Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Giving Up Meat for Lent

I know it’s strange to follow up a post about meat with this, but tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, and I decided a while ago that I would participate in Lent this year. Even though I’m not Christian, I think the occasional period of asceticism is probably a good idea. If nothing else, it helps you appreciate what you have and not take so much for granted.

A fast in the springtime also makes natural sense because before industrial agriculture, this would be at time when last year’s harvest stores are running low, but new crops have yet to be harvested. And by now we should be well over the excesses of the Yuletide season, and it’s probably time to swing the pendulum back in the other direction. Now that the days are getting longer and warmer it’s a good idea to do a bit of spring cleaning inside and out.

Yes, I am thinking a little bit about my waistline. In fact, I first thought of this idea in the context of New Year’s Resolutions, but instead of jumping on the January crash diet bandwagon, I told myself I’d wait until Lent (besides, my birthday is in January, so that would be no fun). I’m going to do this the traditional way and give up red meat and poultry. Traditionally Sundays don’t count, so I can eat it then. That’s handy because I’m accustomed to cooking a big meal on Sunday anyway, since it’s one of the days when my partner and I are both off from work and can enjoy a nice, sit-down meal together. I know this may not result in weight loss, since I won't be counting calories, but meat is a very concentrate source of calories, so it very well might. If nothing else, it may force me to pay more attention to what I eat, and I’ll probably save a lot of money too.

I also know that fish traditionally doesn’t count as meat for Lent, but I always thought it was kind of lame to call yourself a vegetarian and still eat fish. After all, fish aren’t vegetables. But they are very good for you (as long as they don’t contain toxic levels of mercury pollution, and sadly it looks like more and more of the fish in the world is contaminated), so I think I’ll allow myself a maximum of 2 servings of fish a week, preferably ones approved of by the Seafood Watch list. Unfortunately the only seafood my nearest grocery store seems to regularly carry is pre-cooked cocktail shrimp from who-knows-where and farm raised tilapia from China.

Oddly, from what I’ve read it looks like eggs count as a forbidden item for Lent (seems weird they’d allow fish but not eggs), but taking out eggs completely seems difficult for me because of how many foods they’re in. Also, since I get most of my eggs from a local farmer whose chickens are allowed to run free and are treated almost like pets, I actually feel better about eating those eggs than any other animal product I consume. Dairy will be left in my diet as well, mainly because, like with eggs, it’s a little tricky to substitute it in recipes, and as I understand it, it’s traditionally allowed during Lent.

Besides meats, I could also give up sweets, which seems to be popular among people who observe Lent, but I don’t eat many sweets anyway (and since Valentine’s Day was Sunday, my house still has a lot of chocolates and other treats within; it would be a shame to let those go stale), so that’s not a big sacrifice. I think I’ll just use up what I have and not buy any more until Easter candy time. May as well do the same thing with alcohol and only drink it on Sundays, but really giving up meat is going to be harder on me than giving up sweets or alcohol. I was raised with the knowledge that sweets are bad for you, but meat was still almost always the “main course” with some veggies on the side. Now, at least during the week, I’ll be on a lacto-vegetarian diet. I think I’m up to the challenge, since I have been trying to eat more vegetarian meals to save money, but I haven’t yet done it in any controlled way where I was counting how many times I ate meat during a week. Maybe next year I’ll be harder on myself.

I did consider doing a fast or diet completely on my own, instead of within the cultural context of Lent. I’m not a Christian, after all, so one could say I’m stealing someone else’s holiday, but I somehow feel a little better doing it this way knowing there are lots of other people doing the same thing at the same time. I live in an area with a large Hispanic population which is mostly Catholic, so there is at least an awareness of the season, with grocery stores advertising Lenten sales on fish, for example. It seems like some sort of cultural support, even if it’s people I don’t actually know personally. And, as I said, it makes sense to fast in the springtime, so I might as well do it during some kind of “official” fasting period. But I suppose I could just say I’ve decided to go on a low-meat diet from February 17 to April 3 and leave it at that.

Tonight for Marti Gras I’m cooking sausage jambalaya, but after that I’m all stocked up on beans and tofu and ready to go.


  1. I was raised Catholic, and I am pretty sure that eggs are not considered meat.

    I can't think of any seafood that was considered meat (had to be warm blooded?). I've no idea about whale.

  2. This is a good idea. I am always trying to eat less meat and failing!