Is being meat free challenge free?

The Oxford English Dictionary defines a challenge as “a demanding task or situation”. On that basis, I fear my choice to go meat-free for Living Lent has not yet really proved a challenge…

Apart from when I watched Revd David Coleman’s film about his last bacon roll, I honestly haven’t missed meat at all. Of course it has meant some changes to our diet as a family, but we weren’t really into ‘meat and two veg’ meals anyway. In fact, as a bit of a foodie I have enjoyed the pretext to try some new things and to get creative with less familiar ingredients. We’ve been eating a wider range of fish, cheeses, pulses and meat-substitute products than we would have had before, and overall, I think it’s meant a reduction in our food bills too.

The famous butternut squash risotto!

While my wife and I are fully signed up to Living Lent, we haven’t forced our three primary-aged children to go meat-free (our middle son optimistically announced he would be giving up vegetables for Lent instead). However, we’re not eating any meat at home, and although the children can be fussy eaters, we’ve had no complaints so far – in fact, our 5-year-old daughter has developed a particular love of goat’s cheese, and we had a remarkable request for a repeat of last weekend’s butternut squash risotto.

What has come closest to being a challenge have been the times when I’ve had to eat on the go, away from home, and failed to plan ahead. One evening I was on my way to a speaking engagement and realised I would need some sustenance to keep me going until afterwards. There weren’t many food options available near to the church where the event was being held – just a couple of small supermarkets still open – and neither offered a quick meat-free alternative to the sausage roll I would usually reach for in such situations (no Greggs on hand for a vegan version!). An apple had to suffice. Fortunately, a generous table of cakes was part of the church’s welcome hospitality that evening! It’s made me notice how meaty most savoury convenience foods still are.

Although Living Lent hasn’t been too challenging so far, what has surprised me is the level of interest in, and support for, what we’re doing. It’s prompted lots of really good and unexpected conversations, both face to face and online – about the environment, farming, carbon footprints and tips for more ethical living. I even know a few people have chosen to take up a Living Lent challenge themselves as a result. It’s been really encouraging to learn that many friends and colleagues have already taken much more radical steps to change their lifestyles because of climate change – which is, of course, the real challenge we all need to face. It’s good to find reasons to talk about it more.

Simeon Mitchell joined JPIT in January 2018 as the Secretary for Church and Society for the United Reformed Church. He has a background in enabling Christians and churches to respond to issues of global poverty and injustice, and was previously Deputy Chief Executive of All We Can, the Methodist relief and development charity. He lives in Oxford with his wife and three young children, where he is a preacher and lay leader in his local church.