Alligator is considered a fish for lent

Alligator is considered a fish for lent February 15, 2013

Roman Catholics may not eat meat on Fridays during Lent, though they may eat fish.  The Archbishop of New Orleans has declared that alligator is “in the fish family” and “is considered seafood.”  Therefore, Catholics can eat alligator on Fridays.

From Rod Dreher, Lent In Louisiana | The American Conservative:


So are other reptiles and lizards considered fish?  What about land-based reptiles, especially those that live in deserts?  Can you eat turtle during Lent?  What about terrapins?  Are frogs considered seafood?  They do live in and around water.  But what about toads?  Is it allowed to eat whale, which is a mammal, even though it looks like a fish?  What about seal?   This is surely confusing for the faithful.  What a time for the pope to resign!

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  • tODD

    Okay, first of all, I have to express my bafflement at this statement (though it is hardly unique in such discussions):

    Roman Catholics may not eat meat on Fridays during Lent, though they may eat fish.

    I have never understood the claimed dichotomy between “meat” and “fish”. Fish is meat, it’s just, well, fish meat. I know from perusing dictionaries that Veith is not alone in using this distinction — sometimes, even poultry are, somehow, not considered meat. But, well, I don’t get it.

    Which makes me wonder what, exactly, the rule is here. I’ve asked Catholics before, and they told me that, back in the day, “meat” (i.e., mammal flesh) was considered a luxury … while, I guess, fish wasn’t? So they were commanded to abstain from the luxurious meats on Fridays (somehow a reference to Good Friday), but lousy ol’ fish were okay. And thus, Friday night fish fries in the Midwest!

    The thing is, nowadays, beef is cheap and frequently lousy. While fish keeps getting more expensive. Sure, a truly good cut of steak will cost you, but still. Eating something higher quality than cod hardly seems like any kind of sacrifice — if anything, it seems like a treat. So should the rule perhaps be revisited? (I kid; I know it won’t, but I still think it’s silly.)

  • tODD

    Anyhow, I thought the Catholics were supposed to be better at science. “Alligator is considered in the fish family”?

    And is anyone else troubled by the fact that this question comes from a not-disinterested party, Insta-Gator Ranch & Hatchery? (“Please give our business a dispensation during this time of year, from one Nawlinian to another.”)

    Anyhow, the archbishop’s answer will doubtless be a relief to all those hypocritical legalists hankerin’ for the taste of chicken during this season of Lent.

  • This is evidently one of those vain traditions we’re warned about. It giving up things for Lent is about giving up luxuries, then substituting “fish” for beef has jumped the shark to that end. Beef is no luxury these days, as Todd notes. Alligator meat certainly is.

  • Kempin04

    “Alligator is considered a fish for lent”

    So is Muskrat. (At least in south eastern Michigan. They have special dispensation.) Pretty yummy, too, if it is cooked properly.

  • A capital idea! To celebrate, I will go get a hamburger at lunch!

  • Tom Hering

    (Re: Todd @ 1.) I’m a true vegetarian, so I never eat fish, much less fish that have legs and no gills.

  • mikeb

    This is what you get when you teach Law and not Grace.

  • Joe

    While I do not agree with forced Lententide fasts, I can’t get too upset with a tradition of man that gave rise to the Wisconsin Friday night fish fry.

  • trotk

    A Catholic friend swears that the whole “only fish on Fridays” commandment came from an attempt to bolster the fishing industry as a favor to certain constituents (sound like modern politics?). But then again, I have read that it was about abstaining from rich meats, because they increased the passions in us. But with that justification, why are shrimp and crab allowed, because pound-for-pound, they are as rich as anything out there? In fact, if richness is the issue, birds should be the only thing eaten.
    But then again, this isn’t surprising, because the RCC already allows shellfish, which aren’t fish, and because the whole thing is so difficult to justify anyway, so why bother making it consistent.

  • Not that Aquinas is necessarily the authority on the rules of fasting, but from Summa II-II, Q. 147, art. 8:

    ‘In the institution of fasting, the Church takes account of the more common occurrences. Now, generally speaking, eating flesh meat affords more pleasure than eating fish, although this is not always the case. Hence the Church forbade those who fast to eat flesh meat, rather than to eat fish.’

    I’m not at all Catholic, but the thing to remember is that the Catholic Church isn’t really making a biological argument, and thus being ignorant of science. The Church is not arguing that an alligator (or muskrat or platypus or beaver or capybara) is biologically a fish; no more than the inclusion of tomatoes, snow peas, and cucumbers in a salad is an argument that they are biologically vegetables.

  • Jon

    I still don’t get it.

    Is this Lent “rule” just a personal piety thing, or do they believe that they actually score some points in the ol’ treasury o’ merit?

    I’ve asked Catholic friends about it at Friday lunches, while I’m munching my double cheeseburger and they’re choking down their fillet o’whatever-it-really-is sandwich. They typically say, just because, or that’s what we do, or tradition. Well, then, why is it a “rule”?

    I dunno. Maybe it’s just really the same thing as our Lutheran Wednesday night Lenten church soup suppers?

  • Keep in mind here that in the time of Aquinas, getting fish anywhere but on the coasts involved drying it, salting it, or (as you Luterns know all too well!) soaking it in lye and then serving it with cream sauce. So until this century, fish wasn’t exactly a treat, to put it mildly.

    I had heard that the rationale for “fish on Friday” during Lent was that land animals had blood, like our Savior, and that therefore on the day He was crucified, one abstains from the eating of meat. I’ve also heard the “bonus for fishermen” story, but whatever the facts are, I’ll be glad to have some alligator (maybe even muskrat) for dinner if it comes my way. Take, Peter, kill and eat!

  • Laura

    My understanding of this whole thing is that fish on Friday has nothing to do with whether it is a luxury or not. Jesus gave up his flesh on Friday, so to remember his sacrifice, we abstain from flesh.

  • fjsteve

    I’m almost with Tom on this one. Except I’m not quite a “true” vegetarian. More of a lacto-ovo-pesca-bovo-porca-carna-vegetarian. I draw the line on aligators… unless it’s deep fried, of course.

  • Laura

    I’m wondering though.. What about frogs? Turtles? Sea vs land turtles? Not that I would eat them, but some do.

  • fjsteve

    And what about dolphin, by these rules?

  • tODD

    Bubba (@12) said:

    Keep in mind here that in the time of Aquinas, getting fish anywhere but on the coasts involved drying it, salting it, or (as you Luterns know all too well!) soaking it in lye and then serving it with cream sauce.

    Yeah, no. First of all, you might want to consult this list. Secondly, you might want to consider that the vast number of Europeans live close to the coast — this was almost certainly more so in older times. Those that didn’t live near the coast very likely lived near a river or a lake.

    FJSteve (@16), dolphins are fish.

    Anyhow, if Steven’s quote from Aquinas (@10) at all hints at the underlying reason behind this prohibition, it just goes to show you how silly this all is:

    generally speaking, eating flesh meat affords more pleasure than eating fish, although this is not always the case.

    But let’s just go ahead and ban the eating of mammal and bird flesh, but allow fish. What are the odds someone would ever consider a nice ahi tuna steak more pleasurable than chicken? Thus, this rule should never be questioned or examined, for all time.

    So what’s that mean for our Louisiana Archibishop? Though he calls the alligator a “magnificent creature”, is his dispensation actually a backhanded criticism: “(but no one takes pleasure in eating the nasty things!)”?

    And, again, we all know it tastes like chicken (that’s my memory, at least). Chicken is prohibited on Fridays during Lent. Hello?

  • EGK

    The alligator is a magnificent creature. A tasty, tasty magnificent creature.

  • Kempin04

    Not that I want to be an apologist for Roman Catholic practices, but perhaps some credit is due here.

    First, I cannot help but say that the whole concept of a “forced” fast ruins the whole thing. That is just wrong headed and runs in a meritorious way that is contrary to the scripture.

    Nevertheless, the practice is more consistent and humane that we are crediting here. There is a first-fruits simplicity here in suggesting that once a week we give up our “main course,” as it were, during a penitential season of the year. If not for the fact that it is prescribed as an obligation and thus becomes something ridiculously easy to circumvent by gorging on some other main course, we might even think that it is a pretty solid practice. But it IS prescribed and thus ridiculous.

    Still, the exceptions (historically, at least. I cannot speak for the gator) have generally been for the sake of the poor. I know was the case regarding the Muskrat, at least. The French trappers that first settled the region were very poor, and there was no fishing industry to supply them in an affordable way. They were therefore given dispensation to eat the staple food of the animals they trapped as a concession for their poverty. I don’t know the history of the fish, but I would guess that whatever it has become in papal casuistry, the origin was in some concession to the poor. The bishops were not all bad.

    Of course, poverty hardly seems to be a concern in the USA, and gator is more an exotic food than a staple of the poor, but then again, this letter seems to be more in the way of a clarification of papal “law” than a pastoral decision by the bishop.

  • Abby

    No mention of alligator, but for anyone on Facebook here are some LCMS notes regarding Lenten fasting:

  • helen

    Kempin04 @ 19
    Of course, poverty hardly seems to be a concern in the USA,
    and gator is more an exotic food than a staple of the poor,

    Alligators may be more of a concession to the poor in the bayous of Louisiana
    than it would be to me, if I ordered it at Pappadeaux’ tonight.
    Things from your own back yard are always cheapest.

    [Actually, I think I’ll have shrimp fried rice at Pei Wei.]

  • Trey

    Modern taxonomies further confuse the RC practice. Is it still the official position of the Roman Catholic Church that they MUST eat fish on Fridays? This is why Lutherans would barbecue on Fridays because they are encroaching on our Christian freedom when we are told we must not eat meat on Fridays.

  • Booklover

    Here is what the Catholic Answers website says about their Lenten practice. It doesn’t answer the alligator question, but then I didn’t ask it. 🙂

    “Catholics use a practice similar to Daniel’s when, as a way of commemorating Christ’s Crucifixion on a Friday, they abstain from eating meat on that day of the week during Lent. The only kind of flesh they eat on Friday is fish, which is a symbol of Christ.”

  • tODD, look at that list you provided and tell me that most of those fish are superior to cod. They’re either of no commercial use (which is why only the scientific names are given for most), or else generally a bottom feeder like carp or eel. Yum. Plus, number of species is not equivalent to tonnage of fish.

    Never mind that, apart from Greece and Scandinavia, most of Europe did and does live more than day’s walk from the coast, and the rivers of Europe aren’t big enough to support fish for even the medieval populations of the great cities of Europe. Sorry, but it is a fact that for Lenten Fridays, most of Europe would either be vegetarian, be eating bottom feeders like carp, or be eating preserved fish. It is a real sacrifice.

  • tODD

    Booklover (@23), that answer is interesting, if also at odds with what other Catholic sources have said.

    After all, that same logic should lead one to the conclusion that it’s also okay to eat lamb on Fridays during Lent. Right? Likewise, it would also make me think that alligator would not qualify.

  • To answer Trey’s question, the Canon Law of the Church prescribes fasting on EVERY Friday and fasting throughout Lent.

    Can. 1250 The penitential days and times in the universal Church are every Friday of the whole year and the season of Lent.

    Can. 1251 Abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the Episcopal Conference, is to be observed on all Fridays, unless a solemnity should fall on a Friday. Abstinence and fasting are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

    Can. 1252 The law of abstinence binds those who have completed their fourteenth year. The law of fasting binds those who have attained their majority, until the beginning of their sixtieth year. Pastors of souls and parents are to ensure that even those who by reason of their age are not bound by the law of fasting and abstinence, are taught the true meaning of penance.

    Now is it actually binding in practice? Not so much, of course. I personally don’t know any Catholics who observes year-round penitential Fridays.

  • mikeb

    I’m reminded of Mark Twain’s quip: How many legs does a dog have if we call the tail a leg? Four. Calling a tale a leg does not make it so.

  • SAL

    I was back in my homeland for my dad funeral this week. The muskrat are being served up regularly as we enter this season. However in my area more Catholics are just outright breaking Lent than using loopholes to soften it.

  • fjsteve

    eating flesh meat affords more pleasure than eating fish

    Clearly Thomas has never eaten sushi.

  • helen

    Trey @ 22
    This is why Lutherans would barbecue on Fridays because they are encroaching on our Christian freedom when we are told we must not eat meat on Fridays.

    We weren’t told anything about fasting, but in NJ, in a town 80% Catholic and eating fish every Friday, we did the same, because the fish was freshest on Friday. 🙂
    [BBQ hadn’t entered my vocabulary yet.]

  • Deborah

    The story I remember from my catechism days is Fish was allowed in an effort to help the fishermen maintain their trade. Of course, as you read scripture, you see Christ dining on fish with His Apostles, who were, of course fishermen. The word Carnival comes from the fatted calf that was paraded through the streets on Mardi Gras. The Greeks and Romans also sacrificed bulls to their gods. As a young girl, we Catholic “mackerel smackers” abstained from meat, excluding fish on all Fridays, not simply during Lent. It is a discipline that some Catholics still maintain. Historically, some saints abstained and fasted not only on Fridays, but also on Wednesdays, from a tradition holding that Christ was actually arrested on Tuesday. Catholics have never been required to eat fish on Fridays.
    A more recent custom in many parishes is the rice bowl. A recipe for a simple meal, such as Spanish rice, that a poor family might eat, is given. The meal is prepared and the money saved is given as alms at the end of Lent to help families who struggle making ends meet throughout the year. The Lenten Fast is one regular size meal, and two smaller meals with no snacks.