Giving Up Not Eating Meat For Lent

Several weeks ago, as the Lenten season drew near, I began considering what I might give up – and then how I would replace that time or activity, etc… with devotional time or service. Immediately, I was struck by the idea of giving up not eating meat (double negative intentionally used!).
For a year I have been a pescatarian meaning that I eat only seafood in addition to vegetables, dairy, etc… Lauren had done this for many years and I wanted to have my diet be in solidarity with hers. It just gets complicated to have a household divided by dietary needs, and with a new little one, I just thought it would be best.
I didn’t regret my decision at all, nor did I miss meat all that much. (I should clarify that by meat I mean poultry. Lauren and I haven’t eaten beef or pork, except in situations where kindness and hospitality dictated that we do so, in many, many years.) But while I felt good about not eating meat, both ethically and physically, I also hated how complicated my diet made life for others. Those who wanted to cook for us, or have us over for dinner, seemed often stuck scratching their heads over what to cook.
While I might feel strongly about a dietary decision, I hate it that that decision makes the basic hospitality of others overly complicated and even tenuous. I hated that I was often stuck explaining my diet, along with all the why’s and why not’s. I hated the self-righteousness that it would often instill in me, as I, essentially, explained to everyone else how I was “better” or “more sensitive” than they were.
Now, of course, this was not my intention at all. It is, however, often how life played out. I also found myself often complaining about the lack of options I had at certain restaurants, again, somehow making the situation more about me than about fellowship or community.
So I considered giving up not eating meat for Lent. But in the end, I didn’t.

Then, a dietary concern that Lauren had (she has to be very careful, as she needs food not just for herself but for Lily too!), caused her to suggest that she (she didn’t ask me to do it) needed to once again eat poultry, at least temporarily. After a brief discussion I agreed with her and said I wanted to join her (for the same reasons listed above). That was about two weeks ago. Since that time, we’ve been trying to navigate the world of careful meat eating – trying not to overindulge in meat, and trying to still eat a primarily vegetable and seafood diet, but with poultry sprinkled in.

My report: it’s been pretty good. I think in the end, this will allow hospitality to reign much more supremely in our life together. For me, especially, I think this will help to prevent so many situations from being driven back to me and my choices and beliefs. (I need all the help I can get with pride and my ego…) Instead, we can just be.

I think that our ultimate position will be this: when at home, we will still eat a, for-the-most-part, vegetarian diet, but we will eat poultry at times, and definitely seafood. In public, and especially when joining others for a meal, we will gladly eat poultry, seafood, and vegetables. We will continue to refrain from beef and pork, unless our host does not know that we don’t eat these things and prepares a beef or pork dish for us. In that case, we will gladly eat the meal that is prepared for us, enjoy it, and we will be grateful for the hospitality and sustenance.

Well those are my thoughts about this recent development in our lives this Lenten season.

I’d love to read your thoughts about all of this.

9 responses to “Giving Up Not Eating Meat For Lent

  1. Thanks for sharing where you’re at with this issue. I appreciate your struggle to navigate the balance between hospitality to God’s creatures, God’s earth, yourself, and others.

  2. Less than a year ago, Andres and I gave up all meat, dairy and eggs. For us it was primarily a health-related decision. While I was still breastfeeding, the boys were happily eating table food and I didn’t feel like a change in my breastmilk would adversely affect them. It is difficult to be gracious in accepting other people’s hospitality given our dietary restrictions. It is a difficult line to walk. There are certainly situations where we would eat whatever was presented to us, but I find it difficult with my children. They aren’t yet at an age where that see the distinction between what we eat to be gracious and what we eat in our regular lives. I mostly try to solve this problem by accepting the very gracious hopitality of someone offering to let us visit in their home and then offering to provide a main dish for the meal we will share. It ensures that there will be something I can eat while also allowing me to share my love of cooking with friends. I think it’s a difficult line to walk.

    • It is a difficult line to walk, Beth, that’s for sure. I totally respect you and Andres’ choice to go Vegan. Good for you! The issue with the kids is a tough one. We have really debated that same issue on both sides for the last year or so.
      I’d say this is especially tough as a pastor. It is very common for someone to have us over, or to bring us something, etc… and to not eat it, in my opinion, would be rude. At the same time, though, people should be more understanding and tolerant of the dietary decisions, commitments, and restrictions of others. Again, a fine line….
      Well, as we all live in the same city again, we’ll have to get together sometime!

  3. I think you and Lauren have always done very well with the choices you have been given in regards to food. I commend you both for making choices that are right for YOUR family! In the end what someone eats is a personal choice and should not be judged by anyone other than the person making the decision.

    • Thanks Larissa, I appreciate that. You were always very accommodating with our (and my) diet and for that I truly thank you! I sure miss our frequent dinners at your home!

  4. Hey, Rusty. My name is Audra. Let’s get the internet-stalking issue out of the way first. I got here through a series of clicks beginning at Katie Savage’s blog, where your wife commented on a post I read. To go one step further, I feel weird that we haven’t met yet because we (now) work at the same place, and you are the new pastor of many of my good friends. But I know that, in time, our paths will cross, and we WILL meet. For now, though, this internet-stalking introduction will have to suffice. I hope that’s okay.

    More to the point – or rather, your post. I just finished up a Lenten commitment of not eating meat. This was a rather significant decision for me, since I grew up in a family where meat is of the utmost dietary importance. My mother was raised on a farm, and ever since I can remember, she and my dad have had their beef needs met by my maternal grandfather, who raises his own cattle and supplies them (and most of his other family members) with the meat. So, in addition to meat being an important part of my diet for all of my life, this arrangement with my grandparents has also turned me into something of a meat snob. I have taken pride in announcing that I don’t buy meat from the store or order steaks at restaurants because none of it compares to what I grew up eating and what I occasionally still get to eat when my parents are feeling generous enough to share their stock (no pun intended) with me.

    My entire family scoffs at the idea of vegetarianism. Once, a couple of Christmases ago when I invited a friend who had nowhere to go to our extended-family dinner, said friend had trouble finding food to eat at that dinner because said friend was a vegetarian. Said friend attempted to be discreet, but one of my family members finally noticed that she kept passing (and not taking from) the dishes that had meat in them and spoke up: “What, are you a vegetarian or something?” My friend timidly answered, “Umm, yes… But that’s okay, really.” Someone else in my family tried to half-apologize and half-boast that we are a family who loves our meat. After an awkward silence because my family just truly doesn’t know what to do with people who don’t eat meat, my grandpa closed the matter embarrassingly and awkwardly by saying, “All I know is that God told Abraham ‘Kill and eat!’ so that’s all the justification I need for eating meat.” That friend has never accepted another invitation to dine with my family.

    Even with my embarrassment at how my family treated the issue, I went on with my meat-eating and meat-boasting ways in my own life. Until this Lenten season, when I decided that it was time to give up meat and see what it was like to live life as a vegetarian. And the journey was frustrating and humbling and troubling, to sum up. I remember thanking my stars (and my clever self) that I hadn’t gone completely vegan because I was finding it difficult enough to find food I could eat, especially when out at restaurants. I never knew how much restaurant menus were dominated by meat entrees until I scoured them looking for SOMETHING that wasn’t “just a salad” that I could eat.

    And every Sunday I rejoiced in the mini reprieve and indulged in some meat-heavy meal. And on Easter Sunday, at our church breakfast, I reveled in all the meat options available to me. I even ate BACON. I never eat bacon. I think bacon is disgusting. But when you’ve gone 40 days without meat in your diet, it’s surprising how appetizing even bacon becomes.

    Anyway, I can see that I’ve far exceeded the socially acceptable length of an internet-stalking blog comment, so I’ll try to wrap up. I wanted to say that I appreciate your post and your acknowledgment of the strain dietary preferences can put on hospitality and generosity. And I wanted to say that, as someone who stepped to the other side for the last few weeks, I hope that from now on I’ll be able to empathize more compassionately with my friends who choose different diets than the one I choose.

    I hope your decision leads you to good things, and I hope you find it fulfilling and rewarding to be able to partake of meals set in front of you by people who either don’t know or don’t care that your preferences are different. And I also hope that your actions and decisions will be accepted with grace in the same manner that you are so graciously choosing to meld your eating habits in order to promote community and hospitality.

    We have not met yet, but I look forward to when we do, and I hope it’s not awkward. 🙂

    -audra-

    • Audra,
      Thanks for reading and responding. And there’s no need to apologize for “stalking!” In my opinion, if someone puts their thoughts out “there” in cyberspace for anyone to read, they are, indeed, for anyone. I’m glad you found your way to my blog. I’m not to regular at posting, but I’m always trying to get better.
      Your personal testimony on the matter was very helpful. Lauren and I did not grow up in a ranching household, but we certainly do come from a place where voluntarily not eating meat is quite weird to say the least. Our families have, fortunately, always been very accepting of our dietary convictions (I’m sure partly because we never attempted to convince anyone that we were “right” and they were “wrong.”) Still, it does get very tiresome and complicated.
      Yes, so far, I would say that our dietary change has resulted in a feeling of increased freedom and ease when dining with others. Also, I have yet to feel bad or ethically convicted about the matter…so all in all, things are good.

      By the way, I do believe I’ve seen you. I’ll have to make sure to introduce myself next time I do – you do the same!

      Peace,
      Rusty

      By the way, you might be the only person I’ve EVER heard say that they thought bacon was disgusting (aside from a few Jewish acquaintances!). I don’t miss it, but I think Bacon is awfully tasty!!!

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