Saturday, March 06, 2010

There's an ongoing discussion among some members of the Jesuit communities I've lived in over the kinds of foods we eat and how that impacts the ecology. For some, industrial livestock operations, where most of our meat comes from, are so destructive to the environment on many levels that the only responsible choice is to maintain a vegetarian diet. This choice becomes difficult in a religious community, where food supplies and meals are shared in common. The vegetarian must either abstain from part of our common meals, request that vegetarian options be made in addition to the regular meals, or maintain a separate shopping list and prepare their own meals. All of these options create dilemmas when living in religious community. Our common life and apostolic poverty don't always make independent meals a feasible option.

I came across an interesting article on 6 Baby Steps Toward a More Sustainable Animal Diet which proposes that you don't have to give up meat entirely to be a good steward of the environment:

The most common question I get about my new book Animal Factory, which comes out Tuesday, March 2,is, "Am I going to have to become a vegetarian after reading this?"

My answer usually throws people off.

"No," I say, "You're going to want to eat even MORE meat, eggs and dairy!" Then, as a bemused brow breaks over their face, I add: "But by that, I mean more that is raised humanely and sustainably, without harm to human health or the environment."

Kirby proposes six steps to make this idea a reality for ordinary consumers: Be label conscious, pick a protein, become cooperative, go red-tag shopping, go online, eat less meat. Check out the whole article to see what he means by all this.

On his last point, eat less meat, Kirby proposes the Meatless Monday campaign to encourage people to reduce their meat consumption. The Meatless Monday campaign is a non-profit initiative in association with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health to "help reduce meat consumption 15% in order to improve personal health and the health of our planet."

While I think that's a fantastic initiative, it got me thinking. This is Lent after all, and as a Catholic, I participate in meatless Friday's as part of my Lenten fast. Meatless Fridays have a long tradition in Catholicism, and although they were eliminated as a normative rule with the reforms of the 20th century, it's still a custom practiced by many Catholics around the world.

So, how about promoting a voluntary return to Meatless Fridays as a Catholic associate of the Meatless Monday's campaign? It certainly doesn't mean you have to go to a fish fry every Friday, in fact, there are all kinds of wonderful vegetarian recipes out there. This Lent in my house, we've had green peppers stuffed with rice, tomatoes, and black-eyed peas, spinach enchiladas, and I'm really looking forward to a Thai rama tofu dish I'm planning for a couple of weeks from now.

Now, I'm not proposing that the rule of abstinence from meat be reinstated. As Jesuits, discernment is central to our spirituality, and ideally folks ought to be able to discern for themselves whether this is appropriate. Part of that discernment includes the concept of thinking with the Church, and since the Church does teach about the stewardship of the environment, perhaps the time is right for a movement to encourage Catholics to prayerfully discern whether meatless Fridays are something they might participate in as something good for their souls, good their bodies, and good for the environment.

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