One Surprising Religious Ritual That Can Save Our Environment

Beef might be what’s for dinner most nights, but eating less during Lent is actually better for our environment. Here’s why.

Mar 2, 2014 at 2:00PM

Catholic Church Lent

St. Stylianos Catholic Church. Photo credit: Flickr/Klearchos Kapoutsis

As a kid I hated lent. Not only would I be forced to give up candy or video games for a few weeks, but every Friday we weren't allowed to have meat. Being a meat and potatoes kind of guy, fish just didn't cut it. To this day I blame those Lenten rules as to the reason why I don't really care much for fish.

While I might have been annoyed by lent as a kid, the practice serves a greater purpose. In this case the abstinence from meat was designed to create a spiritual discipline. 

Disciplines, spiritual or otherwise, can often lead to living much healthier lifestyles. Diets, for example, see many of us cutting down on sweets or calories in an effort to trim our waistlines. Others are disciplining themselves to a greater degree by sticking to a simple diets of vegetables in an effort to truly feel healthier. Those tangible benefits lead us to continue on with our discipline. That said, some of these disciplines actually have other unintended positive externalities.

I saw a great example of this as I read through an interesting article on the website The Daily Green. The article's title asked the question, "Can Chicken Save the World? In it the author discussed just how much pollution our meat hungry society causes each year. 

Holy Cow

Holy cow?! Photo credit: Flickr/Jenny Brown

What many of us don't know is that all of the four-legged creatures we like to eat each produce methane gas, which is one of the more potent of the greenhouse gases. In fact, while carbon dioxide gets most of the press these days, methane gas is actually far, far worse for our environment. That's because one molecule of methane gas can be anywhere from 20 to 100 times more potent than one molecule of carbon dioxide. This is why we see oil producers in places like North Dakota's Bakken Shale flare the natural methane gas that can't be sold as opposed to venting it into the atmosphere.

One interesting fact that the article pointed out was that chickens don't produce much methane gas, making them the greenest of the meats we eat. Not only that, but chickens require less feed per ounce of protein, which also reduces their environmental footprint even further. The article ended by suggesting its readers not only eat more chicken, organic of course, but also begin following a meatless Monday routine. It said that if everyone in the U.S. went meatless once a week, including abstaining from dairy products and chicken, it would have the equivalent of not driving 91 billion miles, which would have the same impact as removing 7.6 million cars off of the road.

Lenten rules!
Catholics, unknowingly, are already one step ahead of the game. By observing meatless Fridays during lent, America's 78.2 million self-identified Catholics are cutting dangerous greenhouse gasses. Fish dishes made from tuna, for example, can have an even lower environmental footprint than chicken based dished, while salmon has just a slightly worse environmental footprint than chicken. On top of that fish has less saturated fat than red meat and the saturated fat that is contained in fish is actually healthier. Finally, we can't forget the fact that Omega3 fatty acids found in fish can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. 

So, not only do Catholics who observe lent and eat fish enjoy a healthier diet, but they're helping the environment as well. If we were to assume each Catholic maintains the spiritual discipline throughout lent, it's equivalent to not driving nearly 2.3 billion miles and removing 190,000 cars from the road. Who knew that by observing Lenten rules Catholics were also saving the environment? 

Being redeemed
For those that aren't Catholic, or just don't want to give up meat, there is still hope as this article isn't intended to put a guilt trip on anyone. Instead, there is some good news about all that methane gas that's produced in the process of putting meat on the table. It's being Redeemed (click the link for a short video).

Thanks to innovations from Clean Energy Fuels (NASDAQ:CLNE) methane is now starting to be captured and extracted from farms, then processed and purified to be used as clean burning natural gas to fuel our nation's trucks and buses. It's 90% cleaner than gasoline and diesel, cheaper, domestic and renewable. That's about as American as steak and potatoes if you ask me! 

Food for thought
We have a lot of choices each and every day. Making a disciplined choice to eat more chicken and fish or even going meatless once a week can have a positive impact on more than just our bodies. It's that basic concept of stewardship that all too often we take lightly. 

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