By Sister Suzanne Gallagher
A few weeks ago, someone asked me, “Are you still doing your vegetarian thing?” The question surprised me at first, and after my initial “yes,” I realized I was grateful for the opportunity the question afforded me. Why am I a vegetarian? What do I get out of it? What does the world get out of it?
My resolve started gradually. A couple of years ago, I decided that I would not eat red meat; this choice held firm when there was a chicken or fish selection available. I was slowly learning the health benefits of not eating red meat, but I knew there had to be a reason beyond my own health for this choice.
In finally fully committing to becoming a vegetarian last March, two texts grabbed my consciousness. The first, unsurprisingly, is Laudato Sí. Pope Francis speaks so eloquently of creation being a “sacrament of communion … [a place where] the divine and the human meet” (#9). Francis issues the call to strive “to take charge of this home which has been entrusted to us … in union with all creatures” (#244). This home is clearly in crisis; how do I participate in its devastation and restoration? The depth and the beauty of the text, while great, are dwarfed, for me, by the challenge it presents.
It was a second book that propelled me to question how my material body is part of the care and transformation of our common home. I knew I needed to move beyond just recycling, refusing to use plastics and carpooling as much as possible. John Dear’s book, They Will Inherit the Earth: Making Peace and Practicing Nonviolence in a Time of Climate Change, clarified the path I had to take. I found myself consuming and digesting that text. Peace and nonviolence seem so seamlessly linked to care for the Earth, and adopting a vegetarian diet is a way for me to participate.
Dear’s book presents the costs and consequences of meat consumption, some of which we may have heard before: the large amounts of grain it takes to produce a pound of beef, so we can enjoy our hamburgers; countries that export their grain for cattle feed while their populations are starving; the cruelty done to animals, pigs and chickens in the raising and slaughtering process so we can, as Dear says, “fill our buckets of KFC” and have wings at sports parties. Fossil fuels, use of fertilizers and other food production costs carry extravagant price tags just so we can enjoy meat, sometimes two or three times a day.
What do I get out of being a vegetarian? Even though I miss hot dogs and scrapple (if you’re from Philly, you know what I mean), it is amazing to me how enjoyable it can be: the textures and tastes of different mushrooms; the delight of a black bean burger or vegetarian chili; the sweetness of friends planning a menu to be sure there was something I could eat and enjoy—unnecessary yet greatly appreciated.
I am a member of a community of Mercy and we are intent on sustaining the environment, being conscious consumers of the Earth’s riches, taking only our share. We strive to be thoughtful about what we drive, wear and eat; we are hopeful for a world at peace and where all are fed.
These things will not come to pass simply because I am a vegetarian, but it is my contribution, and it is changing me. It is me doing something, – not because I am ensured of success but because it is the right thing for me to do. Oh, this is a process, a journey that does not end with me doing “my vegetarian thing.” Let’s pray for each other as we journey.
To deepen your engagement with the Sisters of Mercy’s Critical Concern of Earthduring the season of Lent, please explore an examination of conscience for consumers, a faith leader’s guide to the impacts of climate change on regions throughout the United States, and a study & action guide to Laudato Si.