Today is the second day of Lent, the Christian season of fasting and penitence in preparation for Easter.

Many Christians give up something for this period such as chocolate, alcohol or fried foods.

But the oldest fast for Lent is that of meat.

Going vegetarian for Lent is an ancient idea, and many Christian Orthodox churches still promote the practice.

Christianity and vegetarianism have a long history. According to The Bible, Adam and Eve were vegetarians.

The Bible also contains the story of Daniel, the nonviolent resister who refused to defile himself by eating the king’s meat and thus became healthier and smarter for it. Saint Basil the Great and Saint Clement were vegetarians. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, and William and Catherine Booth, founders of the Salvation Army, were vegetarians. The list goes on and on.

While there is biblical reference to Jesus eating fish, his diet in a Mediterranean community 2,000 years ago should not dictate what modern Christians eat.

I believe that if Jesus were alive today, he would be a vegetarian.

Would Jesus sit down to eat a pork chop or a chicken leg after seeing the atrocities in today’s factory farms and slaughterhouses?

Could such a beacon of compassion support the horrors of a factory farm, where animals live agonizingly short lives and are submitted to painful dehorning, debeaking and branding without anesthesia? Could Jesus be compliant with modern slaughter practices, where chickens are routinely scalded alive and where other animals often have their throats slit while still fully conscious?

The truth about the meat industry is that it is nothing like the intended sacred and responsible stewardship over other animals given to Adam by God in Genesis. In fact, immediately following reference to this “dominion” over all creatures, God prescribes a vegetarian diet for all animals within the Garden of Eden.

This stewardship carries with it responsibility not only to animals harmed by the meat industry but also to the environment and those people adversely affected.

Factory farms – where 98 percent of all meat, dairy and eggs originate – are an enormous environmental threat.

This means more than half the water used in the United States will go toward livestock production.

These animal factories are the nation’s largest source of freshwater pollution because of the immense amounts of animal waste created – five tons of waste for every American. The meat industry also harms the poorly paid and overworked employees of factory farms and slaughterhouses, many of whom are illegal immigrants or members of minorities forced to work in dangerous, disease-infested conditions.

No person should have to kill to make a living.

Many people think that vegetarianism is a “radical” idea, but in fact it is no more radical than any of the teachings of Jesus Christ.

Jesus embodied nonviolence and compassion. Vegetarianism is simply the extension of those two teachings, to animals who see only the cruelest side of human nature.

Trying vegetarianism for Lent is an even simpler task, especially in a city like Rochester and on a campus like ours, both of which are so “veg-friendly.”

Through Feb. 11, in Wilson Commons, there will a table devoted to vegetarianism and Lent, complete with information on the subject. Furthermore, there are Web sites, such as or, where vegetarianism can be explored further.

Merkley can be reached at

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