Today is the second Friday of Lent, which means, for all good Catholics out there over the age of 12, you are not allowed to eat meat. Of course, pregnant women (like me!) have special dispensations from the Catholic Church and are exempt from this rule. All the same, I think it’s a silly rule.
Lent is supposed to be a time of sacrifice. Sure, it could mean giving up something like chocolate until Easter (which is probably why chocolate bunnies are so popular in Easter baskets) or alcohol (as our friend Chris has tried to do every year) – and these are, indeed, indulgences. But along those lines, it seems contradictory that on Fridays we, as Catholics, are almost encouraged to indulge ourselves by ordering shrimp and lobster from fancy restaurants (because, of course, most people think it’s too difficult to make at home).
I’ve never followed the no-meat-on-Lenten-Fridays rule. (I had another kind of special dispensation growing up – I was allergic to seafood.) And as I got older and learned more about the faith in which I was raised, I realized that while this rule began with the best intentions, in today’s social and economic climate it is extremely misunderstood and outdated.
Until the late 19th and early 20th centuries, seafood was inexpensive and relegated to the poorer classes. Keep in mind that as recently as the turn of the 20th century, Bostonian dock workers went on strike because they were constantly being fed lobster. Meat, on the other hand, was considered a luxury and generally reserved for upper class consumption or to be served at parties – it required killing the whole animal, which was considered rather costly back in the day. Chickens and other fowl were the exception – for those living further inland without access to the ocean, this was their primary source of protein.
So, the rationale behind the no-meat-on-Lenten-Fridays rule was simple: eat the food that is readily available to you; don’t go in search of a celebration. I think a more appropriate rule for today’s Catholics would be, “No eating out on Fridays,” because that would be an actual sacrifice for some. Could you imagine starting your Lenten Friday without that coffee from Dunkin Donuts? What about having to brown bag your lunch and making your own dinner at home? That is more in keeping with the spirit of the Lenten season than the No Meat rule. Moreover, in my household, shrimp, lobster, and tuna are treats because of their costs, so chicken would be the more appropriate thing to eat if we were truly making a sacrifice.
Of course, I have a funny feeling the restaurant industry wouldn’t exactly agree with my suggestion. After all, places like Red Lobster and McCormick & Schmick’s make a killing on Fridays during Lent.