Fish on Friday


filetofish.jpgWhen I was growing up in the ’60s, our public elementary school served fish every Friday.

Part of this was in response to the large Roman Catholic community that lives in the Cincinnati area, especially on the west side of town. Where I grew up, nearly the entire neighborhood was Catholic, save for our Lutheran family and the Assemblies of God minister and his family three houses down.

Flash forward…

I can’t remember a Lenten season when I’ve seen so many ads on TV for fast food fish. Considering how little TV I watch, that’s saying something.

I think Vatican II eventually eliminated the fish every Friday thing that I experienced in school, but for some reason, it still persists for part of the year. It now shows up only during Lent, but man, does it have legs! There’s not a Wendy’s or McDonalds around here that isn’t advertising fish on its sign. And like I said, the ads on TV…

After last week’s intense debates, I’m thinking lighter, so I have to wonder—Are there that many Catholics still eating fish on Friday during Lent to justify this huge fish push? Seriously. When you consider how many self-identifying Catholics are pro-abortion, how many are worried that they’ll have to go to confession if they choose a Big Mac over a Filet-o’-Fish (which, ironically, has a Cincinnati origin).

It’s weird. That the fast food restaurants are spending millions on commercials to get you to eat their RCC-friendly fish every Friday during Lent…well, that’s even weirder.

I’m looking for an explanation.

I also want to find Evangelical equivalents. What do you consider to be an Evangelical equal of fish on Friday and why?

13 thoughts on “Fish on Friday

  1. Well I can’t speak to fish, but at least avoiding meat. I work at a drive-thru convenience store, and we have heat-and-serve pasta meals. Our demographics have shifted heavily towards the meals with no meat on Fridays for Lent. I’m talking about a 300% shift or so. Found that interesting, personally.

    • And still, I wish I understood why. People commit horrible atrocities in their lives, yet God forbid that they eat meat on a Friday during Lent.

      And since when is fish not meat? I never got that one, either. I suspect it’s the RCC making up weird distinctions, which trickled down into the collective social consciousness.

  2. David R.

    I know what you mean about the fish burger thing. We have a McDonalds, Hardee’s and Sonic all in a row here in town, and they are all advertising fish sandwiches of some sort on their windows. It didn’t occur to me until last week that it might be because of lent. Weird. But then the whole “refrain from your idol for 40 days” doesn’t make sense to me. Isn’t that supposed to be a life-long thing?

    As to evangelical equivalents, how about blue laws? No buying alcohol on Sunday? Do we seek to squeeze everyone into our concept of morality?

    Growing up Quaker tends to limit the number of odd religious details such as no meat Fridays. I can still remember as a child, going to Bob’s Big Boy with the family of a childhood friend and seeing their rather scandalized expressions as I tucked into a hamburger . I asked what the problem was and they told me it was Friday. I was completely at sea.


    “You’re not supposed to eat meat on Friday.”

    “Why not?” Was my response.

    I didn’t know they were Catholic. I didn’t know Catholics didn’t eat meat on Friday.

    But then, they didn’t know why they weren’t supposed to eat meat on Fridays.

    So we were even.

    • David,

      I used to think that avoiding a certain item for Lent was spiritual, but not anymore. I don’t fault people who try to “fast” from something that usually doesn’t have anything to do with sinning, but I find it a hollow exercise for me personally. In fact, I find most religious ritual to be hollow, though I do tend to wear black and read at least one crucifixion narrative from the Gospels on Good Friday. That’s the Lutheran in me peeking out. I like to hear someone sing “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded” too. In the past, I used to do a water-only fast on Good Friday, but it’s been a while.

      That’s about as much religious ritual as I observe.

    • Peter,

      I know you’re not from here originally, but didn’t you ever wonder about the sudden appearance of fish on the menus of fast food restaurants this time of year, especially those that don’t normally serve fish, like Arby’s?

      I guess you haven’t had much exposure to RCC adherents, either.

  3. My hypothesis:

    At one time there was enough Catholics participating but as those numbers dwindled the large chains discovered it was not profitable to carry it on their menu year round. Instead it was more profitable to do a yearly limited run (with the season already set because it’s what people expected) which gets everyone excited and they go and get the fillet-o-fish (and fries, and pop etc) when they normally wouldn’t.

    This is based on my experience growing up Lutheran and having no clue that such a tradition even existed. But I do know every time those Fillet-o-fish’s hit the advertising my dad dragged the family their weekly (after church consequently) which then undoubtedly created a habit that would last a couple months after they stopped carrying the fish sand-which.

  4. This is the first year that I’ve really noticed references to Lent included in advertising for frozen fish in the local supermarket.

    I’d make a lousy Catholic – I don’t like fish.

    Today is Passover – a more authentic time to remember Jesus’ death and resurrection. Tonight my wife and I will be eating lamb and remembering the Lord’s sacrifice with breaking of bread and sharing of wine.

    Yesterday my wife made an Orange-Almond cake to a Jewish recipe. Apparently it is traditionally eaten around passover. After trying it for the first time last night I’m not sure I’d be happy to limit it to once a year.

  5. S Mayhew

    Interestingly a friend just recently commented on the origin of Fish on Friday stemmed back to the Catholic church wanting to support fishing efforts.

    So I’ve considered the comment for some time, put myself in the place of a small fishing village, and determined that the only answer could be that fisherman were starving which in turn increased things like theft, and neighborly discord etc.

    It is my belief it was a serious enough issue at that moment in that place, that the Catholic church was approached for wisdom and guidance (as it has on many other types of problems over the years) and the church thought that if they asked the community to eat fish on Fridays it would feed the fishermans families, and the community who desired peace and goodwill would have it.

    I think once an idea was adopted by that Catholic church, other churches in small fishing villages probably had similar problems and adopted the rule as well. While Vatican 2 changed a lot of that, many still observe the rule.

  6. Jeri Janice Lipis

    I remember eating baked fish on Friday in elementary school, I grew up in So California in the late 50’s. I would love to know what white flaky fish they baked & the recipe. The fish had a crunchy crust & was served with lemon wedges (no tartar sauce for me please) it was very tasty. I knew serving fish on Friday was for religious reasons. Catholics weren’t in the majority but it wasn’t a hardship for those of us that weren’t Catholic. There were very few items on the lunch menu that I liked but the fish was truly enjoyable. They actually cooked from scratch in those days. One thing I hated was the ground beef in gravy served over mashed potatoes. It’s said you eat with your eyes first (presentation) on that head it was truly disgusting. Apple Brown Betty was another favorite

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