Monday, February 15, 2010

Our Own Private Mardi Gras

For Lent, Ron and I are giving up beef.

All beef, including the occasional Carls Jr. teriyaki six-dollar burger with grilled pineapple, crisp red onion, and two slices of Swiss on a sesame seed bun.... (Can you hear my sigh?)

I don't understand, though, if, by giving up beef, we're giving up a vice or a virtue. I'm not sure how personal sacrifices for Lent are supposed to work: are we called to give up something bad for us, or something health-neutral that we really like?

For instance, smoking. If someone gives up smoking for Lent, shouldn't they do that anyway? If someone derives personal benefit from giving up, say, smoking, does that count as a bona fide Lent sacrifice?

Or take chocolate. For most people, sacrificing chocolate would be a health-neutral act. For some, foregoing rich, soul-satisfying chocolate for six weeks could also create intense cravings. Is this what meets the Lent sacrifice criteria: something you really, really want, but isn't that terrible?

I don't know the Biblically-correct answer. But I do know why we're giving up beef for the six weeks of Lent.

Neither of us craves beef, but we certainly like it. In an average month, we likely dine on beef six or seven times, including two fast-food burgers (especially a luscious Carls Jr. teriyaki six-dollar burger!). At home, we enjoy a savory, medium-rare roast that can used for sandwiches during the week. Steak kabobs with veggies are our specialty in summer. And once in a great while, absolutely nothing tastes better than a thick top-sirloin steak grilled on our Weber kettle barbecue.

So yes, we like beef now and then. But we're hardly beef-aholics, and we don't need either the calories or fat.

But we're also giving up beef because its destructive impact on our environment. Beef has been called the Hummer of food, and rightly so. Per Science News in 2009:

"From a climate perspective, beef is in a class by itself. It takes a lot of energy and other natural resources to produce cattle feed, manage the animals’ manure (a major emitter of methane, a potent GHG), get the livestock to market, slaughter the animals, process and package the meat, dispose of the greater part of the carcass that won’t be human food, market the retail cuts, transport them home from the store, refrigerate them until dinner time, and then cook the beef..

"Currently, although beef accounts for only about 30 percent of the industrial world’s meat consumption, it contributes 78 percent meat’s GHG emissions there. Pork, at 38 percent of consumption, contributes only 14 percent of this meat's GHGs. Another 32 percent of the meat consumed worldwide comes from chicken, but getting these birds from farm to fork contributes only 8 percent of meat’s carbon footprint in the developed countries"

Also, beef production requires an enormous amount of water, which is an increasingly precious commodity in the U.S. and around the world. A vegetarian website observes:

"... probably the most reliable and widely-accepted water estimate to produce a pound of beef is the figure of 2,500 gallons/pound. Newsweek once put it another way: 'the water that goes into a 1,000 pound steer would float a destroyer.' "

Further, most American beef is so riddled with cancer-connected synthetic hormones that the European Union has entirely banned importation and serving of U.S. beef since 1989.

Ron and I are giving up beef for Lent because we like it, and want to sacrifice something we enjoy. Because we might be a bit healthier without it. But also because less beef consumption would conserve both water and energy, and lessen the amount of greenhouse gases released into the environment. We want to be good stewards of God's creation.

So I pose the question: is giving up beef a bona fide Lent sacrifice for us? Or just something we should do for all the benefits mentioned above?

I don't know the answer.

But I do know that tonight, before the six-week Lent clock starts ticking, we're firing up the Weber and enjoying two of juiciest top-sirloins imaginable, synthetic hormones be damned.

Call it our own private Mardi Gras! I wonder... should we run out and get some confetti, beads, and a King cake, too, for the festivities?