Lent 2015 appeal: What matters?

Mark Chamberlain is a writer with CAFOD. Already a vegetarian, this Lent he is going vegan by giving up eggs, dairy and honey. He will donate the money he saves to CAFOD and is hoping that his Lenten food choices will help him to reaffirm his belief in non-violence.

I dreamed of an egg last night. A single poached egg, lightly salted on a slice of toast. And as I went to pick up my knife and fork…I woke.

A few years back, when I became vegetarian, I had a similar dream about a giant slice of ham. The ham was huge and was draped over me. I realised the only way to escape was to eat my way out of it. And as I opened my mouth to start feasting…I woke.

I told the ham story to a friend. He had spent time in the Himalayas when he was younger and said when he trekked through the range, his group had run very low on food. After a week or so, he had a dream that his group were all lambs and that the only way to escape starvation was to carry them in his stomach to the nearest town. The good news is, he’s alive and being the lovely chap he is, he didn’t resort to cannibalism.

Every £1 you donate this Lent to the CAFOD Lent Appeal, the UK government will match

The threat posed by pigs in blankets

I’m not starving, nor am I truly in need of any food. I’ve just gone vegan for Lent. And from a rigorous examination of last night’s dream, it seems my subconscious is telling me, “I would like a poached egg.”

I decided to give up dairy, eggs and honey to re-examine the food I eat because I had recently been tempted by meat and fish. It was during Advent. This is a time of preparation, but in many homes, there are the traditional December treats: pigs in blankets; roast dinners; the odd giant slice of ham. And the treats were a very real temptation: I was coming to terms with the idea that eating one of these wouldn’t be so bad. It would taste delicious and I thought that was important for me – something tasting delicious.

Who knew that the humble pig-in-a-blanket could pose such a potent threat to a person’s principles?

A grandmother’s wisdom

Soon after becoming vegetarian, I read a story about a Jewish refugee in the Second World War. Running for her life from an advancing Nazi force for weeks, starving, a Russian farmer offered her shelter and food. The food was pork. I’ll leave the writer of the story – Jonathan Safran Foer – to tell the rest, it’s from a conversation he had with his grandmother:

“He (the farmer) saved your life.”
“I didn’t eat it.
“You didn’t eat it?”
“It was pork. I wouldn’t eat pork.”
“Why?”
“What do you mean, why?”
“What, because it wasn’t kosher?”
“Of course.”
“But not even to save your life?”
“If nothing matters, there’s nothing to save.”

This last line spoken by the man’s grandmother has stayed with me ever since I read the piece. It seems to me such an important truth.

However much you give this Lent, it will make a true, lasting difference

What matters?

My chosen abstinence is in no way similar to a young woman running for her life while experiencing starvation; nor is it like the 805 million people around the world who every day have to go hungry because they aren’t able to get enough good, healthy food to eat.

Going vegan for Lent is about understanding my original principle of non-violence and reaffirming it. But something that has really come home to me over these few weeks is how fortunate I am to be able to make food choices. I have taken time to look at the things that made up a great deal of my diet – cheese, eggs and milk – and realised that I am lucky to be able to drink a milkshake, go for a pizza or have a single poached egg when I want. So many others can’t and will never be able to.

I think whether I continue with veganism or not, it’s been wholly worth it. Yes I eat spinach with just about everything and my dreams have become a dull, amorphous mass of poached eggs-toast-poached eggs-toast-poached eggs-toast. But in my own, privileged way, thanks to this Lenten abstinence, I’m coming to understand the depth of that grandmother’s statement: “If nothing matters, there’s nothing to save.”

Please give what you can this Lent. Every £1 you donate will be matched by the UK government, up to the value of £5 million

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