It began Feb. 17, Ash Wednesday, with crosses smudged across foreheads in repentance. By the next day, chocolate, soda and reality TV were synonymous with “giving up” and by Friday, every restaurant in town was boasting their own titillating fish dish… thus commencing this year’s 40-day season of Lent. But such religious observance is about more than Friday fish fries.
Mystic pizza: Strong Hearts Café only serves vegan food, and the Friday-night pizza special, while appropriate to a meat-free Lent, is a hit throughout the year. MICHAEL DAVIS PHOTO
As a time for prayer, almsgiving and self-denial, Lent also goes hand-in-hand with diet restrictions. Leading up to the Easter feast, those who care to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday consume just one full meal per day.
The Fridays of Lent are days of required abstinence, meaning no meat, soups or gravies made of beef, chicken or pork. While it can be difficult to go meatless on Fridays don’t forget that, centuries ago, the Catholic Church deemed it necessary to abstain from meat during the entirety of Lent, imitating Christ’s 40-day fast and withdrawal into the wilderness.
The earliest fasts of Lent tended to be very strict, allowing just one meal a day; even then, meat, eggs, oil and other indulgences were forbidden. Thus, Shrove Tuesday, or Mardi Gras, has become a last fling before the 40-day solemnity of Lent. What some may not know is that this day is also known as the festival Carnival. The name itself derives from the Latin for “meat” and “putting away.”
As a contemporary adaptation of this ancient tradition, the organization Veg4Lent politely invites Christians of all denominations to consider adopting a vegetarian diet this Lent. For the 10th year running, Veg4Lent is hoping Christians think about a vegetarian diet as identifying with not only Christ’s suffering, but that of creation. By promoting the care of all God’s creatures with the avoidance of animal-based products, Veg4Lent also notes the contribution a veggie diet can make toward human health and environmental stability.
If you’re not familiar with the vegetarian way of life, don’t panic. Adopting a diet with less processed meats and more fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains can provide an energy boost, and a wallet boost. And if you’re worried about protein, just look at the nutrition labels on peanut butter, tofu and quinoa. Pronounced “keen-wah,” this nutrient-rich grain cooks like rice or couscous with about 10 grams of protein in one cup.
Being meat-free doesn’t mean being confined to the kitchen either. In Syracuse, there are a plethora of animal friendly eateries that offer delicious options for both vegetarians and vegans and anyone who wants to go meatless for a day or for 40 days.
If you’re in the mood for Mexican, Alto Cinco, 626 Westcott St., offers vegetarian burritos, quesadillas and vegan burritos, including the popular barbecue tofu burrito, which packs protein and excellent taste into a burrito so big you’ll need a box to take home leftovers.
If you didn’t give up Chinese food for Lent and you can’t even imagine going 40 days without some General Tso’s chicken, China Road, 2204 Brewerton Road, Mattydale, offers vegetarian protein options that can be substituted for meat in almost all dishes. They even offer vegetarian duck and lamb options.
If you’re up on the Syracuse University Hill, Marshall Street has several restaurants if you want to kick the “meat habit.” Syra-Juice, located in Marshall Square Mall, offers tofu rancheros, vegan chicken burritos and fresh salads. They also feature vegan ranch dressing, a dairy-free treat for anyone avoiding animal by-products.
As a scrumptious alternative to the Friday fish tradition, check out vegan pizza night at Strong Hearts Café, 719 E. Genesee St. Every Friday, and not just during Lent, this meat- and dairy-free restaurant serves pizza from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m., offering a variety of meatless toppings, including mushrooms, onions, peppers, and even faux pepperoni and sausage. They also do a special vegan Buffalo chicken wing pizza with vegan blue cheese crumbles. Daily cruelty-free meals include “chicken” salad, Tofurky and roasted veggie sandwiches, “chicken” Caesar salads, daily soups and more than 30 dairy-free milkshakes. Strong Hearts, started by two local vegans, Joel Capolongo and Nick Ryan, uses local and organic ingredients whenever possible.
With so many local options, giving up meat for Lent is a worthy challenge. For an increasing number of Christians, however, vegetarianism is an issue of conscience, according to the Christian Vegetarian Association UK (CVAUK), which supports Veg4Lent. CVAUK, concerned with the amount of water and grain used for livestock production, points to high meat consumption as not only an ethical issue but an environmental one.
During this season of spiritual discipline, giving up things that you have an inordinate desire for, be they sweets or meats, helps to reflect on the 40-day withdrawal of Jesus, embracing a form of fasting which leads to greater self-discipline that can last after Lent is over.
Check above for a recipe, from www.vegcooking.com, for use on Lenten evenings you decide to eat in.