How Catholics and Restaurateurs Survive The Lenten Season (BONUS: Lent Fast Food Survival Guide)
I’m sure you’re familiar with some of Chicago’s many nicknames: “The Windy City,” “The City of Big Shoulders,” or “The Second City,” to name a few.
How about “Little Lithuania?”
Chicago is home not only to some pretty awesome, deep-dish pizza, but the largest Lithuanian community outside of Lithuania. Hence, “Little Lithuania.” Now, if you’re a Chicagoan, and if you’re Lithuanian, usually it also means you’re a born-and-bred Roman Catholic. Right now us Catholics are in the middle of the Lenten holiday (call it Easter’s “Pre-Season”), abstaining from meat on Fridays.
If you’re got a little inner-Gordon Ramsay in you, and do most your own cooking, you’re probably searing that balsamic-glazed salmon without breaking a sweat. Or, if you’re like me – grabbing most your meals on-the-run – about all you share come Friday is Gordon Ramsay’s temper.
Finding something to eat that makes both your stomach and religion happy is a challenge during Lent, and for some, the menu options can seem limiting. Milwaukee Sentinel humor columnist, Alex Thien, gave it some perspective in his column from March 4th, 1989:
“Fran Cummings came up with a weekly Lenten menu for the family and wanted everyone to know what was ahead.
Stuck to the refrigerator door was her note:
“Monday – hamburgers, Tuesday – chicken, Wednesday – pot roast, Thursday – spaghetti, Friday – tuna casserole.”
All was going well until son Jamie, who thought more creative imagination was needed, posted his suggested menu.
“Monday – McDonald’s, Tuesday – Burger King, Wednesday – Taco Bell, Thursday – Wendy’s, Friday – Red Lobster.”
I’m gonna side with Jamie on this one. Although this comes from a humor column more than 20 years old, today’s increasingly faster pace of life has folks eating out more and more often. Back then, Red Lobster would be the only one of those aforementioned restaurants to offer a non-meat option. Luckily, times and menus have changed since.
Elsewhere in the country, this wouldn’t mean making any major adjustments, but in a place where the Roman Catholic population is so densely packed, this could present a problem for both the diner and the dining establishment.
Like Rick Astley, restaurateurs and fast food chains are not gonna give up when it comes to keeping their customers well-fed during Lent.
Some restaurants, however, have made “Fish Fridays” a promotion for some of their lesser-known menu items, or the opportunity to make specials into signature items. In some cases, I’ve found the meatless options so good, I’ll order them in place of my “usual,” even after I can resume my carnivorous sensibilities.
Some offer fish on their menus year-round, and you can thank Lent for putting them there in the first place. In 1962, Cincinnati-based McDonald’s franchise owner Lou Groen needed a dining choice for a largely-Catholic customer base. His solution to the problem? The Filet-O-Fish sandwich. Some restaurants, like McDonald’s, decided to keep their fish sandwich permanently on the menu, while others bank on making a seasonal buck with it.
Now, Jamie may have thought he was being a smart-aleck, but I’m going to humor him, and leave you all with an entire week’s worth of restaurants and meat-free menu options.
And you know what that means, Jamie? Fret not, my meatless friend. Not a single one of them serves tuna casserole. Now that’s something him and I both can rejoice over.
Lenten Fast Food Survival Guide
- Popcorn Shrimp
- Butterfly Shrimp
- Big Easy’s Sandwich (Fish or Shrimp)
- Butterfly Jumbo Shrimp Dinner
- Northwoods Walleye Sandwich or Dinner
- North Atlantic Cod Fillet Sandwich or Dinner
WEDNESDAY: Five Guys
THURSDAY: Jimmy John’s
- #3 Totally Tuna
- #6 Vegetarian
- Slim #3 (Tuna Salad)
- Slim #6 (Double Provolone)
- #13 Gourmet Veggie Club
- #15 Club Tuna
FRIDAY: Pop’s Italian Beef, (or substitute any typical, Chicago-style grill)
- Pepper and Egg Sandwich (Lenten special)
- Cod Dinner (Lenten special)
- Shrimp Dinner
- Grilled Cheese
- Tuna Salad Sandwich
SATURDAY: Burger King
- BK Big Fish
- BK Veggie Burger
- Garden Salad
SUNDAY: Taco Bell
- Bean Burrito
- Fresco Bean Burrito
- Triple Layer Nachos
- Cheese Roll-Ups
- Shrimp Tacos
- Cheese Quesadilla
- Cheesy Nachos
- Cheesy Fiesta Potatoes
- Mexican Rice
- Pintos ‘n’ Cheese
- Cinnamon Twists
- Caramel Apple Empanadas
- Premium Fish Fillet (100% North Pacific Cod)
- Garden Sensations Salads (minus the “B” in the BLT Salad and the chili on the Baja Salad)
- Broccoli Cheese Baked Potato
- Sour Cream and Chive Baked Potato
Do you celebrate Lent, and if so, how do you go about fasting? If not, do you notice the impact of promoting meat-free items at this time of year? Are there any suggestions you would add to the list above?