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?