Jonnah Popek is Coordinator of Ministries & Evangelization at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Pensacola, Florida. Here she explains why taking fish off the menu, particularly for Lenten and non-Lenten Fridays, is a good idea.
There is a growing plant-based trend sweeping the globe. Perhaps you have heard of “meatless Mondays” as an outgrowth of this trend, as people seek to consume less meat, often with environmental motivations. During meatless fasting days in the Roman Catholic Church, however, such as Fridays in Lent, fish are not considered to be in the “meat” category. In the United States in particular, it is common for Catholic churches to sell fried fish on Fridays.
Why are Fish Fridays a Thing?
Fridays, particularly during Lent, are prescribed as penitential, as we call to mind the sufferings of Christ. Lenten traditions have changed a lot over the centuries. Many communities throughout the history of the Church used to abstain from all animal products, especially during Lent. Some communities allowed fish, drawing a distinction because fish are cold-blooded, and it used to be thought that fish were not sentient beings who could feel pain.
Many Eastern Orthodox communities continue to call for plant-based Lenten fasts. The Catholic Church, on the other hand, has gotten significantly more lenient over the years, giving the faithful more freedom to choose how to fast based on their personal inclinations. The current instructions from the Church for fasting days (for age 14 and above, in good health, based on food availability) are to limit food intake to 2 small meals and one regular sized meal, and do not eat the meat of land animals.
Some Fishy Facts
In recent years, our knowledge about fish has increased dramatically. Here are some key points to keep in mind when determining if you want to include fish in your diet – during Lent or otherwise:
- We now know that fish feel pain, just like all sentient creatures. They have a nervous system, much like you and me, and they suffer when they are killed, often by suffocation.
- Like all animals, fish produce cholesterol. When we eat them, their cholesterol contributes to imbalances in the cholesterol of our bodies. This cholesterol imbalance leads to increased risk of heart attack and stroke.
- Our planet needs more fish. When we kill fish, we further exacerbate the current ecological issues. If fishing trends are maintained, in 30 years, there will be entire oceans without ANY fish. Do we want to wait that long to make a change?
- You probably don’t need to eat fish. Most people can get adequate, balanced omega 3 and 6 supplies from nuts and seeds, which the body can convert to DHA. For those who struggle with DHA conversion, you can supplement with algae-sourced DHA.
- Beware of mercury and other heavy metals and toxins in fish. If you get enough of these heavy metals and toxins, they can contribute to serious ailments, including cancer.
*For more nutrition-specific information, check out nutritionfacts.org.
What is God’s Will?
There’s no Scripture verse that says, “Though shalt not eat fish.” However, God did give us instructions for the ideal diet: “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole world and every tree that bears fruit with seed in it – these shall be yours for food” (Genesis 1:29). This Edenic diet continues to provide healing for many. Paul Nison, a popular raw foodist YouTuber, says he cured his Crohn’s disease by following these divine instructions, which contributed to his openness towards Scripture as the Word of God and his eventual conversion to Christianity. Personally, eating a whole foods, plant-based diet healed my high cholesterol and acne.
In the spirit of Lenten penance and not wanting to contribute to suffering as we recall the suffering of our Lord, isn’t it time that we take fish off the menu?
It’s best for our health, best for the planet, and surely best for the fish.
So, Church, let’s set a compassionate example for the world in making a Lenten fast that benefits us all (human and animal alike). It’s time for fishless Fridays. To God be the glory!
If you would like to explore a plant-based lifestyle in community during this sacred season, contact Jonnah Popek, Coordinator of Ministries & Evangelization at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Pensacola, Florida. She will be leading a Vegan Lent group that you are welcome to participate in – in person or virtually. Email: [email protected]