I enjoy it too much. That would just be too difficult." During Lent we are called to reflect on the Christian life, which requires that we give up momentary, fleeting pleasures, for the sake of a deeper, lasting joy. EWTN puts it this way in their Lenten Guide:
"By denying ourselves something we enjoy, we discipline our wills so that we are not slaves to our pleasures. Just as indulging the pleasure of eating can lead to physical flabbiness and, if this is great enough, an inability to perform in physically demanding situations, indulging in pleasure in general leads to spiritual weakness and, if this is great enough, an inability to perform in spiritually demanding situations, when the demands of morality require us to sacrifice something pleasurable or endure hardship (such as being scorned for the faith). There are few better ways to keep one's priorities straight than by periodically denying ourselves things of lesser priority to show us that they are not necessary and focus our attention on what is necessary."
Here too is a beautiful excerpt from Orthodox priest Fr John Chryssavgis on the spiritual meaning of fasting:
"To fast is to acknowledge that all of this world, 'the earth, is the Lord’s, and all the fullness thereof' (Ps. 23:1). It is to affirm that the material creation is not under our control; it is not to be exploited selfishly, but is to be returned in thanks to God, restored in communion with God. Therefore, to fast is to learn to give, and not simply to give up. It is not to deny, but in fact to offer, to learn to share, to connect with the natural world. It is beginning to break down barriers with my neighbor and my world, recognizing in others faces, icons; and in the earth the face itself of God. Anyone who does not love trees does not love people; anyone who does not love trees does not love God. To fast, then, is to love; it is to see more clearly, to restore the primal vision of creation, the original beauty of the world. To fast is to move away from what I want, to what the world needs. It is to be liberated from greed, control, and compulsion. It is to free creation itself from fear and destruction. Fasting is to value everything for itself, and not simply for ourselves. It is to regain a sense of wonder, to be filled with a sense of goodness, of God-liness. It is to see all things in God, and God in all things. The discipline of fasting is the necessary corrective for our culture of wasting. Letting go is the critical balance for our controlling; communion is the alternative for our consumption; and sharing is the only appropriate healing of the scarring that we have left on the body of our world, as well as on humanity as the body of God."
Every time you sit down to a meatless meal during Lent, use it as a reminder to pray that you may move away from what you want, to what the world needs.
Numerous studies, including a United Nations report, have now clearly demonstrated that our over-consumption of animal products in the United States is destroying the environment, our common home. A recent article from the Washington Post summarized some of these problems. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), global agriculture—dominated by livestock production and the grains grown to support it—accounts for 30% of greenhouse gas emissions. In addition to being a major contributor to climate change, animal agriculture is also one of the leading causes of many other environmental issues, including overfishing, destruction of wildlife, deforestation, and depletion and pollution of freshwater resources.
Traditionally, Lent It is a time of conversion. It is a time to learn how to more fully express God's mercy and compassion. There is no easier way to demonstrate God's mercy for all creation by leaving animal products off your plate. Each year 9 billion animals are slaughtered for food in the United States, and, sadly, 99% of those animals are raised on "factory farms." Most animals raised for food, like pigs and chickens, will spend their entire lives in close confinement and in dark warehouses, never feeling the warmth of the sun or the grass beneath their feet. Hens raised for egg production are kept in battery cages so small that they will never know what it is like to spread the wings that God gave them. This is not how God meant these creatures to live. Learn more about the realities of factory farming from Mercy for Animals, a group dedicated to stopping the cruel treatment of farm animals.
By choosing not to eat animal products, we show mercy to animals and we witness to the promise of a completely non-violent future Peaceable Kingdom.
For these spiritual, ecological, and animal welfare reasons (and the health reasons too!), we hope you will consider going vegetarian or vegan for Lent. Here are some great resources to get you started and keep you going for the entire 40 days! And perhaps, after a great 40 days, you will consider making meatless/plant-based Fridays a regular part of your spiritual practice or go vegetarian or vegan for the whole year!
Resources to share with your parish community:
*CreatureKind, an incredible organization which aims to help Christians of all denominations better live out Christ's mercy and compassion, has a six-week course that your community can go through together to reflect more fully on what our faith means for animals.
*Catholic Moral Theologian, Charles Camosy, has authored a short book called For Love of Animals that is ideal for group reflection and study during Lent and leading up to Easter. This book explains how traditional Christian ideas and principles require us to treat animals morally. There are also questions for discussion!
*Another reader that is an excellent resource for group reflection and discussion is "Every Living Thing: How Pope Francis, Evangelicals and Other Christian Leaders Are Inspiring All of Us to Care for Animals." You can order individual and group copies here!
*Order a FREE copy of the short film, "Eating Mercifully," which explores Christian perspectives on factory farming. A great (not graphic) film that explains why we are called to consider the suffering of animals when we make our food choices. It's a perfect discussion starter! Consider giving a copy to your priest to watch.
*Creation Justice Ministries has a beautiful reflection guide to help faith communities reflect on the meaning of "dominion" and our responsibilities to creatures.
*Christian health coach, Jennifer Nemeth, RN, has created a FREE Lenten guide which will benefit your health, help save the planet and inspire you to be your most loving and compassionate self. Share this guide with your whole community!
*The Meatless Monday website has many resources for the HOW and the WHY of going meatless one day a week!
*Compassion Over Killing has great one-pager downloadable fact-sheets that explains all the incredible benefits to animals and the environment of going meatless just one day a week! (Scroll down to the bottom of the page for the PDFs)
*Catholic Relief Services always uses Lent as an opportunity to feature simple, vegetarian recipes that come from the countries and cultures where they serve. A great way to educate your community about plant-based eating AND global poverty.
*TryVeg.com has fabulous resources including downloadable Vegetarian Starter Guides, which also come in SPANISH!
*And the BEST way to share ideas and to fellowship with one another is to host a vegan potluck. This guide will get you well on your way to hosting the best potluck in Church history!
Resources for you and your family!
*Every year Interfaith Power and Light creates a Lenten calendar and this year they are featuring meatless Fridays. There are great resources for EACH FRIDAY of Lent, and it also helps you reflect on caring for God's creation.
*Chef and author, Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, has created an absolutely incredible and thoroughly thorough guide to going plant-based for 30 days (just extend it a little longer for Lent). ALL your questions will be answered.
*The Happy Herbivore offers super simple meal planning guides including ingredient lists to take to the grocery store!
*The Sisters of Mercy have created a prayer guide, that can help you reflect on caring for God's creation during Lent and which reminds us that we are intimately connected to all creatures.
*The Ignatian Solidarity Network also released a reflection guide on caring for creation last year. As you pray using these guides, remember that animals also call this earth home and need our protection.
Please let us know if you have other recommendations of resources to add to this list!
We would also love to hear from you. Tell us how your meatless Lent is going at firstname.lastname@example.org!
May God bless you and your community during this Lenten season.