In recent years, environmentalists and animal rights activists have called for Christians to commit to veganism during Lent. But while the practice may be growing as a lifestyle choice, fasting from animal products is an ancient Lenten tradition far predating current interest in veganism. As Christians around the world begin the observation of Lent, contemporary thinkers consider how the practice of fasting squares with current science on the impact of cutting meat and dairy from our diets, calling believers to think of the practice not only as a deeply personal part of their spirituality but also as something with social and ethical implications.

Though vegans are a tiny minority worldwide, a 2018 study reported that two out of three Americans had reduced their meat consumption in recent years, citing expense and health concerns as primary reasons for doing so (though environmental impact was also a frequent concern).

Yet thousands of years before veganism became popular, the Bible and Christian tradition included fasting as a way of maintaining healthy attitudes toward food and stewarding the earth responsibly. Dave Bookless, an expert in biodiversity conservation who serves as the director of theology for A Rocha International, pointed out in an interview that fasting from meat and dairy at certain times of the year has long been a Christian tradition. “Lent is traditionally a time of abstinence,” said Bookless, a part-time vicar of a multicultural congregation in London. “In quite a lot of Christian cultures, if you look back through Christian history, people were vegetarian during Lent. That was quite a common thing in many parts of the world. And it’s still a common thing in some Christian traditions.” ...

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