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Commentary

This Lent, let’s move beyond navel-gazing

12:07 AM February 24, 2015

I was under the influence of a nerdy-cute camp counselor in high school when I decided to give up meat for Lent. My resolve held until my first trip to a sub shop, where the call of deli slices overcame any desire to impress my crush.

What I didn’t realize then was that Lent isn’t about giving up meat or sugar or cutting down on Netflix binges. It’s not about denying ourselves something so that we can hang on to some semblance of self-control. It’s not even about starting a new healthy habit for self-improvement.

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Lent isn’t about us.

Both Ecclesiastes and The Byrds tell us that there is a season for everything. And I’ve learned that the 40 days of Lent are a time to reflect, repent, repair relationships and consider what we might do to help bring restoration to a deeply troubled world.

Lent is about looking around us and asking how we can make our part of the world a little better for others. That makes far more sense and has a much more profound impact than the usual Lenten–New Year’s resolution do-overs.

Take a look at the news headlines or your Facebook feed. There’s a lot of brokenness over which we have no control. It can all feel a bit bleak.

But there’s an important issue over which each of us has tremendous power to bring healing and wholeness: that of animal suffering. Many people don’t realize how many choices they make each day that either help or hurt animals.

Choosing cruelty-free makeup or shampoo can keep rabbits from having chemicals dripped into their eyes in a testing laboratory.

Choosing family activities that don’t involve captive animals can keep monkeys and elephants from being imprisoned and dolphins from being confined to chlorinated pools.

And those of us who have an abundance of food also have the privilege, three times a day, of choosing mercy or suffering.

Each animal is an individual with the ability to feel pain, joy and fear. Anyone who lives with animals knows that each animal has a unique personality with strong needs and desires. But the enormous meat, dairy and egg industries are built on cruelty, oppression and abuse. Animals raised for food may be castrated, have body parts such as beak tips or horns chopped off and have brands burned into their skin—all without painkillers. At the slaughterhouse, animals are strung up by one leg and their throats are cut, often while they’re fully conscious. Animals are routinely skinned or dismembered while they’re still alive.

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But animals aren’t the only ones to suffer. Although there’s more than enough food in the world to feed the entire human population, more than one billion people suffer from food deprivation each year, thanks to the meat-based diet of wealthy nations, since so much life-giving grain and water is fed to farmed animals raised for meat instead of going to people who need it. And the farmed-animal industry also exploits the poor people, immigrants and children who work for paltry wages in filthy and extremely dangerous conditions.

In addition, using animals for food is wreaking havoc on the environment. A recent United Nations report concluded that a global shift toward a vegan diet is necessary to combat the worst effects of climate change.

By going vegan, one person can save more than 100 animal lives a year, help conserve vital natural resources and drastically reduce his or her participation in a system that exploits immigrant and impoverished humans. Going vegan is an important and powerful step toward healing our broken planet, and the season of Lent is an ideal time to start that journey.

Sarah Withrow King is director of Christian outreach and engagement for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals-United States.

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TAGS: column, food, Lent, sarah withrow king
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