Twenty years ago my daughter, Juli, proclaimed herself a vegan. She was attending an alternative high school so I was expecting some new ideas. She was passionate about animal welfare and had some literature to share that I probably glanced at, though I don’t really remember.
I had been a vegetarian for about ten years, a change that took place when I was asked to give a reflection on “Bread for the World” Sunday at my church. I had researched issues regarding hunger in developing countries and was startled to discover that land that had traditionally been used to raise crops to feed people was now used to raise grain to feed cattle. Much of that grain was shipped to the US to feed cattle that ended up on the plates of Americans while the grain that was left fed cattle that became meat too expensive for the people who had traditionally farmed the land. I gave up meat and declared myself a ‘political vegetarian’ from that time forward.
Having a vegan daughter among my six children caused some minor adjustments in meal preparation, especially when we were all together with friends on vacation: the egg scramble for vegetarians, the tofu scramble for vegans and the eggs with sausage plate for those who ate meat, but it was workable. I had given up the idea of forcing food on people when I began parenting on my own years before.
Fast forward fifteen years and I was remarried. I was growing concerned about the changing climate and became a Climate Ambassador with the Catholic Climate Covenant. I set out to raise the consciousness of others, regarding climate change. It was pretty clear then from the research that meat eating and animal husbandry, particularly in the larger animal operations, were major sources of greenhouse gases, especially methane. I was grateful that I had already given up meat and could declare that I was a political vegetarian, AND a vegetarian for the environment.
About this same time I became my mother’s guardian. On a visit to the doctor I asked if Mom could be tested for celiac disease. I was familiar with celiac as my husband has it. My mom suffered from childhood with stomach and skin ailments but only when she was no longer able to care for herself did I become involved. “Yes” said the lab report, “Celiac”. With grandchildren exhibiting symptoms this new information caused us to rethink our diets. I had already eliminated nearly all gluten for my husband but now became super vigilant for the family. Food was clearly essential but it could also be harmful.
The recognition that food could be harmful was not entirely new. I was aware of the dangers of fast food, sugary drinks and too many sweets, but the idea that foods basic to normal meals like bread or pasta could be harmful set me off on another search. Eventually I uncovered a large body of evidence indicating that meat and dairy were harmful to one’s health. I read The China Study which documents over a period of twenty years the health effects of introducing meat and dairy into the previously plant based diet of Chinese citizens. I watched some videos: Forks Over Knives, the Future of Food and Cowspiracy – which pushed me over the edge. I was morphing into a vegetarian/vegan, no longer only for political or climate reasons, but also for health.
As a lifelong Catholic, with an Italian heritage, food has always been important. There is the sacred Sunday Meal, family meals during the week, and the many celebrations throughout the year that always include food. I wrote my doctoral dissertation on the connections between the food we eat, community, creation and God. I spent time considering what went on the dinner table in my home, how it affected my family, the human family and the created world. I was intentional about the way I ate, but there was one connection that had yet to be made.
In the videos I had watched, there were scenes showing animals in Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) and a few on their way to slaughter or in the process of being slaughtered. At the time I saw those scenes on a surface level but somehow they began to sink in deeper and deeper until I began to dream of rivers of blood. I could feel calves being torn away from their mothers. I realized pigs were aware when they were about to be butchered. It was a very intense period I can only liken to what I have read about conversion experiences. From that time I have been unable to eat, drink or cook any foods that come from animals. I feel a connection to the animals that live in this world with us. I can no longer consciously participate in their suffering. I seek clothes and other goods that do not come from animals. I understand my daughter’s commitment. I now declare myself vegan for the animals, for other people (political), for the climate, and for health.
Every day I eat. Every day I think about what I will eat and where it comes from. I give thanks for creation. I say prayers for the relief of animals waiting to be slaughtered whose lives have been short and miserable. I pray for people all over the world who go to bed hungry. I have concern for the farmers who grew foods that I eat. I look at tomatoes, pumpkins, beets, greens, peppers or beans from our garden and give thanks that God made the Earth abundant. I pray that people will get their acts together and stop the suffering of animals, of people, the climate and their own bodies by changing the way that they eat.
On Sundays, I receive the Sacred Meal, the Holy Eucharist. I pray for forgiveness for my part in the suffering of God’s Creatures. Whenever I sit down to eat I receive food with gratitude, conscious of its extended connections.
Eating has become my Spiritual Practice.
These resources helped me:
Anderson, Kip and Keegan Kuhn. “Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret”. 91 Minutes. A.U.M. Films. Santa Rosa, CA. 2014. www.cowspiacy.com.
Campbell, T. Colin PhD. and Thomas M. Campbell II. The China Study. Dallas TX:Benbella Books. 2006
Catholic Climate Covenant. www.catholicclimatecovenant.org.
Fulkerson, Lee. “Forks Over Knives.” 90 Minutes. Virgil Films and Entertainment. New York. 2011.
Garcia, Deborah Koons. “The Future of Food.” 88 Minutes. Lily Films. USA: Warner, Elektra, Atlantic, Corporation. 2004.