The Privilege of Silence

Carl McColman | 12/28/2018 | Staff
Emzah92 (Posted by) Level 3
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Back in 2003, I spent a day at a relatively new monastery near Sligo, Ireland. Like many small religious foundations just getting off the ground, it was struggling, although the members of the community were filled with optimism and a sense of purpose about their shared mission.

I plied one of the sisters with questions about the community, their rule of life, and their daily life. My curiosity extended to their diet. “Are you vegetarian?” I wondered, largely because of my own long-standing commitment to a meatless diet.

Vegetarians - Generosity - Neighbors - Diet - Beggars

She laughed gently and said that they called themselves “fiscal vegetarians,” noting that because they depended so much on the generosity of their neighbors, they could not afford to be self-righteous about their diet. Beggars can’t be choosers, after all. “We are simply too poor to be strict vegetarians, so if a local farmer gives us a ham, we accept it gratefully and that’s what we eat.”

This was an explosive insight for me, who had always thought of vegetarianism as a smart economic choice on top of its other benefits. But as I thought about it, I realized that my vegetarianism really was a “lifestyle choice,” grounded in my own privilege as an educated, middle class American, with the resources and knowledge that empowered me to choose to forego meat—without harming my health or even my taste buds!

Diet - End - Day - Freedom - Someone

My “sacrificial” diet was not, at the end of the day, really so self-denying after all, for it depended on economic freedom that I, frankly, took for granted. It took meeting someone who really was “too poor to be vegetarian” to make me see this.

Then one day I shared a cup of tea with a dear friend who is a pastoral assistant at my old parish. She spent most of her time attending to refugees, men on...
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