Guest Columnists

A Vegan Diet Saves Animals

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.”

18 thoughts on “A Vegan Diet Saves Animals

  1. I am not a vegetarian yet and your article made me wonder on something from the Bible concerning God providing the animals for man to eat. Are we refusing God’s gifts to us? I do agree that life conditions of these farm animals are horrible and need to be looked into and laws put into place to alleviate their suffering. I don’t eat much meat but like I said I am not a vegetarian yet.

  2. Thank you very much for sharing your thoughtful, and inspiring conversion. As a Catholic who is moved by animal rights, and tries hard to take some simple steps to alleviate suffering of animals, I was so happy to see this voice coming from within the Church. I believe there is room for leadership in the Catholic Church on this issue, and I pray that is our future. Thanks again – and good luck with your personal effort!

  3. From history, we learn that the earliest Christians were vegetarians as well as pacifists. For example, Clemens Prudentius, the first Christian hymn writer, in one of his hymns, exhorts his fellow Christians not to pollute their hands and hearts by the slaughter of innocent cows and sheep, and points to the variety of nourishing and pleasant foods obtainable without blood-shedding.

    It’s possible historically that Christianity began as a vegetarian religion, but was corrupted over the centuries. Secular scholar Keith Akers writes in his as of yet unpublished manuscript, Broken Thread:

    “The ‘orthodox’ response to vegetarianism has been somewhat contradictory…The objection to meat consumption has been taken as evidence of heresy when Christians have been faced with outsiders; however, vegetarianism met with a kinder reception among the monastic communities…Vegetarianism does attain a certain status even in orthodox circles.

    “Indeed, a list of known vegetarians among the church leaders reads very much like a Who’s Who in the early church. Peter is described as a vegetarian in the Recognitions and Homilies. Hegesippus, quoted by Eusebius, said that James (the brother of Jesus) was a vegetarian and was raised as a vegetarian. Clement of Alexandria thought that Matthew was a vegetarian…

    “According to Eusebius, the apostles–all the apostles, and not just James–abstained from both meat and wine, thus making them vegetarians and teetotalers, just like James. Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Basil, Gregory of Nanziance, John Chrysostom, and Tertullian were all probably vegetarians, based on their writings…they themselves are evidently vegetarian and can be counted on to say a few kind words about vegetarianism. On the other hand, there are practically no references to any Christians eating fish or meat before the council of Nicaea.

    “The rule of Benedict forbade eating any four-legged animals, unless one was sick. Columbanus allowed vegetables, lentil porridge, flour, and bread only, at all times, even for the sick. A fifth-century Irish rule forbids meat, fish, cheese, and butter at all times, though the sick, elderly, travel-weary, or even monks on holidays may eat cheese or butter, but no one may ever eat meat.

    “The Carthusians were especially strict about vegetarianism. The origin of their order is related by the story of St. Bruno and his companions, who on the Sunday before Lent are sitting before some meat and are debating whether they should eat meat at all.

    “During the debate, numerous examples of vegetarians among their monastic predecessors are mentioned–the Desert Fathers, Paul (the Hermit), Antony, Hilarion, Macharius, and Arsenius, are all cited as vegetarian examples. After much discussion, they fall asleep–and remain asleep for 45 days, waking up when Archbishop Hugh shows up on Wednesday of Holy Week! When they wake up, the meat miraculously turns to ashes, and they fall on their knees and determine never to eat meat again.

    “It is true that the church rejected the requirement for vegetarianism, following the dicta of Paul. However, it is interesting under these circumstances that there are so many vegetarians. In fact, outside of the references to Jesus eating fish in the New Testament, there re hardly any references to any early Christians eating meat.

    “Thus vegetarianism was practiced by the apostles, by James the brother of Jesus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Basil, Gregory of Nanziance, John Chrysostom, Tertullian, Bonaventure, Arnobius, Cassian, Jerome, the Desert Fathers, Paul (the Hermit), Antony, Hilarion, Machrius, Columbanus, and Aresenius–but not by Jesus himself!

    “It is as if everyone in the early church understood the message except the messenger. This is extremely implausible. The much more likely explanation is that the original tradition was vegetarian, but that under the pressure of expediency and the popularity of Paul’s writings in the second century, the tradition was first dropped as a requirement and finally dropped even as a desideratum.”

    In her 2004 book, Vegetarian Christian Saints: Mystics, Ascetics & Monks, Jewish scholar Dr. Holly Roberts (she has a Master’s degree in Christian theology) documents the lives and teachings of over 150 canonized saints:

    St. Anthony of Egypt; St. Hilarion; St. Macarius the Elder; St. Palaemon; St. Pachomius; St. Paul the Hermit; St. Marcian; St. Macarius the Younger; St. Aphraates; St. James of Nisibis; St. Ammon; St. Julian Sabas; St. Apollo; St. John of Egypt; St. Porphyry of Gaza; St. Dorotheus the Theban; St. Theodosius the Cenobiarch; St. Sabas; St. Fugentius of Ruspe; St. Gerasimus; St. Mary of Egypt; St. Dositheus; St. Abraham Kidunaja; St. John the Silent; St. Theodore of Sykeon; St. Lups of Troyes; St. Lupicinus; St. Romanus; St. Gudelinis; St. Liphardus; St. Maurus of Glanfeuil; St. Urbicius; St. Senoch; St. Hospitius; St. Winwaloe; St. Kertigan; St. Fintan; St. Molua; St. Amatus; St. Guthlac; St. Joannicus; St. Theodore the Studite; St. Lioba; St. Euthymius the Younger; St. Luke the Younger; St. Paul of Latros; St. Antony of the Caves of Kiev; St. Theodosius Pechersky; St. Fantinus; St. Wulfstan; St. Gregory of Makar; St. Elphege; St. Theobald of Provins; St. Stephen of Grandmont; St. Henry of Coquet; St. William of Malavalle; St. Godric; St. Stephen of Obazine; St. William of Bourges; St. Humility of Florence; St. Simon Stock; St. Agnes of Montepulciano; St. Laurence Justinian; St. Herculanus of Piegaro; St. Francis of Assisi; St. Clare of Assisi; St. Aventine of Troyes; st. Felix of Cantalice; St. Joseph of Cupertino; St. Benedict; St. Bruno; St. Alberic; St. Robert of Molesme; St. Stephen Harding; St. Gilbert of Sempringham; St. Dominic; St. John of Matha; St. Albert of Jerusalem; St. Angela Merici; St. Paula; St. Genevieve; St. David; St. Leonard of Noblac; St. Kevin; St. Anskar; St. Ulrich; St. Yvo; St. Laurence O’Toole; St. Hedwig; St. Mary of Onigines; St. Elizabeth of Hungary; St. Ivo Helory; St. Philip Benizi; St. Albert of Trapani; St. Nicholas of Tolentino; St. Rita of Cascia; St. Francis of Paola; St. John Capistrano; St. John of Kanti; St. Peter of Alcantara; St. Francis Xavier; St. Philip Neri; St. Mary Magdalen of Pazzi; St. Jean-Marie Vianney; St. Basil the Great; St. Jerome; St. Ephraem; St. Peter Damian; St. Bernard; St. Catherine of Siena; St. Robert Bellarmine; St. Peter Celestine; St. Olympias; St. Publius; St. Malchus; St. Asella; St. Sulpicius Severus; St. Maxentius; St. Monegundis; St. Paul Aurelian; St. Coleman of Kilmacduagh; St. Bavo; St. Amandus; St. Giles; St. Silvin; st. Benedict of Aniane; St. Aybert; St. Dominic Loricatus; St. Richard of Wyche; St. Margaret of Cortona; St. Clare of Rimini; St. Frances of Rome; St. James de la Marca; St. Michael of Giedroyc; St. Mariana of Quito; St. John de Britto; St. Callistratus; St. Marianus; St. Brendon of Clonfert; St. Kieran (Carian); St. Stephen of Mar Saba; St. Anselm; St. Martin de Porres; St. Procpius; St. Boniface of Tarsus; St. Serenus.

    In the (updated) 1986 edition of A Vegetarian Sourcebook, Keith Akers similarly observes: “But many others, both orthodox and heterodox, testified to the vegetarian origins of Christianity. Both Athanasius and his opponent Arius were strict vegetarians. Many early church fathers were vegetarian, including Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Heironymus, Boniface, and John Chrysostom.

    “Many of the monasteries both in ancient times and at the present day practiced vegetarianism…The requirement to be vegetarian has been diluted considerably since the earliest days, but the practice of vegetarianism was continued by many saints, monks, and laymen. Vegetarianism is at the heart of Christianity.”

  4. How easy it is for one to go from meat eating to Vegan. As an animal lover and rights protectionist, I could not any longer eat animals if I proclaimed to protect them. Give up eating sentient beings and free your soul from the pain of knowing that you helped torture and kill an innocent animal….

  5. YES!!! Fr. Mann, thank you so much!!! I’ve been a vegetarian for a little over one year now, and almost vegan. This Thanksgiving I adopted my first turkey from a farm sanctuary. Maybe as a Church we can shift in this direction: respecting the animals, the earth, our health that God grants us, and mostly the poor. Going vegetarian (and working one’s way to vegan) is one simple step each individual can take in order to help on so many levels! It was so refreshing to read this in The Tablet.

  6. Just when I was beginning to lose faith in God’s plan, he sends an angel. I am vegan, not for my soul, but for the souls of innocent being, be it human or nonhuman. Thank you Father Mann, for not being afraid to speak for the voiceless.

  7. Congratulations, Frank Mann. You have an honest and persuasive way of writing. A fresh voice, just following your heart and mind. It has struck me that people get what they’re familiar with from the encyclical “Laudato Si,” the danger of climate change and its impact on the poor, but miss the massive shift by the pope toward love of animals and respect for their heavenly destiny. He did not have to say to become vegan and may even not himself know how to actually do it or have time to see to it in the Vatican kitchen. He eats very simply when given the option. Someone should mention that you are in harmony with the explosion of nutritional research in the past generation and that for guidance your audience may read any of the following doctors: J. Fuhrman, J. McDougall, M. Greger, C. Esselstyn (who saved Bill Clinton’s life) or look to the American Vegan Society or the National Health Association, both of whom support more fruit and vegetable eating.