‘The Bible has no place for a tyrannical anthropocentrism unconcerned for other creatures’.1 – Pope Francis
During Lent, many Christians choose to give something up in order to devote more time to prayer and contemplation. By this act of sacrifice, we remember what Jesus gave up for us, and in doing so, hope to draw closer to God. This is a way of remembering that everything good we have, including our abundance of plant-based foods, comes from Him. So why should Christians consider going vegan for Lent?
The Environment and Global Justice
One topic worth reflecting on this Lent is our environment, our shared home, planet Earth. The effects of climate change are already with us, and ever increasing. Those who suffer most from this degradation are the poorest, most vulnerable communities: those least able to support themselves. Jesus taught us that such people are our neighbors. And yet our food choices often perpetuate the climate crisis and contribute to the exploitation of such communities. Animal agriculture is responsible for the deaths of billions of farmed animals every year and is one of the biggest human-made causes of climate change that drives deforestation, species loss, pollution, and health problems. Adopting a vegan diet is one of the single biggest things any individual can do to help reduce his or her carbon footprint, and our faith as Christians can inform and motivate this thinking. Could this be something you reflect on this Lent?
What we choose to put on our plates is a faith concern. It is a way for us to demonstrate grace and gratefulness in response to all that God has given us, and to respond with love for the love we have received.
What would Jesus say about factory farming today?
What does the Bible say about eating meat?
At Lent, Christians aim to draw closer to the heart of God. And we might reflect this Lenten season on what God thinks of meat eating, and the violence it necessitates. While interpretations vary, the Bible is supporting of veganism. In Genesis, we are told that after creating Adam and Eve, God said to them, ‘See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food’ (Genesis 1:29). With these words, God directs humans to eat vegetables and fruits.
And whilst meat was permitted in times of need, animal cruelty has always been forbidden. Yet today, almost all of the meat consumed in the UK comes from animals who suffer terribly in industrialized factory farms.
While the whole of creation now suffers and longs for its restoration (Romans: 8), God promises to restore peace among all creatures. In this new Heaven and new Earth, God will ‘wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain’ (Revelation 21).
Two thousand years ago, there was no concern about climate change, deforestation, and species loss, and there wasn’t industrialized factory farming. But today, we face these serious and pressing issues, and we must all consider whether to abstain from the products that drive this destruction. The choice, many believe, is between living in the Garden of Eden and choosing a path that promotes violence, suffering, and world hunger.
Among the values taught in the Bible are kindness and respect, generosity, humility, nonviolence, self-control, and compassion (Gal. 5.22-26). Christian values promote peace, benevolence, and empathy; and reject animal cruelty (Prov. 12.10). Jesus was known for his kindness to animals (Matt 11.28-30).
These values, core to the Christianity identity, are obscured and overridden for many by cultural norms. The taste of cheese has become more valuable than the calf who wishes to drink her mother’s milk; the availability of cheap eggs more important than a bird being able to spread her wings.
Lent is the perfect time to consider how the meals we eat may be at odds with our own deeply-held values, but when we choose a diet that causes suffering to animals, contributes to world hunger and causes global environmental destruction, it is easy to see why many believe that what we eat is very much a faith concern. But Christianity is a religion of hope, not despair. In a spirit of gratitude and reliance on God, we look forward to what we can do, not back at what we have done.
When we sit down to a meal and stop to give thanks for the food before us, do we do this unthinkingly, or do we truly question what we are taking? If we are consuming the flesh or secretions of an animal, do we consider the fear that this animal may have experienced and the cruelty they may have suffered? Do we ask ourselves if it is moral and necessary to consume this type of food when God has given us an abundance of other options?
The answer for most of us is ‘no’.
When we eat meat, we should also consider our brothers and sisters whose job it is to slaughter these animals out of public sight so that we ourselves don’t have to deal with such unpleasantness. The psychological toll this takes on a person should not be underestimated. Slaughterhouse work has been linked to a variety of disorders, including PTSD, PITS (perpetration-induced traumatic stress), and an increase in crime rates, including higher incidents of domestic abuse, as well as alcohol and drug abuse. Many might think this is a betrayal of Christ’s teaching to ‘Do unto others as you would have them do to you’ (Luke 6:31).
A vegan diet is an effective way to safeguard the glory and magnificence of God’s Creation, demonstrate benevolence, and show kindness and consideration for all living things.Get the Vegan Starter Kit
1 Global Catholic Climate Movement, ‘Laudato Si’ Ch. 2: Humans Must Care for Creation and Share Its Fruits — On Care, Sabbath, Relationship, Life, & the Common Good’ [https://catholicclimatemovement.global/laudato-si-ch-2-commentary-by-fr-reese/]