Giving Up Meat for Lent: A Series of Dilemmas

I Brought Hummus

From Gemma Correll on Threadless

Or: The one where Luke finally stops being a wuss.

Earlier this year, I decided to use Jennifer Fulwiler’s Saint Name Generator to receive a patron saint for this year. Having a patron saint has been a fruitful exercise in the past, so I figured this year I would give Jennifer’s handy tool a go.

This year I received:


St Nicholas of Tolentino

This awesome friar is the patron of holy souls in purgatory, mariners, and babies (babies!). He was also named after St Nicholas of Myra, as his middle-aged parents visited his shrine in Rome seeking a child – which is pretty cool given that St Nicholas of Myra in Penrith was where my parents were married and I received my sacraments. Nice to see a connection there!

But that’s not what this post is about. As I scrolled through his life, a line stuck out at me:

“A vegetarian, Nicholas was once served a roasted fowl…”

Wait, a vegetarian?

To be honest, I didn’t think vegetarians really existed in the Middle Ages, at least not by choice.

That’s beside the point, though. I had kind of forgotten – perhaps purposefully – that I had wussed out going vegetarian for Lent in the past two years. Now that I had a vegetarian patron saint, there were no excuses.

But – as the memefied Boromir would say – one does not simply go vegetarian. Or maybe they do. I don’t know, I’ve never tried, but it seems hard.

However, hard is the point. So, about two days out from Lent, I’m resolved to give up the tasty results of vaccicide, gallincide and porcacide*. The problem is, every time I thought about giving up meat in the past, a bunch of hurdles got in the way. And they’re back again.
*OK, I made up porcacide. I couldn’t find a word for killing pigs…

So, in no particular order:

Is fish a meat?

While Aunt Voula may contend that lamb is not a meat, I have a legitimate confusion about the status of fish. The Church allows one to eat fish on days of abstinence – but I could never quite figure out why exactly that is. The popular explanation is that in earlier times, meat was expensive while fish was commonplace, thus giving up meat made sense as an abstinence from luxury. But given the current state of food economics – not to mention my love of seafood – it seems a bit wrong for me to eat fish under this philosophy. The popular expression also seems, excuse the pun, a bit fishy.

Laura from Catholic Cravings helpfully pointed out that the reason is our forebearers made the meat-fish distinction is because land-mammal and bird meat contains blood (sorry to put you off dinner). To which I could only respond:

Never mind


It turns out that there is also a similar language issue at play here. In Latin, carnis (meat) specifically refers to flesh meat, and does not include fish and other amphibious animals. Given that the language of the Latin Church is Latin, the relevant documents of the Church only refer to flesh-meat (carnis), and thus seafood is excluded.

But of course, the problem with finding loopholes in language differences is that you risk missing the entire point. And for me, I love fish. So after three paragraphs of saying the complete opposite, I think fish will be out for me.

The get-what-you’re-given problem

Giving up meat for Lent is nothing particularly new. But the problem today is that, as societies become more diverse and Lenten practices are observed differently between individuals, it is highly likely that one will give up meat while the rest of their family (or household) does not. When it comes to dinner time, which thankfully is a somewhat communal affair in my household, it will be quite a challenge to keep one’s abstinence from meat as a private matter.

Thus, one must pick from three solutions:
a) Cook every meal, and hope that no-one notices that you have replaced the usual steak/chicken/chops with lentils/tofu/kale;
b) Accept meat-laden meals, and feed the meaty food to the dog when no-one is looking; or
c) Suck it up and eat the meat for the sake of family cohesiveness.

Both (a) and (b) are fairly precarious options for someone who works 90ish minutes from home and has a dog with a sensitive stomach. Further, (c) is considerably more charitable, and that gets bonus points in any circumstance. So it looks like (c) is the winner.

But is it?

No, I’m not planning on obtaining another dog with a stronger stomach. Each of these options is kinda sorta working on the assumption that I don’t tell anyone in my family that I’ve given up meat for Lent. Perhaps I could actually tell my family and try to work out a meat-free alternative to most meals?

I’ll have to think about that.

Can you really substitute meat?

Masculine men being masculine. Not pictured: me.

Masculine men being masculine. Not pictured: me.

The biggest problem – seriously! – I have faced in the past (besides lethargy) is the legitimate concern for my health. I’m not exactly Beefy “Leg-Night” McBeefington, so there is the concern that such a radical change in diet could be problematic. I can still open bottles for women, but a lack of meat for six weeks could see that man-skill fade away.

In all seriousness though, iron deficiency and fatigue are bad, and even the penitential nature of Lent might not warrant such health issues.

Compounding on this problem is the fact that I have made little effort to actually research meat-alternatives. Sure, the people who own the vegan place in Newtown seem healthy enough, but I haven’t got a clue what goes into their Mongolian not-quite-Beef. I’m told by a friend who is Polish-by-marriage that our friends from Poland simply take their existing dishes, and replace it with mushrooms. I’m not entirely sure how I could get away with mushroom steak, though.

In any case, Faithful Reader might actually have some expertise on this that Dr Google does not – so please comment below if you have any meat-replacement ideas.

So, two days out from the beginning of Lent, I still have no idea what I’m getting into. But I do know that – if I approach it in the right way – it will be a time of great grace. And that’s what counts.

So, Faithful Reader, over to you. Want to share what you’re giving up for Lent? Any advice for non-herbivores like myself? Any stories of past Lenten experiences?


5 thoughts on “Giving Up Meat for Lent: A Series of Dilemmas

  1. I love this!! I’ll be praying for you! I also spoke to my mum who is a Nutritionist and she said just make sure to eat some high-protein foods like eggs, milk, cheese, lentils, legumes, tufu and nuts. Since you’re only abstaining from meat for six weeks (and you’re not female), you don’t need to worry about iron but if you are worried, eating vitamin C foods (oranges, capiscum, tomatoes etc) with iron-rich foods like legumes or nuts increases iron absorption. Or you know, just pray to St Nicholas of Tolentino. :D


  2. Luke, I actually gave up meat for two Lents a few years back and it was awesome but at the same time challenging, because you would go to say a friend’s party or a family gathering and would be like “I can’t eat meat, I gave it up for the whole of Lent”. In fact, I particularly remember (don’t know how I remember this)… one Reachout a few years ago in Lewisham, where you specifically said to me “It’s ok, it’s a solemnity” or I think it was St. Patrick’s Day to my reply of not being able to eat any meat served for dinner at Reachout. But yeah, like Laura mentioned above, there are plenty of things out there that you would never realise, food groups that will still give you energy and sustenance that are non-meat products. Though, I LOOOVE fish (like you), so I ate it (or any kind of seafood) back then when I chose to give up meat, so I guess I didn’t go full-vegetarian.

    For Lent this year though, I still haven’t figured out exactly what to give up, I’ve given up posting on Facebook for the whole of Lent before (still accessing it though for important event invites/events information) and I was actually thinking soft drink, because I love fizzy drinks or eating smaller sized meals, like plain bread for lunch at work or a piece of fruit in the morning. Giving up photography and my laptop may be a bit too much though :P


  3. Hi protien and minerals, go for quinoa. You can just dump it into any salad and it’s great. Same goes for nuts! Just buy Australian grown. Or I’ll make you say 10 rosaries for the suffering of poor Bolivians or something.


  4. Hey Luke, long time no see.

    I’ve given up meat for lent in previous years. I found it not as hard as I predicted. If you have a balanced diet, you will be fine. Six weeks isn’t really that long, so I wouldn’t fuss to much about introducing exotic ingredients into your diet to compensate for the lack of meat. You may feel tired for the first week, but that will pass. Best of luck


  5. Thanks everyone for your comments and advice! I have been trying to do some research, and it’s all been in line with your tips, so it should all go well. But not too well, of course, it shouldn’t be a breeze!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s