The founders of Veganuary, Matthew Glover and Jane Land, are interviewed on their remarkable challenge to Pope Francis: go vegan for Lent!
Matthew and Jane tell us about their passion for veganism, why they want to engage Christian audiences and how Christians can help tackle climate change and animals suffering.
Tell us about yourselves and how you came to be so passionate about veganism?
Matthew: In the spring of 2011, I accidentally stumbled across a web banner advertising something called ‘The video the meat industry doesn’t want you to see.’ I had been a vegetarian for ten years, and expected to witness cruelty which would simply reinforce my previous decision not to eat meat.
What I hadn’t expected to see was the cruelty involved in egg and dairy production (even the organic, free range, ‘happy’ eggs and milk I’d been consuming). I began researching and I was horrified to learn the truth. How could a 38 year old man not know that male chicks are ground up alive in hatcheries, or dairy cows are impregnated every year, and their babies are taken from them?
I didn’t know another vegan at the time, but realised I had to try. It was one of the best decisions of my life.
Jane: I’d say my path to veganism began with a famous dog. Lassie. Lassie was a border-collie and the star of her own TV show. As a child I would watch intently and follow her weekly escapades. It was during these adventures that Lassie would often get hurt or trapped and I would sob to see her pain and distress. My mum would try to switch off the TV, but I’d protest and shout: ‘NO, I need to know what happens’. And she’d let me watch, because, inevitably, Lassie would be rescued and I could go to bed happy: content that the suffering had stopped.
It was a further 15 years before I lost that contentment. I saw undercover footage filmed on factory farms and in slaughterhouses. But there was no one there to switch it off this time. I was distraught. Unlike Lassie, this animal suffering was not the result of a misadventure; it was an industry. An industry I had supported with every trip to McDonalds and KFC and my weekly Sunday dinner. That stopped. I went vegetarian.
It wasn’t until I met Matthew in 2012 that I found the confidence to extend that compassion for animals to dairy cows and layer hens. I knew that veganism was the right choice, but I thought I’d find it too difficult to follow. Thankfully, it was much easier than I ever imagined. With so many shops, cafes, chain restaurants now offering delicious food, there’s never been a better time to give it a try.
Why do wish to engage Christian audiences with the topic of veganism?
What we choose to put on our plates we believe is a concern for everyone, including those of faith. Lent is the perfect time to engage a Christian audience with the topic of veganism as it is a period when Christians traditionally abstain from particular food items, often meat.
The values core to Christianity of kindness, respect and compassion may be at odds with a diet that causes suffering to animals, contributes to world hunger and causes global environmental destruction.
His Holiness, Pope Francis has shown an interest in climate change and in the suffering of animals at the hands of people, but what he may not be aware of is that animal agriculture plays a significant role in the issues we face. It’s wonderful that the Pope has spoken about these things and raised awareness, now we’re respectfully asking him to act and encourage his followers to try vegan.
Veganism has clearly never been such a hot topic. Yet what does Christianity have to offer on this debate?
I think Christianity offers love to this debate.
A Christian understanding of animals is grounded in the idea that every single creature is made in love, by love and for sake of love. This is a radically different approach to how millions of animals are treated in contemporary factory farming systems.
This wonderful message has compelled many Christians throughout history, including William Wilberforce and John Wesley, to take action for animals including preaching against animal cruelty and lobbying for the first animal welfare legislation in parliament. This practical demonstration of care, compassion and mercy is something the world badly needs.
Additionally, Jesus’ teaching of love, compassion and the moral priority of the weak and vulnerable is highly relevant in today’s society. I love how He uses the example of a mother Hen to describe His love for the people of Jerusalem (Matthew 23:37) and told the crowds that the sparrows, the humblest of creatures, are included within God’s embrace (Matthew 10:29-31). Based on His teachings, what would Jesus say to how we treat birds on industrial farms today?
Pope Francis is certainly a popular faith leader but has he impressed you in anyway?
Absolutely. Pope Francis’s 2015 Encyclical Letter, Laudato si’ particularly resonated with us when he expressed his deep concern about climate change, harm to the planet and the tyrannical use of animals:
The laws found in the Bible dwell on relationships, not only among individuals but also with other living beings…rest on the seventh day is meant not only for human beings, but also so “that your ox and your donkey may have rest” (Ex 23:12). Clearly, the Bible has no place for a tyrannical anthropocentrism unconcerned for other creatures.
It also endearing and fitting to know the Pope’s choice for the name “Francis” is after St Francis of Assisi, a saint who believed God’s love embraces all creatures. He believed this so passionately he even preached to animals.
Pope Francis is concerned about the future of our planet and the health of all its inhabitants. He is forward-thinking and shares many of the same values we do. We hope for this reason he will support the campaign and join us in making a positive dietary change.
Why should Pope Francis, and indeed the millions of other Christians around the world, go vegan for lent?
We are asking Pope Francis to go vegan for Lent – and to encourage others to do the same – to help the planet, reduce animal suffering and to benefit people too.
Just to give you some examples of why animal farming is so destructive: 83% of farmland is currently used for animal agriculture – that is either grazing for farmed animals or growing food to feed them – but it gives us just 18% of our calories, so it is a highly inefficient way to produce food. And because it needs so much land, ancient habitats like rain forests are destroyed. This would not happen if everyone ate a plant-based diet.
Also, it is now known that animal farming has a bigger impact on climate change than the emissions from all the cars, trains, trucks and planes on the planet. This is because every step of production – from cutting down trees to make way for grazing, to trucking the animals to slaughter and plastic wrapping the final products – is energy-hungry. And the animals themselves emit methane which has a significant impact on climate change too. This is why Oxford University researchers recently stated that the ‘single biggest thing anyone can do to help the planet’ is to go vegan.
These issues are serious and urgent, and this is why Million Dollar Vegan is asking Pope Francis to try vegan for Lent, and to encourage Catholics – and others – around the world to do the same.
If you would like to go vegan for Lent, get your free Vegan Starter Kit, full of advice, recipes and inspiration!