When it comes to fasting, we Catholics don’t have much to complain about. We fast, but we can still have a normal meal and two smaller meals. We can’t eat meat on Fridays, but we can eat fish. And so we fry it. And throw a party with all our friends. And drink beer.
The Church has also been pretty accommodating in the realm of deciding what is fish and not-fish for Friday Lenten purposes.
Here are some obscure foods you didn’t know were allowed (or were at one time allowed) on your Friday Lenten dinner menu:
“It’s delicious,” one restaurant owner told the New York Sun in 2005. “I know it’s a rat, but it tastes really good.”
In Nicaragua, iguana tail soup is a popular Lenten dish.
“It is really tasty. It is a traditional dish,” Manuel Zamora told the Huffington Post in 2013 as he bought two iguanas at a market. The popular iguana soup is made with iguana meat and eggs, ground and toasted corn meal, and vegetables. Another soup called Levanta Muerto, which translates roughly as “Raises the Dead,”consists of meat from the black, spiny-tailed iguana, brains, bone marrow, bull testicles and, in some cases, shellfish.
While many people may not have considered reptiles for their Lenten meals, they are allowed, because they are “cold-blooded” animals.
America apparently used to be crawling with beavers. As many as 400 million beavers are thought to have once swam in North America’s streams and rivers. When European settlers arrived, the beaver belts and fat were a hot commodity, and the beaver population rapidly declined. Beaver meat was also especially popular among the Native Americans. In a similar dilemma as his Venezuelan counterparts, the Bishop of Quebec in the 17th century asked his superiors whether beaver could be considered a fish for Lent, since it spent so much time in the water. While it is unclear whether those dispensations still stand today, beaver is still a popular dish in some areas of North America during Lent today.
Like its sister semi-acquatic rodent the beaver, Muskrat has also been a popular Lenten meat in certain parts of North America. In particular, cities south of Detroit have always had a taste for muskrats (they call them ‘mush-rats’) on Fridays in Lent. The origin of the muskrat dispensation is widely debated – some said it came from the Pope during the War of 1812, others believe an archbishop granted it during the Great Depression in the 1930s. Whatever the story, it’s popularity has held strong.
”It’s an oral tradition going back many generations,” Yvonne Lockwood, a researcher at Michigan State University told the New York Times in a story from their archives on the matter. ”Even if there is no document to prove it, people continue to believe it, so it is not going to go away.”
In 2002, the Archdiocese of Detroit officially reiterated the dispensation, saying that “There is a long-standing permission —dating back to our missionary origins in the 1700s—to permit the consumption of muskrat on days of abstinence, including Fridays of Lent.”
Bishop Kenneth Povish of Lansing described the practice as “immemorial custom” and said that “anyone who could eat muskrat was doing penance worthy of the greatest saints.”
Alligator meat, while perhaps not popular in many parts of the United States, is especially popular in New Orleans, Louisiana. That’s why Jim Piculas, an alligator wrangler, wrote to the Archbishop of New Orleans in 2010 to ask whether alligator was permissible during Fridays in Lent. The reply (in the affirmative) went viral in 2013, when Piculas posted a picture of the letter online.
“Concerning the question if alligator is acceptable to eat during the Lenten season…yes, the alligator is considered in the fish family,” Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond wrote in a 2010 letter provided to CNA by the New Orleans archdiocese Feb. 15.
The archbishop said he agreed with the parishioner that the alligator is a “magnificent creature that is important to the state of Louisiana” and which is also “considered seafood.”
This adorable little seagoing bird’s fish or fowl status was once hotly debated in northern France. According to the book “Food and Faith in Christian Culture”, a local priest informed the Archbishop of Rouen that the monks in a nearby Benedictine monastery had been offering puffin meat during Lent in 1698. The Archbishop issued a “swift and unequivocal” reply, to be read at all parishes, denouncing the puffin as approved fasting fare. But the monks were not satisfied, and enlisted doctors from a local college to help them compile evidence that the puffin was in fact more fish than fowl. The findings of the investigation, presented to the Archbishop at a clerical assembly, convinced him to reverse his decision. It is unclear whether this dispensation still stands.
Remember, if you have questions about whether a bizarre meat you’re eating is kosher for Lent, just contact your local diocese to find out.