Strange Lenten Foods You May (not) Want to Try

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One of the hallmarks of Lent is abstinence on Fridays, and fasting and abstinence on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. As Lent continues this can leave Catholics feeling less and less creative when it comes to the culinary arts and reaching for the pizza delivery phone number (again) or buying out the fish department of the local grocery store. This Lent, why not change it up a little bit with these weird entrees for some unusual Lenten fare…if your palate and stomach are brave enough!

Muskrat in Michigan

Photo attribution: mikroskops at Panoramio, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

According to the Archdiocese of Detroit, in 2002 it was confirmed 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.” This is apparently a local tradition that is beloved by Michiganders; so much so that when legislation was introduced to restrict the private sale of muskrats, there was a huge public outcry that both amused and bewildered state legislators! In 1987 Lansing’s Bishop Povish weighed in on the matter commenting, “anyone who could eat muskrat was doing penance worthy of the greatest of the saints.” Perhaps muskrat is an acquired taste?

Beaver, eh?

First questioned by the Bishop of Quebec, Canada in the 1600s, it was eventually decided by French theologians that eating Beaver in Lent was permissible on days of abstinence. It is possible that this permission was granted in part because of the fur trade and the desire that good meat not be wasted during Lent. This dispensation is still used in Quebec where beaver is considered an acceptable Lenten food to this day.

Louisiana gators

“Alligators in the Afternoon Sun” by Old Shoe Woman is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

As recently as 2010, this odd Lenten dish was affirmed by a local Bishop as being permitted on days of abstinence in Louisiana. The United States Catholic Conference of Bishops also weighed in, as you can see below. Yum?

Does it taste like chicken?

Do frog legs REALLY taste like chicken, and is that sort of, kind of, a little bit cheating? According to the USCCB’s website, it isn’t cheating at all. While these may not be the first dinner items that come to mind when you think of Fridays in Lent they are, in fact, completely acceptable Lenten foods: ”Salt and freshwater species of fish, amphibians, reptiles, (cold-blooded animals) and shellfish are permitted.”

Skunk-Headed what?

The oddly nick-named Surf Scoter, the Skunk-Headed Coot, was observed by french scientists to have been consumed during Lent way back in 1651. It is thought that it was either misidentified or closely identified with the barnacle goose, another water fowl that was eaten during Lent but for which an official dispensation seems questionable. According to folk stories and bayou lore there is a dispensation for this bird in Louisiana but without clarification from Louisiana Bishops, perhaps it would be best to lay off the water fowl; after all, there is plenty of ‘gator to go around.

South American Capybara

“Capivara descansando / Resting capybara” by Marcio Cabral de Moura is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

This cute “marine rodent” apparently qualifies as a “fish” during Lent thanks to a papal bull issued to Spanish Missionaries in South America at the turn of the 18th century. This odd Lenten fare is still served to this day in some parts of Venezuela.

“More fish than fowl”

French monks of the 17th century seemed to have some trouble deciphering whether or not feathers mattered in the classification of fish. They therefore were fairly insistent that it was acceptable to eat puffins during Lent. Unlike the barnacle goose and coot, the puffin was actually declared to be an acceptable lenten dish after some determined monks convinced their Bishop to change his ruling with the help of some “men of science” who “proved” that puffins were…wait for it… “more fish than fowl.”

Hungry, hungry…hippos?

“+ Hippo and cattle egret, Mana Pools National Park, Zimbabwe” by Free pictures for conservation is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

A semi-pelagic mammal, Hippo is considered an acceptable Lenten food, that is, if you can catch one. Hippos are the deadliest giant land mammal so the trouble one would have to go to in order to hunt, butcher, and then cook this giant fish substitute may not be worth the eventual satisfied appetite.

Have you eaten any of these foods during Lent? Which would you be willing to try? Tell us in the com-box!

*Featured image attribution: “GBC 08 people eating…” by Titanas is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Article inspired by commentary that can be found here and here.

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