Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Christian season of Lent. This is a period of fasting and reflection, when believers often start a new discipline or give up something that is distracting them from their spiritual life.
That makes it a perfect time to start a vegan practice, according to In Defense of Animals’ Interfaith Vegan Coalition. For the first time, the coalition has pooled all of the resources of its member organizations to support potentially millions of Christians around the world in giving up meat and dairy products for Lent.
“During Lent we are guided to practice fasting, prayer and alms giving,” Father Donatello Iocco of St. Ambrose Roman Catholic in Toronto Canada told EcoWatch in an email. “Choosing to go vegan for Lent, one can choose to fast or abstain from eating any animal products. It may be a healthier option in doing so, but also eating a whole plant based meal has many benefits for the spiritual seeker.”
The Case for a Vegan Lent
Giving up animal products for Lent has a strong foundation in Christian tradition and theology, coalition members argue.
Catholics abstain from eating meat on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and every Friday during Lent, though they can eat fish and other cold-blooded animals. For Orthodox Christians, however, the traditional Lenten fast has meant abstaining from all animal products, or essentially going vegan, long before the word emerged. Writer and activist Keith Akers has argued that Jesus and the earliest Christian communities practiced vegetarianism.
There are also Biblical arguments for veganism.
“We know from Genesis 1:29 that God commanded us to eat only plant-based foods. And we know from Isaiah 65:25 that that is still God’s intention. So do we want to do God’s will or not?” Virginia Bell of Catholic Action for Animals said in a media release emailed to EcoWatch.
Others feel that a vegan diet is in keeping with Jesus’s message of compassion. Avoiding animal products means you are not participating in the cruelty of the factory farming system, and some scientists consider it the best way an individual can reduce their contribution to environmental harms like habitat loss, water waste, nutrient pollution and the climate crisis.
“[C]onsuming a vegan diet one becomes sensitive to the sufferings of others and will associate and instill in them a greater compassion for not only humans but all living beings and the planet,” Iocco said. “In other words, one can live out Jesus’s teachings ‘Love God and your neighbor as yourself’ and ‘Do unto to others as you would have them do unto you.’”
Finally, while Lent is traditionally supposed to be a period of abstinence and sacrifice, Judy Carman, co-founder of Circle of Compassion and the Interfaith Vegan Coalition, told EcoWatch that adapting a vegan diet can have many benefits for both spiritual and physical health.
“In the end it isn’t a sacrifice at all,” Carman said, adding that a Lenten vegan may find themselves concluding, “Next year I have to give something else up, and then stay vegan because it’s so good.”
While a vegan diet may share some similarities with traditional Lenten fasts, it’s also true that veganism is gaining in popularity overall as awareness about and concern for the environment rises. The seculary Veganuary, for example, has also taken off in recent years. The broader conversation about what human activity is doing to the Earth and its creatures and how we should respond is also taking place in Christian faith communities.
“I believe many more Christians are becoming aware and concerned with what is happening to our beautiful planet,” Iocco said. “I hope that more Christians see the importance of choosing a vegan diet and see it as a spiritual lifestyle.”
Lisa Levinson of In Defense of Animals and co-founder of the Interfaith Vegan Coalition told EcoWatch that the growing vegan movement was one of the reasons the coalition chose to actively promote a meat-and-dairy free Lent this year.
“This is a perfect opportunity because there’s a lot more awareness about going vegan and how it… helps to mitigate some of the issues that we’re facing with climate change, and so we think that people are more receptive to this message right now, and it might be something that they were already thinking about and here’s the perfect opportunity to take part,” she said.
The call for a vegan Lent also grew out of a 2019 campaign from then-12-year-old activist Genesis Butler offering the Pope $1 million for the charity of his choice if he would go vegan for Lent. The Pope ultimately did not take Butler up on her offer, leaving vegan activists to wonder where to take the campaign next.
“This year, since we’re the Interfaith Vegan Coalition, we thought, well, maybe it’s up to us to bring this back to the public’s attention,” Carman said. “Maybe the Pope isn’t going to go vegan, but a lot of people evidently do on a regular every year basis.”
The coalition’s efforts draw on a global pool of resources from the U.S., Europe and the UK.
“We’re really excited to partner internationally on assisting people with this process of going Vegan for Lent,” Levinson said.
How to Keep a Vegan Lent
So what does a vegan Lent look like? Iocco said that he ran an eight-part “Go Vegan for 40 days during Lent” session at his congregation a few years ago.
“I would begin the session with some scripture readings that highlighted the importance of caring for all God’s creation and tried to answer many questions people had about scripture passages that promoted consuming animals products,” he said.
After the discussion, the group watched documentaries like Cowspiracy, What the Health, Peaceable Kingdom, the Journey Home and Dominion.
“Many of these films made an impact and many did not want to consume or participate in eating animals any longer,” he said.
For those whose church community isn’t organizing a regular discussion group, the Interfaith Vegan Coalition has compiled a variety of online resources. These include:
- Lent for the Earth: For the French speakers out there, a series of online meetings from March 9 to April 6 designed to “pacify our relationship in communion with creation without meat or fish.”
- 40 Days With God’s Creatures: A daily Lenten guide from Sarx available via a free app that “offers you the chance to reflect theologically and creatively about animals and animal issues.”
- Going Vegan This Lent Will Be the Kindest Thing You’ve Ever Done: A five-reason case for going vegan for Lent from PETA Lambs, which tells you exactly what the impact of your actions will be in lives saved and emissions averted.
- Catholic Vegan Advocacy Kit: A guide for Catholics that includes quotes from the Bible and spiritual leaders as well as links to websites, books and other resources.
- Vegan Starter Guide: This guide from In Defense of Animals isn’t specific to Lent, but it outlines the practical steps involved in starting a vegan diet, from health facts to shopping guides to recipes.
“[C]hoosing to go vegan for Lent and, hopefully beyond, can help save humans, animals and the planet,” Iocco concluded. “We can do it together with love, care and compassion.”