As the “Meatless Monday” trend grows, let’s reclaim the Friday penance.
There’s a movement that’s become mainstream in health and environmental circles, called “Meatless Mondays.” Maybe you’ve heard of it. The concept is simple but has great impact: One day a week, replace meat with other protein sources like beans and nuts, plus plenty of fresh vegetables.
In its present form, the campaign started in 2003, when former ad man turned health advocate Sid Lerner introduced the public health awareness campaign in association with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Center for a Livable Future. According to the Meatless Monday website,
Meatless Monday addresses the prevalence of preventable illnesses associated with excessive meat consumption. With the average American eating as much as 75 more pounds of meat each year than in generations past, our message of “one day a week, cut out meat” is a way for individuals to do something good for themselves and for the planet.
Giving up meat one day a week makes a lot of sense, as it encourages people to be intentional about making healthier choices. It’s good for the body, the planet, and the wallet, so it’s no wonder the movement has grown enormously all over the world.
The history of Meatless Monday goes back even farther than 2003, however. During World War I, when food shortages were a concern and the troops at the front needed the best nutrition available, the U.S. Food Administration urged families to reduce consumption of key staples to aid the war effort.
“Food Will Win the War,” the government proclaimed, and “Meatless Monday” and “Wheatless Wednesday” were introduced. More than 13 million families signed a pledge to observe the national “meatless” and “wheatless” days. The campaign returned during World War II and continued during the immediate post-war years.
But if you think about it, giving up meat one day a week goes back many centuries before World War I. Christians have been abstaining from meat on Fridays for almost two millennia. In other words, Catholics were doing this before it was cool.
Although the required Friday abstinence became optional except during Lent in 1966, many Catholics still choose to participate. Those who don’t abstain from meat on Fridays are asked to make some other sacrifice to keep the spirit of the day.
If you’re going to give up meat one day a week (and there are lots of great reasons to do so!), it makes more sense to abstain on Fridays. The long centuries of traditional abstinence, and the penitential requirement, make it a natural fit for this small sacrifice.
As the Meatless Monday movement grows, Catholics can joyfully share our own observance of Meatless Fridays. This is a great opportunity for Catholics to make common purpose between our faith in Christ and our prudent concern for the environment and for our health.
Let’s share #MeatlessFridays and join forces with the Meatless Monday movement. Some might choose to observe both Meatless Monday and Meatless Friday, or you might explain to friends why you abstain on Fridays instead—and then swap a few ideas for meatless recipes.
By sharing how Catholics follow the practice to “one day a week cut out meat,” we celebrate that we are all in this together. This tradition helps us reap not just the physical, financial, and environmental advantages of a meatless day, but the spiritual benefits as well.