Updated on April 21, 2016
Seafood sales in the United States rise perceptibly during Lent. Many restaurants see a jump in fish orders on Fridays and holy days during this period. Some accommodate the increased demand by adding extra seafood options to their menus, while others maintain the usual number of seafood dishes, but order more fish and shellfish from their suppliers, anticipating that orders will be up.
In addition, many churches hold fish fries on Fridays during Lent – so much so that in some parts of the country there are online Fish Fry Maps that specify which parish is holding a fish fry that night.
Most supermarkets chains adjust their ordering so that they can meet consumer demand for seafood to prepare at home as well.
The increased demand for seafood during Lent is an entirely values-driven phenomenon, showing that consumers can change the marketplace through their own purchasing preferences and behavior.
I was curious about the origin of the Catholic Lenten practice of eating fish on Friday, so I spoke with Professor James O’Toole, who teaches history at Boston College and is the author of Habits of Devotion: Catholic Religious practice in the Twentieth Century. He explained that when the practice of Lenten fasting originated in the Middle Ages, it was initially a restriction against eating any flesh at all, so fish was forbidden as well as meat. Over time, however, the restriction became focused solely on meat, and fish became the preferred meat substitute.
Until the changes brought about by dramatic revisions in church teachings in the mid-1960’s (called Vatican II ), it was traditional for Catholics to eat fish every Friday throughout the year, not just during Lent. Exceptions were made upon occasion, such as when Saint Patrick’s Day fell on a Friday – a local bishop might make allowances for corned beef and cabbage. In an Important Moment in the History of Leftovers, Cardinal Cushing decreed that it was okay to eat leftover turkey on the day after Thanksgiving. And on January 20, 1961 – a Friday – Pope John XXIII gave a papal dispensation that allowed Catholics to eat meat in recognition of the inauguration of the United State’s first Roman Catholic President. Kennedy had bacon for breakfast.
According to Professor O’Toole, the church encourages Catholics to pursue spiritual work during Lent, such as going to confession or participating in a communal penance service, in addition to observing traditional dietary restrictions. Practicing Catholics avoid eating meat on Lenten Fridays and holy days, such as Ash Wednesday, which – for many – means choosing to eat fish instead.
Since Lent is a time for reflection and introspection, many people choose this time to contemplate their roles as both stewards and beneficiaries of creation. A nice way to combine a sense of responsibility for the health of the earth – and all that dwell therein – with the weekly spiritual practice of observing the “Fish on Fridays” tradition is to make environmentally-sound choices when deciding what seafood dishes to prepare at home and what to order in a restaurant. You can use our seafood guide to help you find an environmentally sound option.
If you want to prepare a fish dish at home, you might like to try Eating Well’s Homemade Fish Sticks, using Talapia. Thanks to the Eating Well staff for granting us permission to reprint this recipe. There are many recipes for environmentally-sound seafood dishes on their website.
Eating Well Fish Sticks
Copyright 2011 Eating Well, Inc. (eatingwell.com)
Makes: 4 servings
Active time: 30 minutes | Total: 40 minutes
You can make these homemade fish sticks in about the same amount of time it takes to bake a box of the frozen kind—with a fraction of the fat.
Canola oil cooking spray
1 cup whole-wheat dry breadcrumbs (see Note) or 1/2 cup plain dry breadcrumbs
1 cup whole-grain cereal flakes
1 teaspoon lemon pepper
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 large egg whites, beaten
1 pound tilapia fillets, cut into 1/2-by-3-inch strips
1. Preheat oven to 450°F. Set a wire rack on a baking sheet; coat with cooking spray.
2. Place breadcrumbs, cereal flakes, lemon pepper, garlic powder, paprika and salt in a food processor or blender and process until finely ground. Transfer to a shallow dish.
3. Place flour in a second shallow dish and egg whites in a third shallow dish. Dredge each strip of fish in the flour, dip it in the egg and then coat all sides with the breadcrumb mixture. Place on the prepared rack. Coat both sides of the breaded fish with cooking spray.
4. Bake until the fish is cooked through and the breading is golden brown and crisp, about 10 minutes.
Per serving: 289 calories; 3 g fat (1 g sat, 1 g mono); 57 mg cholesterol; 37 g carbohydrate; 0 g added sugars; 31 g protein; 4 g fiber; 373 mg sodium; 436 mg potassium. Nutrition bonus: Folate (19% daily value).
Ingredient note: We like Ian’s brand of coarse dry whole-wheat breadcrumbs, labeled “Panko breadcrumbs.” Find them in the natural-foods section of large supermarkets. To make your own breadcrumbs, trim crusts from firm sandwich bread. Tear the bread into pieces and process in a food processor until coarse crumbs form. (To make fine dry breadcrumbs, process until very fine.) Spread on a baking sheet and bake at 250°F until dry, about 10 to 15 minutes. One slice of bread makes about 1/3 cup dry breadcrumbs.