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Why it's OK to eat certain rodents during Lent

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  • Dianne C
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 13, 2006
      >Some Additions to the Menu
      >Why it's OK to eat certain rodents during Lent.
      >Friday, March 3, 2006 12:01 a.m. EST
      >The season of Lent, which began on Wednesday, brings to mind an odd request
      >the Vatican received from South America in the 17th century. The faithful
      >sought permission to eat capybaras on Fridays during the six weeks before
      >Easter, when Catholics are supposed to avoid the meat of birds and mammals.
      >The priests who puzzled over this petition certainly had no inkling of
      >capybaras. Even today, most non-zookeepers outside South America have never
      >heard of them. But these critters spend lots of time in water, they swim
      >and dive well, and their feet are slightly webbed. Kind of like fish,
      >Close enough for the Vatican, apparently, because Rome sent out the word
      >that it was acceptable to consume capybaras during Lent. Today they are
      >considered a delicacy in many parts of South America, especially Venezuela.
      > Eating capybaras there during Lent is about as traditional as eating
      >turkeys at Thanksgiving here in the U.S. Technically, though, capybaras
      >are mammals--the largest members of the rodent family, with adults weighing
      >more than 100 pounds. The food they provide is meat.
      >Capybaras are hardly the only creatures that have been subjected to
      >cafeteria-style Catholicism: At various times and places, Lenten
      >exceptions have reportedly been made for beavers, geese, puffins and other
      >marine animals. There's a persistent rumor in Michigan, for example, that
      >muskrats are an approved dish. When a bishop was asked about it, he
      >supposedly replied that anybody bold enough to eat muskrat already is
      >"doing penance worthy of the greatest saints."
      >The point of Lenten abstinence is not to partake in taxonomical fetishes
      >but to engage in a form of self-sacrifice that encourages prayer and
      >alms-giving. The deepest roots of the practice lie in Genesis: God's first
      >command to humanity was to abstain from the tree of knowledge. It
      >eventually became a Christian custom--rejected by most Protestants after
      >the Reformation but still honored by Roman Catholics--not to eat certain
      >kinds of food at assorted intervals, and the most popular of these
      >traditions has been an injunction against eating meat on Fridays.
      >There was a time when even the consumption of fish was frowned upon, though
      >by the 10th century it was a well-established option. In his
      >just-published book "Fish on Friday," the respected anthropologist Brian
      >Fagan argues that fishermen who toiled to feed this European hunger
      >probably laid eyes on Newfoundland before Columbus sailed across the ocean.
      > "It was fish, not spices, that led to the discovery of North America," he
      >Back in those days, the demand for fish wouldn't have been as great if
      >Europeans had followed the habits of today's American Catholics, who tend
      >to replace meat with fish only on Fridays during Lent. That's because in
      >1966 they gained a special dispensation from their bishops to eat meat on
      >non-Lenten Fridays if they performed some other devotion or work of charity
      >instead. This requirement is probably most honored in the breach. Fish on
      >Fridays was once a year-round tradition; for lots of Catholics in the U.S.,
      >it's now just an Easter-season peculiarity.
      >The latest trend in abstinence, however, is not to loosen Lenten
      >regulations but to tighten them, especially if there's an endangered
      >species to save. In Mexico, conservationists are pleading with Rome to
      >declare that the meat of sea turtles--a popular soup ingredient--shouldn't
      >be on the Lenten menu, even though the flesh of reptiles and other
      >cold-blooded animals has generally been allowed.
      >If the Vatican cooperates, it can expect an arkload of follow-up requests.
      >Next on the list is probably the green iguana, another threatened reptile
      >that's on a Latin American soup recipe. If a ban ever materializes,
      >Catholics will need to stomach headlines that proclaim a papal crackdown on
      >"Easter Ig Hunts."
      >For those who worry about restrictions on their reptile intake, here's a
      >modest proposal: capybara stew.
      >Mr. Miller writes for National Review and is the author of "A Gift of
      >Freedom: How the John M. Olin Foundation Changed America."
      >Copyright � 2005 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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