Religious Groups Are Giving Plant-Based Eating a Boost
As we become increasingly aware of how factory farmed meat consumption impacts the planet, animal well-being and our own health, more and more people are seeing the benefits of transitioning to a plant-based diet.
The number of plant-based food and drink products in the US more than doubled between 2012 and 2018, according to consumer research company Mintel. Fast food chains are introducing more and more new plant-based products, including Burger King’s Impossible Burger.
Raised awareness of plant-based eating has been encouraging discussions around what exactly religious texts say about eating meat. David Clough, Professor of Theological Ethics at the University of Chester, for example, has argued for reduced consumption of meat and improved welfare for farmed animals. He writes: “It seems to me that our use of animals for food is an urgent ethical challenge that Christians have particular faith-based reasons for taking note of.”
This argument isn’t new; Pope Benedict XVI said in 2002 that “degrading of living creatures to a commodity seems to me in fact to contradict the relationship of mutuality that comes across in the Bible.”
However, the conversation is new in relation to the mounting pressures on populations to cut their meat and dairy intake for the sake of their health, animal welfare and the future of the planet.
And now, conversation is moving towards action, and religious groups are stepping up as an ally in the fight against factory farming – whose vested interests are driving the current debate on labelling plant-based alternatives – and are seeing the moral imperative of playing a part.
Vegetarianism has long had associations with a variety of spiritual and religious traditions, including Hinduism, Buddhism, and some Christian monastic orders. But now, there are movements within many of these groups to move even closer towards a fully plant-based diet.
In June this year, the world’s first vegan Jewish center opened in London. The center aims to service an “ever-increasing demand for and interest in Jewish veganism,” while two years ago, dozens of rabbis from around the world signed a declaration calling on Jewish people to adopt a plant-based diet.
Earlier this year, there was mounting pressure on Pope Francis to adopt a plant-based diet for Lent (initiated by Million Dollar Vegan in collaboration with the Blue Horizon International Foundation, a US non-profit that aims to “accelerate the removal of animals from the global food chain”), since many practicing Catholics abstain from meat on all Fridays, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday during Lent. This follows a tweet Pope Francis in 2015, when he wrote: “It is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly.”
For several years already, a growing number of Muslims have celebrated “veganadan” or “Green Ramadan,” wherein observers adopt a 100% plant-based diet for the four weeks of Ramadan (the holy month of the Islamic calendar, characterized by daily fasting, prayer, reflection and community).
Another example of this movement gaining momentum is Living the Change, an international, multi-faith initiative which helps people representing diverse traditions change their consumption habits in response to climate change. This Fall, religious and spiritual groups around the world will be holding plant-based suppers, where members can talk about how their traditions relate to the challenges of climate change, and what they can do personally to help make a difference.
“The Hindu America Foundation has made a commitment to serve 100 percent vegetarian meals at all its events, and to make 30 percent of its dishes vegan,” says Mat McDermott, communications director at the Hindu America Foundation in Washington, DC. “In doing this, we can even more deeply apply the precept of ahimsa in our lives, while simultaneously helping prevent climate change.”
Rabbi Jonathan Keren-Black, co-founder of the Jewish Ecological Coalition in Australia, says he is committed to make at least half of his meals vegetarian and eat meat only once a week, while Sister Christin Tomy, Sinsinawa Dominican Sister based in Iowa, became vegetarian six years ago.
“What began as a Lenten commitment has become integral to my spiritual practice,” says Sister Tomy. “At first, my primary motivation was mindfulness of my brothers and sisters who go hungry. But the more I learned about the social and environmental impact of meat production in the US, the deeper my commitment became.”
Increasing awareness of plant-based eating among faith groups is a hugely positive step towards reducing our meat and dairy intake, especially when we consider the reach of religious groups in the US alone (70 percent of the US is Christian).
Having the support of a church, mosque, temple or other house of worship can stimulate friendly debate, and help encourage and support others to cut down on their meat intake. For example, the Vegan Church in the Netherlands hosts regular cooking workshops, communal meals and bible study on themes related to plant-based eating.
As we continue to move towards plant-based eating, there will be more challenges to overcome. But religious and spiritual groups have a huge potential to support many more people in altering their diets for the good of the planet, for animals suffering in factory farms, and for the empowering experience of embodying their deepest values.
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Welcome to Our Website
The Surrey Botanical Society (SBS), originally known as Surrey Flora Committee (SFC), has been in existence since 1957 and aims to represent and unite all those who want to enjoy, study and record Surrey’s astonishingly interesting, beautiful and diverse flora. Membership is open to anyone with an interest in the subject. Why not Join us? New Members are always welcome and an Application Form can be downloaded from this website.
We hold regular Field Meetings in the growing season, which are very enjoyable. All are welcome, and no previous experience is required. There is a strong supportive, educational and social element to these meetings, and our more knowledgeable members are always ready to help those in need. There is an annual AGM, of course, and a Social Meeting. We have also organised a few workshops in the past. Informal recording meetings are also held and notice of these is emailed to members in advance.
Plant records are documented using MapMate and are co-ordinated with the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland. If you do not have a copy of MapMate you can download and enter records on our MS Excel 2010 Recording Form and submit it periodically. Instructions for use of the spreadsheet and an example sheet are included. You can also download our Recording Strategy document.
We are compiling a Rare Plant Register, and gradually working towards a new Surrey County Flora. Bespoke applications,available to SBS Members only, are available on this website to view a searchable, interactive Virtual Map and interactive distribution maps of all Surrey records and taxa by 1 Km Squares and Date Class. The latter was updated on 30 September 2019. We also analyse the number of our MapMate records and taxa by date class biannualy and the results are circulated to members as Excel spreadsheets. The most recent may be downloaded from this website (see 1Km Records /Introduction). The Virtual Map, although focused on Surrey, covers the world..
Our members past and present either individually, in informal groups or at formal field meetings have currently amassed more than 807,000 records of nearly 3,000 identified taxa from Surrey’s 2,105 monads. Although this may seem a huge number there are more than 400 rare plants recorded in Surrey for which we would like more records.
Our Photo Gallery includes more than two hundred images of Surrey wild flowers taken by our members. This gallery may be searched by scientific or vernacular name. We also maintain a Facebook Group where you can share your images of Surrey’s rich flora.
We publish biannual newsletters, which are sent to all members. These include meeting reports and other useful information on our activities. Back issues of our newsletters from 1957 to the present are available for members to download and there is an index to all series 2 issues published from Spring 2003 to the present.
Our website also includes lists of useful Links, including National Organisations, Aids to Identification, Local Natural History Societies, Wildlife Trusts. Maps, Sites of Special Scientific Interest & Reserves, and Facebook Groups and Blogs.