The Vegetarian and Vegan Guide to Fasting and Abstinence During Lent

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I spent most of my young adulthood as a vegetarian (a life-stage which ended after marriage to a carnivore; you just cannot force that kind of gastronomic commitment onto someone else). As a vegetarian, something always troubled me when Lent came around and my friends and family members were “suffering” on Fridays, sullenly picking at plain ramen or whatever they chose to replace a properly balanced meal while I enjoyed my stuffed peppers or mushroom risotto or black bean quesadillas, not suffering at all.

Of course, this whole “not suffering” thing is not exactly Lent-appropriate. Friday abstinence from meat is meant to interrupt your average Catholic’s lifestyle, forcing him or her to reflect on the suffering of Christ on the Cross and in the imago Dei of less fortunate human beings by changing his/her meal planning style and eating something unusual or less desirable to his/her diet.

The vegetarian and vegan lifestyle is not at all interrupted by Friday abstinence. Vegetarians and vegans can still participate in the fasting days (Ash Wednesday and Good Friday) by eating one normal-sized meal and two smaller meals which do not quite add up to the one normal-sized meal, but the remaining abstinence days still can (and ought to be!) a chance for you to unite your suffering to Christ, to be “interrupted” in a way that points you to God during the Lenten season.

Here are my suggestions for interrupting your life style:

Vegetarians:

  • -Go Vegan on Fridays. Just like it’s a fairly small adjustment for meat-eaters to switch to fish, you can cut out eggs and dairy products to make a small change in your diet.
  • -Check out these “5 Creative Food Fasting Ideas” suggested by blogger Billy Kangas—warning, the “food desert fast” is not safe for vegetarians; you will not be able to get the nutrition you need.
  • -Try the Orthodox fast (explained for the vegans below) for a larger life style change.

Vegans:

  • – Check out these “5 Creative Food Fasting Ideas” suggested by blogger Billy Kangas—warning, the “food desert fast” is not safe for vegans; you will not be able to get the nutrition you need.
  • -On Fridays, practice the fast observed by our brothers and sisters in the Orthodox Church. The Orthodox fast is largely vegan (actually, they allow products derived from animals without backbones [like honey], but you can continue your normal vegan-ness and add on some of the other practices), but in addition they fast from:
    •         -alcohol
    •         -olive oil (some push this to ALL cooking oils)
    •         -sex (assuming you are already married)
  •     -Eat only two meals a day…no snacking

Lent is a time for conforming your will to God’s through small sacrifices throughout the season. I hope you find these suggestions helpful.

Siobhan Benitez

Siobhan Benitez

After growing up near Kennett Square, PA, the Mushroom Capitol of the World, Siobhan knew she would always live in a bustling capitol city. She earned a B.A. in Theology, History, and Classics at Mount St. Mary's University and an M.A. in Theology (specializing in Systematics) at Villanova University. Now she lives in Washington, D.C. with her wonderful husband where she is still getting used to living with a boy, right down to playing video games and watching football. When she's not hanging out with him or reading novels, she uses her spare time to earn a PhD in Moral Theology at the Catholic University of America.

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2 thoughts on “The Vegetarian and Vegan Guide to Fasting and Abstinence During Lent”

  1. Siobhan – great ideas. My wife and I are vegetarians (actually, I’m a pescatarian but I don’t eat a lot of fish normally). We’ve decided to forgo sugar on days of abstinence. Even foods that have added sugar – like these peanut butter filled pretzels I’m eating while writing this. Tomorrow, they’re off limits. This includes so many of our regular foods (and snacks) that we feel that it makes for a good lenten discipline. Have a blessed Lent.

  2. I am a vegetarian, though I do occasionally eat fish. I have looked to traditional Lenten fasting practices and done them offering them in penance. During Lent I fast every day (one substantial meal in the evening, nothing else–you cannot healthily do an extended fast without your one meal being a large one) except Sunday and eat no animal foods for all of Lent except Sundays or solemnities (I never eat “flesh meat” anyway but this rules out dairy and eggs and seafood). On Fridays my diet is more limited, a piece of bread on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, on other Fridays it might include a larger amount of bread and maybe something like hummus on it, or a vegan soup. I am not married.

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