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My suggestion for Lent is to give up beef

Our addiction to beef does great damage to the environment. Time to wean ourselves off it

By on Wednesday, 16 March 2011

A beef cow in Alberta, Canada (The Canadian Press Images/Larry MacDougal)

A beef cow in Alberta, Canada (The Canadian Press Images/Larry MacDougal)

There was a time when most people did not need to give up anything for Lent. By the time the holy season came round, their supplies were low: perhaps they had a few wizened apples in store, a bit of wheat blighted with mould, and a few pickles. Lent would thus have been a time finishing off what had been hoarded since the previous autumn, and going hungry until the first crops of the spring could be harvested. It is only a generation that is used to plenty that needs to consider what to give up.

My suggestion is to cut out some luxury food. I do not mean tea and coffee, which are relatively cheap; true, they have no nutritional value. Nor do I mean chocolate, which like tea and coffee is a cash crop for some of the world’s poorest countries. Rather cut out beef. Cattle are a wasteful food source. They drink huge quantities of water and graze over tracts of land that could, in many places, be used for better purposes. They do great environmental damage, something highlighted in Annie Proulx’s excellent novel That Old Ace in the Hole. Other livestock use less and produce more. Lambs graze on uplands that are unsuitable for arable farming. Pigs can be kept almost anywhere and eat human leftovers. A beefless Lent might wean us off our dangerous addiction to this meat. And really, would it be such a huge sacrifice? I love burgers, but lamb burgers are just as nice as beef burgers. The same goes for meatballs: lamb and pork meatballs have far more flavour.

If this sounds a little bit too justice and peace, well, fasting is supposed to have a social justice angle to it. That at least seems to be the message of the 58th chapter of Isaiah which was read out in church last Friday.

Meanwhile, why not try some lentils? Here is the recipe that I was given recently. To some boiled Puy lentils (just follow the instructions on the pack) add lots of balsamic vinegar and soy sauce to taste. Throw on some thinly sliced leeks that you have fried in olive oil, and then either some pulled ham or some cooked lardons of bacon. Stir the whole thing together. Delicious hot or cold.

  • catherine

    Now there is food for thought….

  • Anonymous


  • Rachel

    Good idea – very convincing.

  • Chris51

    Clearly there’s a lot at steak. Seriously, a good idea. Thanks.

  • Anonymous

    In honor of yet another liberal sermonizing about what we should and shouldn’t be doing, I will celebrate tomorrow with a gigantic hamburger for lunch, followed by a juicy steak for dinner. Friday, of course, will be meatless out of Catholic tradition, not because I buy into the “save the world, eat chicken” rubbish.

    Perhaps a nice rump roast for Saturday.

  • Jsz4433

    How about giving up contraceptives?

  • Elisabeth

    Is fasting supposed to have a social justice angle to it? I thought it was supposed to have a doing penance for our sins and reparation for the sins of the world, plus a redemptiveness element of suffering angle to it….

  • Anonymous

    It was pointless to put your blog on a reactionary site. You were bound to attract comments from people who are only interested in a quite narrow morality. Years ago I read an article in the Economist, rather more caring than this lot, which persuaded me that most of the world’s protein was being used for beef cattle and that more of the worlds wildernesses were being ploughed up to produce the vegetable protein to feed the ever growing population of beeves. If like our Lord or St John the Baptist you wished to withdraw to the wilderness and live modestly on the bounty of the wild you’d have to go a mighty long way. The rich North then stuffs itself to the point of ill-health on most of the world’s protein. I have never regretted giving up meat altogether, at first for Lent only and then permanently. It is a trivial gesture I admit but a start.

  • Michael

    WHY did you become a priest, Alexander?

    You are clearly a leftist radical, and therefore inherently OPPOSED to everything Catholicism teaches.