As the year falls into Lent, I often think about the social customs that come with them. Many Christians/Catholics find themselves eating more fish and seafood to accommodate a meatless diet. Now the fact that fish is not meat in the Catholic sense is an interesting concept in of itself. The reason I said Catholic sense is because the Catholic church decided that since nearly a third of all days on the calendar were meatless, they were getting a bit tired of no meat. So they decided that anything that lived in water was not meat; although whether this definition still holds today, I am not quite sure. Especially since this rule allowed people to eat otters and porpoises if they so choose; that is not something that would be considered acceptable by wider society to say the least. Regardless, what this does mean is that there is a long tradition of eating foods that are considered meat biologically but are in some strange third category or weirdly re-categorized when discussing food. This means that Lenten food can be fun and strange depending on how you wish to look at it.
When I was younger, I went to a high school that had quite a few Catholic churches in the vicinity. What this meant was that, my school, even though it was completely secular, would serve food choices reflecting Lenten observance. For example, my school had multiple food lines and one of those would serve pizza on certain days of the week and nachos on the others. Now by pizza, I should clarify that the pizza was delivery/takeout style pizza, possibly Papa Johns, if I remember correctly. I know that some people have the awful frozen rectangular pizza stereotypical of American schools. That was not what we had in my high school. Now we would have the typical flavors: cheese, sausage, or pepperoni but during Lent we would have a vegetarian version with chunks of onion and mushrooms. There may have been other versions but I remember that one the most clearly, especially since I used to wish that they would serve this pizza regularly and not just during Lent. It is interesting to consider that a high school may adjust its food option depending on the culture of its students which in my rural high school’s case was leaning towards Christian/Catholic.
Another memory of Lenten food and one that also has a history regarding Lenten observance is McDonald’s and Fish-O-Filet. This food item on the McDonald’s menu, as far as I am aware, was created by a franchise owner that was loosing a lot of money on Fridays because local Catholics were not going to eat a restaurant that only had meat options. He was in a very Catholic area and Catholics at the time did not eat meat on ANY Friday let alone Lent. He somehow found a way to get the food onto the menu and started making quite a bit of money. Now my family, if you haven’t guessed already, would eat according to Lenten observance and would once in a while choose to have a meal of fish sandwiches from McDonald’s. This stood out in my memories since we would rarely have fast food in my house and it would usually be accompanied by the once a year (for us anyway) Shamrock Shake. The florescent green dye and square pieces of fish is a memory of Lent that could be a memory for many of those who observe Lent (depending on your family’s view of fast food).
One final food, not necessarily Lenten, but one that I plan to continue to make and some may find gross, is tuna mac ‘n cheese with peas. This is a food that my family would make and while my siblings detest it, I enjoy it to this day. It is one of my comfort foods and is easy to make so it will probably be used for Lent. Do you celebrate Lent and if so, what memories do you have of the season? Do you mostly think of Mardi Gras instead of Lent? What foods do you eat for Mardi Gras or Lent? Please comment below and thanks for reading.