Mock-meatless Fridays? Catholic vegans share their Lenten sacrifices

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Vegans are individuals who follow a diet in which they abstain from eating any animal products. This means they do not eat meat, eggs, dairy products, or any other products of animal origin. Essentially, they follow a plant-based diet.

During Lent, Catholics are called to abstain from eating meat on Fridays and fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. What is Lent like if you are Catholic and vegan, though?

KellyAnn Carpentier, 44, a historian and writer from New Haven, Connecticut, and Kailtin Essig, 24, a manager of a coffee shop in Ligonier, Pennsylvania, are both Catholic vegans. In an interview with CNA, they shared their experiences being a Catholic while following a vegan lifestyle. 

Carpentier said that the decision to become vegan “was made after a considerable amount of prayer and contemplation. First and foremost, I had to make the lifestyle change for the right reasons.”

Essig echoed that “it was something I discerned on my own.” 

How then does fasting and abstaining from certain foods impact this lifestyle? 

“I was advised that I should take supplements if necessary to ensure that I am maintaining proper nutritional levels and that I should ensure that I consume enough of the appropriate [vegan] proteins,” Carpentier said about advice she received from a priest. 

She added, “As for fasting, I should not attempt to exceed what my body can handle. If, at any time, I become the slightest bit unwell during a [food oriented] fast, I need to stop immediately and fast from something else.”

So, what do they give up for Lent? 

“Essentially, I do away with luxuries for the duration of Lent,” Carpentier said. 

“There are a plethora of vegan versions of mainstream items such as baked goods and ice cream. I abstain from these types of items all together, which is quite penitential given my sweet tooth,” she explained. “It requires you to be very disciplined and intentional not to seek out such items or to have the luxury of a cup of [vegan] hot cocoa.” 

Essig said that she abstains from “mock meats.” 

“I feel it is comparable to what Fridays were like before I was vegan,” she said. “Since mock meats are a treat and not a staple in my diet, I usually also abstain from all drinks except water so that I actually notice something is missing.”

While there are no official Church teachings on veganism, there are certain religious communities that will follow something similar to veganism as part of their way of life or during penitential seasons. Monastic orders such as the Carthusians and Cistercians follow a pescatarian diet, while Carmelites follow a vegetarian diet. 

Both women shared similar hardships that come with being vegan when interacting with those who are non-vegan. 

Essig shared her experience being teased at times or receiving negative remarks, while Carpentier has received comments from people that it is “extreme, radical, unnecessary, irrational, and something that they would never do.”

“While some family members try to accommodate me, it is not as easy for them and can be a source of frustration because they are sincere in their attempts to follow along,” Carpentier said. “In those moments, my heart is filled with compassion because they are trying so hard, but it results in being more of a challenge than anticipated.” 

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Essig added, “There are definitely sacrificial and religious aspects to this lifestyle.”

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