Friday, November 21, 2014

Debunking the Catholic Vegan Myth

When I first told my husband, then fiance, that I wanted to be vegan, he freaked out on me. He criticized me and became very hostile. I explained to him that I was a vegetarian for a long time before I stopped and after doing some more research, I just couldn't in good conscience continue eating meat. My husband later admitted that one reason he freaked out is because the only vegans he had ever met were mean and judgmental. I asked him if I was mean and judgmental, he said, "No," so I asked why changing my diet would change that about me, and he had no response. This is not a commentary on my husband, but he represents a group of Catholics out there who may oppose being vegan or vegetarian because of all the negative ideas the vegan community represents. It seems to me that the idea of veganism is tied very closely to New Age philosophy which I do not support. I try not to associate myself with anything religiously or philosophically questionable, so I would like to explain how a person can be Catholic and can be vegan.
Yes, yes, I know we are designed to eat meat. Yes, yes, I know God gave Moses the animals and Peter was told that all animals are clean. (My Ignatian Catholic Study Bible, by the way, says that it was an allegory of the Old Law being abolished in Christ and that Gentiles were welcome into Christianity.) So how can I justify not eating meat? Well, also in Genesis, man was given dominion over animals. Unlike most vegans, the actual eating of meat does not offend me. It does gross me out a little, though, you can ask my husband. The actual idea of it though, I find acceptable. What dominion means is caring for the earth and using (not abusing) her resources. You cannot find a faithful Catholic that would say animal abuse is holy. In fact, grave animal abuse is considered a grave sin. See CCC 2457. The main reason I decided to become vegan was to relieve the suffering of the animals. Yes, the cows and pigs on your plate most likely suffered in some way before they were killed. I will not go into details, I encourage you to do your own research. For this reason, I support grass fed beef and local farms ethically raise their pigs and chickens. Meat that comes from well treated animals is more expensive and more delicious, but that's why I encourage people to spend their money on good meat and then eat less of it. A mostly vegetarian diet.
If the animals don't die to make milk or eggs, why not eat those? Again, it's the suffering. Mother cow and calf are constantly separated and calves often sent to be made into veal. With egg-laying chickens, well, again without details they suffer pretty horrifically, and to be honest, neither are really necessary. We find a woman's milk grotesque to drink, but we have no problem taking it out of a cow? Where's the logic in that? Cow's milk is for baby cows and Mom's milk is for baby humans. My friends ask me that if I owned a chicken, would I eat her eggs? My response is if I liked eggs, then yes, I would. But I hate eggs anyways and can bake just as well without them, so I have zero desire to ever consume an egg again. As far as ethical substitutes, I there is grass fed cow milk on the market, and I read that because of the cow's larger variety in diet, the milk's taste changes. For eggs, I have found the best option that my husband buys is American Humane Certified. We buy them at Target, but I have seen them at Safeway. They are more expensive, but my response is to just eat fewer eggs.
Aren't people more important than animals? ABSOLUTELY. The Catechism of the Catholic Church also states that even though it is important to be respectful of animals, it is a mistake to treat them more importantly than we treat people. (2418) This is why I spend more time protesting abortion than protesting CAFOs. The advantage to being vegan or to being mostly vegan, is that we can still serve humans while maintaining the dignity of animals. This is why I truly consider myself pro-life because I place human life first but I also remember our animal companions.
My son and a vegan raspberry sorbet we shared at a very expensive restaurant in Disneyland celebrating his 1st birthday. The chef came out and had a satisfying vegan meal on hand for us.
What about fasting? Yes, well, this does bring about a dilemma every year around Lent and St. Phillip's fast. The way I observe fasting for now is that I abstain from caffeine on days when everyone else is abstaining from meat. What I will most likely do with my kids is on days meant to fast, we will abstain from anything with added sugar such as desserts and soda. (Although hopefully the soda thing won't really be an issue) As a Catholic, I know we have seasons of the year, and it is important to observe those seasons, so I just find my own way to do extra penance. (Because believe me, being vegan is penance.)
Another piece of resistance I have met that surprised me the most is turning food into a "god." That by having a particular diet, I obsess with food. I admit, at first, I read a lot of labels. I encourage you to do that whether or not you have a particular diet. But someone who has a lactose, nut, or gluten allergy has to read labels too, right? Does that mean they're turning food into a god? No, it means they're trying not to get sick or die. How do you balance maintaining a diet and not turning your diet into a god? Pray about it, for one thing. I still pray about being vegan. About whether or not it is the right choice for me. My spiritual adviser encourages it, so I'm not going to question him. Now that I know what's vegan and what's not, I'm not so scrupulous about labels anymore. As far as attending parties and such, I let the host know I'm vegan, and if I can't be accommodated I eat beforehand or bring something for myself. When I host a party, I like to accommodate special diets too, so I don't feel bad just letting the host know. I got into a huge fight with my husband and my dad about whether or not our wedding cake should be vegan. It did end up being vegan and nobody noticed. Now, if you practice a mostly vegan diet, and you're going over to someone's house for a meal, you can plan that as one of your few meat meals for the week. The Catechism also talks about maintaining physical health as a good as long as it does not interfere with the common good. (CCC 2288) If your diet turns you into a mean person or endangers you for whatever reason,  probably should rethink that. It is important, however, to maintain a healthy diet out of respect for yourself, your loved ones, and most importantly the Creator. What may seem like to some scrupulosity, to me is just life. I don't feel like I obsess. I have my vegan cookbooks, food blogs, etc, and I work from there like any other family would.
Sweetpea bakery in Portland, OR (vegan)
So, I have presented appropriate substitutions for eating meat. Why do I not then adopt those? Mostly personal reasons. I really don't like killing animals even though I see how acceptable it is. I like being vegan. I really do. I love trying new vegan recipes and restaurants. I'm a vegan food blog junkie. I think my largest Pinterest board is my Vegan Food board. I do encourage my husband to eat appropriate substitutes, and my parents buy grass fed beef. And even though I have presented ideas on how to eat more expensive meat, it plain tastes better. During my brief non-vegetarian period in college, I ate some of my parents' grass fed beef, and it was way better than the regular stuff. Made me not dislike hamburgers so much. In California, we have In-n-Out which serves grass fed beef. Even during my non-vegetarian phase, I would eat veggie burgers except at In-n-Out. They are so delish! So why not eat them? Of the very few meat foods that do tempt me, In-n-Out is one of them. Even though I know it's ok, I just don't really want to. I'm perfectly happy eating my veggie burger. Plus, the idea of eating a dead cows is a little gross to me. I know many of you are unwilling to surrender your meat, but maybe consider where you can cut back on meat. Have beans for breakfast instead of beacon. (Don't worry, you can put your beacon on your salad with dinner.) Have a hummus wrap instead of a turkey sandwich for lunch. Your health will be better off too!
For further research I encourage you to see the movie Food, Inc. and read Dominion by Matthew Scully and The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan.

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