Monday, February 4, 2013

Holidays and Notable Events: Ash Wednesday

Meat Abstinence

During the Middle Ages, meat was the most desired of foods. What better way to make an alimentary penance during Lent than to abstain from this pleasure?

As food historian Massimo Montari explains, "The diet required by the liturgical calendar during Lent could nonetheless be delicious. Choice fish and delicate vegetables could easily replace meat on the determined days."

Pierre Abelard, a 12th century philosopher, once asked why it should be penitent to give upordinary meat only to have expensive fish.

"The point is that it was a substitution," Montari points out in Let The Meatballs Rest. "The consumption of fish was not dictated by a choice of taste, but rather by an obligation, a restriction, an imposed renunciation."

Consequently, he suggests, meats attained a higher social standing in the Western diet than fish or vegetables -- a bias that continues to this day -- because it was forbidden during Lent.

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