The Hermit’s Diet – Reflections on Catholicism and Veganism



According to many vegans, plant-based diets are gaining popularity in North America and Europe. According to my grocery store space allocation, fake meats and vegetable-based cheeses are selling well. But according to domestic bastions of cultural Catholicism, abandoning one’s grandmother’s house youourtiere Where bigos is tantamount to abandoning Christ.

When I was a vegetarian, a long, long time ago, I remember a relative asking me why I didn’t celebrate holidays anymore. Food is a huge and sacred part of our faith. We fast and feast on it regularly throughout the year. For some of us, it has become almost more important to our sense of ourselves as Catholics than attending Mass, going to confession regularly, or believing in the tenets of the faith.

If veganism is growing as fast as my vegan friends claim, and if – as seems likely – the price of food continues to make a plant-based diet more and more attractive, how does that affect Catholics? Is it really acceptable for a Catholic to adopt a vegan lifestyle?

What is veganism?

At its core, veganism is simply an ethical commitment to avoid participating in the exploitation or abuse of an animal. Of course, vegans recognize that total avoidance is impossible (everyone will accidentally crush ants after all). In fact, they include “as much as possible and practicable” in their definition.

For some vegans, that means things like vaccines and medications that both contain animal products and are tested on animals are okay. Other vegans seek to minimize their intake of these products by forgoing vaccines and using animal-free alternatives to non-essential medications.

But “as far as possible and feasible” excludes things like wool, leather and silk from the vegan lifestyle, as well as the obvious exclusion of meat, dairy and eggs. Honey can become a bone of contention. Most vegans avoid consuming honey, but others choose to consume honey from well-managed bee hives.

Plant-Based Diets in the Catholic Tradition

Avoiding animal products isn’t as new as it sounds. In fact, the early Catholic tradition is full of people who did just that. Early Christian hermits were famous for their radical food choices. Almost all desert fathers and mothers refused to eat meat. Many also refused milk and eggs. Some lived mainly on lentils, others on bread. A famous monk survived mainly on dates and date palms.

Early monastic diets consisted primarily of lentils or beans, whole-grain bread, and wild-picked green vegetables. While a few monks are notable for their austerity – in many cases the diet of early monks and hermits was relatively varied. Legumes, cabbage, olives, oil, alliums such as leeks, onions and garlic, walnuts and figs. Some monks avoided all animal products, but others ate fish, cheese, and milk semi-regularly.

In the Middle Ages, the radicalism of previous regimes softened. The Rule of Saint Benedict prescribed a pound of bread, a pint of beans, and fresh seasonal vegetables. But he allowed other foods – except only “the flesh of a quadruped”. But in the late Middle Ages, monks ate a wide variety of foods and – according to Saint Bernard of Clairvaux – gorged themselves on eggs and dairy products.

St. Bernard can rival modern vegans in its criticism of eggs in particular. Bernard, whose diet consisted mainly of wholemeal bread and vegetable broth, was disgusted by the overabundance of meat, fish, and especially eggs on monastic tables.

Plant-Based Catholics Today

Today, many of us imitate the monks who horrified Saint Bernard in the 12th century. We favor taste and work to “stimulate our appetites [so] we can eat more than we need and still enjoy it,” as Bernard wrote to another monk long ago.

Of course, plant-based diets are hardly less greedy than omnivorous diets today. Fake meats and cheeses lie to the palate – claiming to be exactly the kind of foods the vegan avoids. But most vegans aren’t attempting a penal diet, they’re simply trying to alleviate animal suffering.

It’s a good goal. The massive consumption of meat, dairy and eggs has led to horrific changes in raising food animals. In many cases, the animals intended for the table are brought up in misery and misery. Having worked on a small conventional dairy farm myself, I can attest to the mistreatment of dairy animals by desperate farmers trying to make a living off a product that most Americans still think must be very cheap. But, as someone who raises dairy goats and buys local cow’s milk from a nearby farm, I can also attest to the health and contentment of the animals raised for food by counter-cultural and “out-of-the-way” farmers and farmers. Small scale”.

The advice of the Catechism

One of the most frustrating aspects of veganism is that it often negates the good these healthy, sustainable farms do by providing a better option for Catholics who want or need to incorporate healthy animal products into their diets. but do not want to contribute to unnecessary animal suffering. Not everyone can raise backyard chickens, goats, cows or rabbits.

Catholics who wish to bring their diet more in line with Catechismadmonition that “it is against human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die unnecessarily” often avoid buying conventionally raised animal products once they know more about the processes involved. Some turn to small-farm, pasture-raised animals, others turn away from animal products altogether.

The Catechism does not require one or the other. In fact, it specifically states that “it is lawful to use animals for food and clothing.” It also specifies that “medical and scientific experimentation on animals is a morally acceptable practice, if it remains within reasonable limits”. Animals are not human beings, and if they are in the care of man, and “men owe them kindness,” we “must not extend to them the affection due only to persons” ( CEC 2416-2418).

Final Thoughts

So what does this all mean? How do we pull it together into some sort of cohesive approach to veganism as Catholics?

love comes first

It is important to remember that choosing to abstain from certain foods, fibers, activities because they cause harm to animals is perfectly in line with our faith. If your children are considering veganism, entrust them to the care of Saint-Bernard de Clairvaux and start experimenting with vegan recipes. Try a simple minestrone soup (vegetable broth, please!) and a sourdough dinner the next time they’re done. Nothing says “I love you” like food – and when you abstain from something (for whatever reason), thoughtful hospitality means all the more.

They can never ask for your bigos recipe, and they can make all sorts of changes to your pierogi recipe, but they’ll probably make Lenten borscht like Grandma did and it won’t be exciting! A hundred years ago, meat was above all a festive food. We didn’t eat it as often and we ate much less of it. Think of your vegan children as reclaiming some of the most overlooked aspects of the tradition, and support them on their journey.

On the other hand, eating meat, wearing wool and drinking milk are also in line with our faith. There is nothing in Church teaching that requires us to give up animal products. Christ himself ate fish, and as an observant Jew, he also ate the paschal lamb every year. Jean-Baptiste lived on grasshoppers and wild honey – none of which are strictly vegan. If you choose to go vegan, respect your family and friends’ choices to remain omnivorous. Entrust their in Saint-Bernard too. But don’t live up to the vegan stereotype that constantly pushes veganism on everyone. Be patient and loving. Prepare delicious vegan meals for your family, then sit back and let them make their own decisions.

Avoid militarism

Don’t let veganism become a dogma. Humility and brotherly love are essential to the Christian life. If you equate animal suffering with human suffering, it’s time to step back and reflect. Almost half of vegans claim to have no spiritual life, and new age or relativistic philosophies are common in vegan circles (as, to be honest, they are in most circles – even among professed Catholics).

Don’t let veganism come between you and Christ. If your veganism stems naturally from your Catholic faith, then you’re on the right track. Take books like The Desert Fathers by Helen Waddell and A hermit’s cookbook by Andrew Jotischky. Neither do the vegan books, but both address the importance of food in the spiritual life which will give Catholic vegans a solid foundation.

If you’re looking to switch from a conventional animal-heavy diet to something more sustainable and appeal to veganism, give it a try. You don’t give up your faith. But remember that even though veganism is an ethical position that you have embraced, it is not one that Christ requires of us. So treat your non-vegan friends and family with respect and support; and expect the same from them. We are all working out our salvation “with fear and trembling,” so let’s help each other along the way.

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