On Mindfulness and Meat
Friday, March 1, 2013Tweet
During the season of Lent, Roman Catholics abstain from eating meat on Fridays. I'm not going to go into all the specifications of what is and isn't allowed and why (or how this compares to other denominations), but I do want to talk about my own experiences with this particular practice and how it's changed since I became a pescetarian.
I think that criticisms around not eating meat on Fridays, particularly things like complaining that fish is allowed because of historical/economic precedent or that it's not a real sacrifice when there are so many good meatless options in America, miss the point of this Lenten practice.
I mean, if you feel like not eating meat or fish on Fridays brings you closer to God, then certainly do what you need to. But the point of all this is not that you are made holier by what exactly does or does not go in your mouth. Jesus already shot that idea down in Matthew 15:11.
Think about it this way: When Catholics do eat meat on Fridays during Lent, what is usually the reason?
In my experience, it's not because they're going, "Screw you, God, I eat what I want!" just before shoving a bacon cheeseburger in their mouth. (If that were the case, I'd say there's a bigger issue there than precisely what they're eating.)
It's because they forget.
They forget it's Friday. Or they forget it's a Friday during Lent, and forget that they're not supposed to be eating meat.
Which means that when people do keep the practice and intentionally abstain from eating meat on these days, they do it out of mindfulness. It is an intentional action, a concrete display of faith, and it is connected to a reminder about one's religion, one's identity, and about Jesus's Good Friday sacrifice.
For those who regularly eat meat, intentionally abstaining from it requires that moment of reflection in which you think, "I am a Catholic, and I choose to follow this practice of my religion, so I will choose to eat something without meat."
Which brings me to being a pescetarian.
Although it was a slow process, I'm now in the habit of never eating meat. I don't have to think about it anymore. I don't forget and buy or order something with meat. I'm used to scanning menus for seafood and vegetable options.
Does the fact that I never slip up and eat meat on Fridays make me a better Catholic? I don't think so.
If anything, I'm missing out on this Lenten practice. It's not a sacrifice for me. Choosing what to eat doesn't require reflection on my faith identity. Aside from how much to eat (fasting is a separate issue), Lenten Fridays may as well be any other day for me.
I mentioned this to a friend last week, and she suggested I choose something else to abstain from eating on Fridays during Lent, which I think is a good idea. I'm not sure if it's equivalent to abstain from eating seafood, since I don't have it that often to begin with, but that's what I'm going with for the moment. Since we're on a Catholic campus, the dining hall offers more seafood and fewer meat options than usual on Fridays, so it may actually require more consideration for me than for some others to choose a meal.
My hope is that it will bring back some element of mindfulness to the food choices I make on those days. Because that, I believe, is what the practice of not eating meat is really about.
Do you abstain from eating meat or other foods during Lent and/or on Fridays? What does that mean to you?