Meatless Fridays

November 20, 1997

Bishops in Washington, D.C., this week for a national conference are considering a return to the tradition of meatless Fridays. As millions of American Catholics interpreted it, fish on Friday was a way to fast, to do penance in honor of Christ's sacrifice on the cross.

The bishops have agreed to study the wisdom of a return to meatless Fridays as penitence for what they are calling a "culture of death" prevalent in society. Sacrifice as a means to prick the conscience is not unique to Catholicism, of course, and society would probably do better with a bit more of it.

Back in the days when breaded fish sticks were what most people in America thought of as seafood, fish was indeed a sacrifice. Now the price of fish is a sacrifice, the fish itself a premium. It would be hard to consider privation a meal of sauteed local bay scallops, lobster, or poached striped bass en croute. Or consider the divine agony of being served a two-inch thick, grilled tuna steak left a bit pink in the middle.

No, times have changed since Pope John XXIII rescinded the meatless rule in the 1960s. The seafood industry, which took a major hit back then with the change, will be ecstatic, no doubt, if the bishops prevail. Good for business, but perhaps not as good for the soul - or the sole, for that matter. A return to fish on Friday would surely put more pressure on overfished stocks.

For a few reasons, going back to fish on Fridays just won't cut it as an interpretation of "meatless." How about Internet-less Fridays instead?