Addressing crowds at a European Youth Conference, Pope Francis stated that it would be prudent for some parts of the world to “consume less meat.”
The event, currently being held in Prague, offers the Pope an opportunity to discuss issues that he deems are connected to future generations. Touching on the futility of war and the importance of woman leadership, he then went on to tackle meat consumption.
Focusing on the idea of meat as a luxury and an environmental problem, he invited his young audience to choose a life of “dignity and sobriety.”
“There is an urgent need to reduce the consumption not only of fossil fuels but also of so many superfluous things,” Pope Francis said. “In certain areas of the world, too, it would be appropriate to consume less meat: this too can help save the environment.”
The suggestion was the first of its kind from the pontiff. It was markedly absent from his 2015 environmental manifesto Laudato Si.
Why the Pope’s message is significant
Pope Francis was born in Argentina, where people consume the most meat in all of South America, with 109 kilos per year estimated per individual. The country is one of the top producers of beef globally, manufacturing 3,230,000 metric tons in 2020.
Per capita, Argentines top the beef consumption table. Meat advocates in the country consider it a part of their cultural heritage. But times are changing.
The Argentinian beef industry suffered throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. Countrywide drops in income, many due to total job loss, contributed to beef consumption hitting an all-time low.
By the close of 2020, 12 percent of the population identified as vegan or vegetarian. Another 12 percent attached the flexitarian label to their eating habits, meaning almost one-quarter of all Argentinians either avoid or have reduced meat in their diets.
These findings are supported by Veganuary, which states that among the top ten countries participating in this year’s event, five were in Latin America. Argentina came second to Mexico in terms of participation figures.
The future of Argentinian veganism
Alongside becoming the first nation in the world to ban salmon farming, Argentina’s president, Alberto Fernández, is willing to leave meat off his plate. But there’s a catch. He’ll only do it if Sir Paul McCartney plays in his office for him.
The presidential residence has made tentative steps toward vegan dining, by introducing “Vegan Monday” (Lunes Vegano) in 2017. The former Beatle has not agreed to a personal performance to convert Fernández to veganism. Yet.
Will the Pope go vegan?
Pope Francis is notably more progressive in his thinking than previous pontiffs. This has led many to try to persuade him to give up meat altogether.
In 2019, he was urged by the organization Million Dollar Vegan to give up meat for Lent. Paolo Borgia, a senior priest, said on his behalf: “[Pope Francis] appreciates the concerns and care for the world, our common home, which prompted you to write to him.” The Pope did not decide to give up meat for the religious observance.
He also failed to encourage Christians to choose vegan food for their Easter feasts in 2021. This was despite being petitioned by PETA to do so.