by Father Frank Mann
RECENTLY, the New York Times published a rather engaging and informative article by Gretchen Reynolds titled, “Can Athletes Benefit from a Vegan Diet?” There are many variant catalysts that initiate an individual’s choice in pursuit of a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle.
I am certainly not an athlete. However, many months ago, I did make a sudden and dramatic, life-transforming decision to go “vegetarian” (albeit, not quite “vegan” yet). It all started when a gargantuan billboard caught my eye while I was driving on the expressway. Its images and message were so intensely riveting and jolting that I found it necessary to seek sanctuary on a quiet residential street. All I could do at that profoundly sacred moment was to close my eyes and pray. I was deeply moved by what had been conveyed to me.
The image was of an adorable puppy and a cute, cuddly piglet. The message leapt off the billboard and stirred my soul: “Why love one but eat the other?” The very next day, I ceased eating all animal flesh (including fish). Continuing to gaze upon the billboard’s message for what seemed to be an eternity, I thought to myself, “Are pigs, cows, chickens and turkeys all that different from cats and dogs?”
A growing body of research on animal sentience has clearly shown that farm animals experience pain and suffering when they are ill, abused, injured or prepared for slaughter. They equally become stressed when forced to live in confined situations and abhorrent conditions that prevent them from living out their natural behaviors. Likewise, it has been shown that farm animals have the ability to develop complex relationships with each other, humans and even different species from their own.
Perhaps, to the surprise of many, these creatures are capable of feeling, intelligence, emotion and awareness. It is my educated “guess” that blatant disregard for the welfare of farm animals persists due to the fact that very few individuals realize the harsh way these creatures are truly mistreated. Certainly, very few folk actually witness the horrific abuse, neglect and exploitation caused by agribusiness. I have often thought as I walk through the meat produce section of the supermarket, what if the packages of meats you intended to purchase clearly displayed a photo of the animal before, during and after slaughter? Whenever we choose not to buy meat or other variant animal products, we become actively engaged in shifting the demand from the harsh cruelty found in the pitiless lives of factory farms to seeking alternative plant-based foods. In other words, you and I can make a huge difference in the lives of these creatures every time we sit down to eat. The choice to go vegan or vegetarian then becomes a uniquely compassionate one and not just a path to better one’s health or possibly aid in athletic prowess.
What distresses me, however, is the puzzling and distressing lack of any vibrantly clear and vocal opposition to such animal cruelty within the Church. The Church has always been a stalwart champion for the dignity of human life amidst a culture of death. I am rather disappointed and saddened with the stark and silent absence of any significantly inspirational and motivational preaching, writing and teaching with regard to such urgent issues as animal rights and welfare. Most assuredly, if the average vegan or vegetarian can spare the lives of countless animals per year, should not the church be the beacon of truth in aggressively and responsibly addressing the profound consequences that our choices make for the lives of these creatures? The voices of billions of abused and neglected farm animals (as well as companion animals) need to be heard, and with a strong and determined clarion call for valiant support from the church, the breeding misery of animal torment will be starkly exposed and heard.
Albert Schweitzer, the Nobel Prize winner, said it best: “While so much ill treatment of animals goes on…while so much brutality likewise prevails in our slaughterhouses…we will all bear guilt.”