To the old joke’s punch line, ‘Is the pope Catholic?’ activists now want to add, ‘Is the pope a vegetarian?’ They claim they’ll pay him a million bucks if Pope Francis agrees to go vegan.
For the world’s millions of Roman Catholics, the 40 days of the Lenten season is ostensibly a period of prayer, penitence and sacrifice leading up to the celebration of Easter Sunday.
As a kid growing up in an Irish Catholic household, it was a month-and-a-half of riding herd on siblings to make sure their promises to give up candy and do extra chores didn’t go unfulfilled.
For the ever-growing chorus of vegetarian activists, Lent now brings a new opportunity: A chance to challenge Pope Francis to go full veggie for the duration.
In a well-publicized campaign, a 12-year-old activist named Genesis Butler is calling on the pope to “go vegan” for Lent. If he does, according to news reports, he’ll receive a one million-dollar donation for the charity of his choice.
Leaving aside the fact that the Vatican could probably come up with a million bucks by holding a half-hour yard sale at the papal residence, the go-vegan-for-Lent proposal, as they say in court, assumes facts not in evidence.
“Your Holiness: The world is facing many serious and pressing issues,” the group’s petition reads, “not the least [of which is] climate change, deforestation, species loss, pollution, the decimation of the oceans, antibiotic resistance, the suffering of billions of animals, and chronic health complaints. What all of these things have in common is animal farming and the consumption of animal products.”
The statement goes on to assert that “animal farming is one of the largest contributors to human-caused climate-changing emissions, generating more greenhouse gases than the entire global transport sector combined.”
That claim is straight out of the anti-industry playbook used by animal activists to demonize livestock production. But the larger question isn’t whether the vegan group’s data are accurate — they’re not — it’s whether its messaging aligns with the Vatican’s official position on the subject of diet, health and environmental protection.
(Spoiler alert: It doesn’t).
Where’s the outrage?
According to the proponents of the go-vegan-for-Lent campaign, their proposal was inspired by the pope's 2015 encyclical, “Laudato Si!” (“Praise to You”). Unlike the veganistas cheering on the million-dollar challenge, however, I actually read through the entire document — more than 40,000 words buttressed by 173 footnotes (probably should have waited and claimed it as proper penance for Lent).
It reads like a graduate student’s thesis being graded by its weight, as opposed to its scholarship. If you love wading through long-winded takes on obscure biblical passages, you’re in heaven.
Interestingly enough, however, there is zero — and I mean zero — mention of the (alleged) urgency of ditching animal agriculture and embracing a vegan diet.
The pope’s treatise contains plenty of throwaway lines about “embracing all creatures with love and tenderness;” statements to the effect that “we are profoundly united with every creature;” and arguments about “the need to protect the world, to appreciate its beauty.”
Wonderful sentiments all, but not by any stretch of the imagination a call to eliminate animal husbandry or to stop eating meat.
Or how about climate change? Vegan activists have spent the better part of the decade pounding the drum to convince consumers that livestock producers are the biggest culprits in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. While Laudato Si! does discuss environmental crises, it does so in terms of “atmospheric pollutants that create health hazards,” “immense piles of trash and industrial waste” that are toxic to people, and a “throwaway culture” that creates both waste and toxins polluting the environment.
There’s not a single syllable anywhere in its 70-plus pages devoted to the so-called threat that animals supposedly pose to the planet.
Here’s what the pope actually did write concerning the relationship of humans, animals and environment:
“With natural ecosystems, plants synthesize nutrients, which feed herbivores, which become food for carnivores, which produce organic waste, which gives rise to new generations of plants.”
Grazie, Il Papa.
You summarized perfectly how nature works, and your statement is right in tune with how humanity has proceeded from hunting and gathering to agricultural productivity over the millennia. It’s called the food chain, and humans have historically, biologically and ecologically been at the top, as opportunistic omnivores: eating a varied diet of fruits, vegetables, roots, meat, milk and eggs.
As the Book of Genesis states in chapter 9, “Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.”
And God — as well as the pope — saw that it was good.
The opinions in this commentary are those of Dan Murphy, a veteran journalist and commentator.