Posted: February 2nd, 2016

Let's Make a Fast Deal!

By, Fr. Mark Sietsema
Here's an offer for making your Lenten fast in a different way ...

I have no illusions about the fastidiousness in fasting of Orthodox Christians generally and of my own parishioners in particular.  Some care deeply about following the Church’s guidelines for refraining at certain seasons from meat and fish, eggs and dairy, oil and wine and alcoholic beverages.  Others never give it a passing thought.  For most, the rules of fasting are observed in the breach: knowing it is a day of abstinence, they will order the cheeseburger anyway but feel a little sheepish about it. 


I also have no illusions about the effectiveness of endless browbeating: it doesn’t work.  There is nothing I can say—no sermon so eloquent, no health rationale so compelling, no guilt trip so shame-inducing—that will change your behaviors when it comes to how you fast in Lenten seasons.  As you have done, so you will do, until the end of your lives: in this matter and most other things. 


However … I want to make you a new offer today.  Please hear me out and then prayerfully consider my deal.


First, you need to go to your favorite device and open up YouTube.  In the search bar, enter the words “secret camera factory farm.”  You will get a large number of results: watch any three relating to a different animal whose flesh or eggs or milk you enjoy: cow, pig, chicken, turkey, shrimp, fish, whatever.  Go watch those now, then come back and read the rest of this.


Did you see the one with the mother pig wailing for her piglets, whose little brains were being bashed out in a nearby stall?

Did you see the one with the cow hanging by his rear foot, stunned but still alive, throat cut and bleeding out, bellowing for its life?

Did you see the one with the chicken that had been scalded alive in the de-feathering vat?


Whatever you watched, if what you witnessed does not cause deep pain in your very soul, then stop reading now: the Spirit of God has not touched your heart and there is no point in further discussion. 


Why should you ache with sadness?  Because your shopping habits are what subsidizes this enormous cruelty.  You fund this misery.  Your appetites feed the fires of these hells. 


Your every pork chop has been tenderized with torture.  Your every cheeseburger comes with a side of agony.  Your every omelette has its eggs well beaten—while they were still in the hen!  The dinner music you turn on but never quite hear is the screams and groans and shrieks of the tormented creatures that provide the cheap protein for our American tables.  It is monstrous … and most of us turn a blind eye to it, even as we tuck in.


Unless …


Unless you are a vegan … OR … you are a hunter or fisherman or farmer who harvests all your own game responsibly … OR … you are a very careful shopper who reads all labels and buys your meat and eggs and dairy ONLY from sources that practice humane farming and slaughter.  Otherwise, you are most definitely a part of the sin of factory-farming in this country. 


Here’s some more news.  Factory-farmed protein is not so good for you.  Sure, it tastes great.  But in order to keep the animals alive in such dreadful conditions, they have to be given a lot of antibiotics, which end up in your system, doing no good. In order to grow animals quickly, they are given hormones.  God only knows what these chemicals do in the human body, but they are banned in Europe for a reason.  In order to feed fatten up animals quickly, they are fed unnatural diets.  Cows naturally eat grass, not grain: grain-fed cows bulk up fast, but the butter of grass-fed cows is higher in Omega-3 fatty acids and Vitamin K2.  And it tastes waaaaaaay better, like butter used to taste.  And you don’t even want to know about factory-farmed seafood from Asia …


Of course, the grass-fed butter, the small-ranch beef, the local free range eggs, the wild-caught salmon—these all cost more than the factory-farm knockoffs.   You will spend two or even three times more than for the cheap protein.  (But there is a savings, too: see below.) 


Because of the price, you will also probably wind up eating less animal protein overall, and you will be more conscious about wasting food.  (These are plusses, in case you wondered.)  You will be doing your body a favor by avoiding the drugs and hormones and chemicals (like chlorine and ammonia) that are part and parcel of the factory-farm process and wind up on your plate.


So here’s the deal I am offering to any of my own parishioners who do not normally observe the fasts of the Church anyway.  As your confessor, I will give you dispensation to eat freely of these foods, as long as you eat only those that have been raised and slaughtered humanely: no factory-farm protein of any sort, not one bite, not during Lent … and not throughout the rest of the year, either.  If you don’t fast from meat, please at least fast from cruelty.


This means only:

Wild-caught fish and shrimp

Free-range, cruelty-free, fully-beaked-chicken eggs

Milk, cheese, and butter from grass-fed, pastured cows

Beef, pork, chicken, turkey, lamb raised only on free-range farms, on diets natural to their species, tended with kindness, and slaughtered quickly, carefully, and as painlessly as possible.


This entails that you start shopping in places besides the big-chain supermarkets, which stock the evil factory-farm products almost exclusively.  Happily, there are more alternatives every year.


This means that you are going to research your protein providers to make sure that they are not using words like “Certified Humane” lightly.  Get ready to read a lot of labels, do a lot of Googling, and make a few phone calls to ask uncomfortable questions. (“Cage-free” does not mean “cruelty-free,” unfortunately.  There is a steep learning curve on the path to kindness.)


This means that you are going to spend a lot more time and a lot more money on what goes into your body.


This means, above all, that you will never patronize a fast-food joint again.  Indeed, you will not eat out anymore at all, unless you order a vegan meal or go to a restaurant that guarantees only cruelty-free products. (Here’s where you make up that extra money you are spending at the store.) 


Are you interested in this arrangement?  If so, come and let’s talk.


Don’t want the fast deal? Then before you come to Communion again, you must first come to confession, seeking absolution for the horrendous pain you inflict on animals, just to satisfy your own cravings.


It’s one or the other, no in-between.  For how can one sincerely venerate the Passions of Christ, if one’s heart is unmoved by the sufferings of fellow creatures—sufferings funded by our own gluttonous choices?  Or do you really believe God accepts praise from lips stained with the tortured blood of His most helpless and innocent creations?  


Not sure?  Come to church on Holy Thursday evening and ask the One on the Cross what He thinks.


Καλή Νηστεία. Καλή Σαρακοστή.  A Blessed, and Sincere, Lenten Fast to All of Us. 



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