by Lucas Patterson
During the Lenten season of reflection, it’s appropriate to meditate on the “other” – quiet partners deeply woven into the fabric of our daily existence and sustenance. There are immense spiritual and practical applications to be considered, and giving up meat for Lent is a uniquely tangible way we can consider the intersections between human and non-human creations of the same Creator God.
That relationship between Creator and creation received above average attention in the weeks leading up to Lent as one environmentally-minded group launched Million Dollar Vegan, a challenge asking the Pope to give up meat for Lent in exchange for a $1 million gift to the nonprofit of his choice. He quietly declined the offer, but public awareness of connections between Lent and reduced meat consumption grew nonetheless.
The practice of giving up meat for Lent is anything but new and reasons for this dietary sacrifice pre-date some of the more popular modern motivators such as concerns regarding climate change and animal welfare. Instead, it goes back to the first century and is based, in part, on meat playing a historically significant role in celebrations and feasts. Meat was considered special because it came at great financial cost, which limited its use. And on Fridays during Lent as Christians meditate on the crucifixion, the mood is anything but festive. Our thoughts are somber and streamlined, focusing on matters of eternal consequence.
Stories in the Bible highlight Jesus’ penchant for transforming scarcity into excess—multiplying seven loaves and fishes into sufficient food to feed thousands, for example. Carol J. Adams, in a SARX article about her 2018 book, Burger, presents a striking contrast to Jesus’ miraculous resource stewardship by describing how food producers (and consumers driving demand) have turned a blind eye to the ethical dilemmas created by staggeringly poor agricultural efficiencies:
“For every 16 pounds of grain and soy fed to beef cattle in the United States we get back one pound of meat. We have become the people who reverse the miracle, diverting and reducing rather than multiplying resources.”
Nearly 2,000 years after the crucifixion and resurrection, abstaining from meat remains a staple of contemplative Christians during Lent because meat continues to come at great cost. Especially to the animals. Although this year’s 40 days of Lent ends on April 18, a critical question to keep in mind beyond the Easter season is how our Christian worldview influences food policy decisions on a personal and corporate level. Will we be workers pushing for miraculous change, or those who would maintain the status quo and “reverse the miracle” through the inertia of inaction?
Lucas Patterson works in grant writing and other philanthropy communications for Southern Adventist University in southeast Tennessee. He enjoys contributing to the important food policy mission of CreatureKind as both a monthly donor and through occasional website and editorial assistance.