Mackerel Snapping in Modern America

Oddly enough, I don't consider bellying up to a table full of this as a "penitential", unless it's being served at Red Lobster.

The Good Deacon finds a story about Lent and fish from my home state of South Jersey. (I’m working hard on the secession efforts from the rest of New Jersey, but neither side wants any town that might include the cast of Jersey Shore.) The premise of the article is that Lenten fish sales are not up as much as they used to be, and this means people are not observing the Lenten fast.

“It’s not like it was in the past. Ash Wednesday years ago was one of the biggest days of the year. As the population gets older and people die off, the new generation isn’t following the rules like they did,” said Al D’Amato, the day manager at the seafood market.

D’Amato recalls customers even shunning some of the chowders because they have bacon in them. He rarely gets those kinds of questions anymore.

The decline of Lent seafood sales also has been noted at Viking Village in Barnegat Light.“I don’t think it’s as big as it used to be. Our sales are better because of Lent, a little bit, but it’s not the high-end stuff,” said Viking Village Manager Ernie Panecek.

One reason is because seafood has become a specialty item these days. For centuries, it was a cheap alternative to beef, pork, chicken and other meats. Buying something that is as expensive as sirloin just doesn’t seem like a sacrifice.

“It’s become more of a specialty item than a Lent item,” Panecek said.

The story is a fairly lazy affair that seemed to involve the reporter talking to a couple of fishmongers and their customers, extrapolating their statements to the entire church, filing his copy, and calling it a day. (Frankly, that’s about as much effort as anyone seems to put into The Press of Atlantic City these days.) The writer tries to make it some kind of general statement on “Catholics not observing the fast,” but he never ventures beyond local anecdotal evidence.

The fishmonger, however, has it right: fish, once a sacrifice and the food of the poor, is now viewed as a luxury item. Fish is expensive. In our household, unless it’s the week’s loss leader at the supermarket, fish is a treat. Tilapia, which I remember being a cheap meal once upon a time, usually costs more than beef. This means our Friday meal is always the same: homemade Pizza Chez Darwin. Since I observe the fast year-round, that doesn’t change anything for me, so I maintain a light fast during the day.

Homemade pizza is shockingly easy to make, it’s cheap (particularly when you find mozzarella on sale and stock up: it freezes just fine), and it’s meatless. We combine it with our Family Movie Night and make an evening of it.

Fish? Who can afford fish any more?

The Judas Tree, And Other Legends of the Betrayer
The Three Pillars of Lent
The Daily Capybara, And a Bit of Legend
The Ashes! They Burnses!
About Thomas L. McDonald

Thomas L. McDonald writes about technology, theology, history, games, and shiny things. Details of his rather uneventful life as a professional writer and magazine editor can be found in the About tab.

  • Elizabeth McDonald

    Pizza works for us, absolutely (especially since we have the process down to a system for us!). I don’t have a sense of whether or not keeping the Lenten Friday fast from meat has actually dropped that much or not. But I agree that the cost of fresh seafood (especially at good-quality Jersey shore fish markets) is probably a much bigger reason for low sales this Lent, especially in this economy. Just anecdotally, I think more people are doing meatless pasta, or grilled cheese (with it’s standby tomato soup), or tuna casseroles, etc.

  • Ben

    I’m getting fish fajitas for lunch today. Some of the frozen fish pieces at Trader Joe’s aren’t so expensive. I eat a lot of fish (Fiancee is Japanese), and there are ways of getting it cheap; buying bulk is one way (though this requires it to be portioned and frozen). Whole foods fish prices are ridiculous though.

  • Gary Chapin

    First sign of lent around here: McDonald’s has the fish special — 2 fishamajigs for $3.33. Something about the trinity in there.

    Boy, love that word: fishmonger.

  • MattK

    I would agree that it is not only the higher price of fish, but the wider integration of meatless meals in the diets of many Americans. Whether due to price or better recipes, the American expectation of every meal MUST including a meat is ebbing. Just my opinion.

  • Thomas L. McDonald

    MattK: Shifting dietary patterns are probably part of it. I ain’t no dang vegetarian (!!!) but on average, we only eat red meat a few times a month. It’s partly money and partly health. We get by just fine on meatless meals. A lot of times we use meat more as an accent, such as chorizo in a bean dish or a bit of chicken in some soup. It doesn’t have to be the center of a meal.

    Gary: It try to use good, rugged old English words whenever I can. I’ll never forget an early lesson in language from an English friend, who said she was so delighted to hear the old English word “gotten” used in America. It had fallen out of use in England and was considered some kind of Chaucerian relic by some, but it was still heard widely in America at the time.

    Ben: I’d love to eat a lot more fish, particularly fresh fish, and Trader Joe’s does have some good prices. They used to do a fairly inexpensive frozen shrimp & squid blend that we mixed with aglio olio. Don’t know if they still do it.

  • Robert King
  • Elizabeth McDonald

    That is one of our favorite Lent trivia tidbits. Sure, it swims in water, it MUST be a fish, right?? Never mind it’s a huge rodent…

    Our 5th grade daughter brought it up in her religious ed class this week. I’m not sure her catechist knew what to do with it, or what a capybara was, or why she was talking about eating them during Lent. (not that we have, you know).

    But that’s just one of the many arcane bits of information you pick up living in our household….