For many of us, food choices are a matter of personal preference. We eat what appeals to our taste buds. But as Christians in the middle of the Lenten season, this choice takes on deeper meaning. Our food choices become an opportunity to practice discipline, intentionality and mindfulness. With a little reflection, we realize our food choices have a broader impact on the world we live in. For example, in the United States, our food system affects the lives of millions of animals each day. This realization leads us to a choice each time we have a meal: Do we want to support suffering or choose a more compassionate option?
Matthew Scully, speech writer for President George W. Bush, describes the conditions in which most animals are raised for food: “Factory farming has no traditions, no rules, no codes of honor, no little decencies to spare for a fellow creature. The whole thing is an abandonment of rural values and a betrayal of honorable animal husbandry.” There are many things we can do to change such a system. As you reflect on ways to observe Lent this season, consider one or more of the following:
1. Change your diet
The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) supports eating with conscience by practicing the Three Rs: reducing our consumption of animals; refining our dietary choices by switching to products that meet high animal welfare standards; and replacing animals in the diet with plant-based options. If each American simply chose to go meat-free just one day a week, more than a billion fewer chickens, pigs and other farm animals would end up in factory farms.
2. Encourage food businesses to switch to more humane products
Each time you go out to eat or buy groceries, ask about more humane options. Next time you are at a restaurant, ask if the pork comes from factory farms that confine pigs in gestation crates, and if they do, explain why this concerns you. Suggest products from producers with high animal welfare standards. If they don’t have a veggie burger, ask why not. Every time you ask these questions, it plants a seed that can grow into significant change.
3. Ask your legislators to support farm animal welfare reforms
There are no federal laws that protect animals on farms and only a few state laws that do. Many states even have laws that exempt common agricultural practices from animal welfare statutes—regardless of how abusive they are. Right now, there is legislation pending in Congress that would offer some protection to hundreds of millions of egg-laying hens: The Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments. This legislation is supported by the majority of egg producers and animal protection groups such as The Humane Society of the United States.
4. Support the movement to let pigs turn around
In factory farms, pregnant pigs spend the majority of their lives in cages so small they can’t turn around. Fortunately, major food companies including McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Kroger and Hardee’s are taking a stand against this abuse. By the same token, The HSUS applauds sustainable family farmers who implement higher animal welfare standards. Despite all of this, there are some major pork producers that refuse to budge. You can help pigs today with resources such as this.
5. Educate Yourself
There are a number of informative and helpful resources on this topic. Ignorance or a simple lack of awareness of the realities behind unsustainable food production make true change impossible. Make it a point to learn more about these issues and to educate those around you. Here are some resources we’d recommend:
Eating Mercifully: This 26-minute film has been shown at over a thousand churches and dozens of seminaries. It has brought concern for farm animal welfare to the minds and hearts of parishioners nationwide and encouraged a more honest look at our relationship with animals raised for food. Order a free copy or watch the film this.
A Pig’s Tail: A short but compelling animated film about a pig’s perspective of factory farming by the makers of “Chicken Run,” “Wallace and Gromit” and other beloved animated feature films. The film introduces children to some of the realities of industrial farming. Watch the 4-minute film.
Compassionate Living for Lent: A free packet of resources which includes the Eating Mercifully and A Pig’s Tail DVDs, booklets from Franciscan Media’s Live Simply series and more. Order online now.
Compassionate Eating as Care of Creation: Professor of Philosophy at Calvin College and HSUS Faith Advisory Council member, Matthew Halteman, Ph.D., wrote this important 40-page booklet on the relevance of food choices to faith. Download a copy.