Why Isn't Fish Considered Meat During Lent?
What can you eat during Lent? Our fasting FAQ covers eggs, frog legs, and more.
With Lent come questions of what to eat. Why can you eat fish during Lent? Can you cook with chicken broth during Lent? And the most pressing of all: What's for dinner? Whether you're following a Lenten fast or just curious about this religious custom, read on for answers to these frequently-asked questions about Lent and food.
What is Lent?
Lent is a season on the Christian liturgical calendar that begins on Ash Wednesday (the day after Fat Tuesday) and ends about 40 days later on Holy Saturday. The 40 days of Lent don't include Sundays. The number 40 recalls the 40 days Jesus Christ spent fasting in the desert preceding the crucifixion.
Christians follow Jesus' example and dedicate the Lenten season to fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. Because Jesus died on a Friday, fasting on Fridays allows the faithful to commemorate his passion and death.
What can you eat during Lent?
Fasting requirements vary between the Roman Catholic and Orthodox faiths, but both involve limiting animal products. Someone may choose to fast from chocolate, alcohol, or the like as a personal penance for Lent.
For most of the 40 days of Lent, Catholics eat meat without restriction. Ash Wednesday and all Fridays call for fasting. Catholics fast from red meat or white meat, i.e. warm-blooded mammals or birds. Those under 14 and 65 or older are exempt from fasting.
The Orthodox Church refers to Lent as Great Lent or the Great Fast, and it calls for fasting for the entire duration of the 40-day liturgical season. The faithful not only abstain from meat but from eggs and dairy, too. Moreover, the Orthodox define meat as all animals with a backbone, including fish. Other kinds of seafood — shrimp, scallops, clams, mussels, octopus, and squid — have the OK.
Related: 15 Greek Lenten Recipes
Why can you eat fish during Lent?
Some suggest Christians began fasting from meat because it wasn't as accessible as fish in the Mediterranean world, and abstaining meant foregoing a luxury. Others propose that Christians don't eat warm-blooded animals on Fridays because of the bloodshed of the crucifixion, which happened on Good Friday. Meanwhile, others propose that Christians eat seafood to call to mind the biblical miracles about Jesus feeding crowds with fish.
Regardless, the point of fasting from meat is less about indulging in seafood and more about the self denial. Catholics used to fast from meat on Fridays outside of Lent, but the practice died out. Orthodox Christians keep up this discipline year round, fasting not only on Fridays but Wednesdays as well.
Can you eat chicken during Lent?
You can't eat chicken on Fridays during Lent. Chicken broth used in cooking is acceptable, though.
Can you eat eggs during Lent?
For Catholics, eggs do not count as meat for Lent. For Orthodox Christians, eggs are off limits.
Can you eat frog legs during Lent?