Meatless Fridays get a boost from plant-based substitutes
Growing up, Duncan Tiemeyer knew that he wouldn't be eating a juicy hamburger or a thick steak on Friday nights year-round.
He became accustomed to meatless meals like pasta, cheese pizza and snacks of pretzels with cheese on Fridays during Lent.
"When I was little, my mom would make this meatless chili," Tiemeyer said. "Now, we'll sometimes go get sushi."
The Oklahoma City man is among the many faithful who abstain from meat on Fridays during the Lenten season, the 40 days before Easter (excluding Sundays) in the Christian calendar.
The Rev. Rick Stansberry, pastor of Christ the King Catholic Church, where Tiemeyer is a pastoral intern, shared similar thoughts.
Stansberry attended Casady School, a school affiliated with the Episcopal Diocese of Oklahoma, where the cafeteria served cheese pizza and other meatless offerings during Lent. He said many public schools followed this same pattern in those days.
Up until the 1960s, most Catholics abstained from meat every Friday, not just during Lent, Stansberry said. After Vatican II, the requirement of meatless meals went away except for Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and other Fridays during Lent.
"It is a form of sacrifice," the priest said.
Many Catholic churches help parishioners eat without meat by serving dinner on Fridays during Lent, including Christ the King in Oklahoma City.
Friday's meal includes assorted soups, while the Lenten dinner menu will include shrimp scampi, fried shrimp and French fries and Alfredo pasta for the remaining Fridays.
Businesses cater to tradition
For the faithful who can't get to a Lenten dinner at their church, businesses offer a variety of meatless offerings designed to take away some of the what's-for-dinner guesswork for Lent.
Stansberry said these days, it may be easier to forget about abstaining from meat than it might have been in years past, so it's good to have a plan.
For those who like red meat but can't partake because of Lent, the usual option was to eat fish or simply go full-on vegetarian once a week. Many restaurants offer special menu items to accommodate the faith-based diets for many customers.
But despite the meat-eating restrictions, garden-variety "veggie" burgers never sold well, said Patrick Conlin, president of the international restaurant chain Wayback Burgers.
This year Wayback Burgers introduced its Impossible Melt, a limited-time offer that features the Impossible-brand meat substitute made from plants.
"We do offer the Gardenburger, but we have very low sales on it," Conlin said. "And I think part of that is over the last few years, the meat alternatives, the plant-based meat alternatives, have cut into the old veggie burger or garden burger segment."
That trend helped him decide on adding Impossible to his menu.
"We kind of wanted to tie it in with Lent, where traditionally people look for meat alternatives," Conlin said.
But without Lent followers, and without strict vegetarian and vegan dieters, there's still a large segment of the population who choose a meatless burger because they want to cut down on meat, Conlin added.
"Wayback Burgers is certainly not a vegetarian venue, so we don't want people to get the wrong connotation," he said. "But we think it's a nice alternative to add to our menu in the short term."
But if customers like it, the Impossible Melt could stick around for a while.
Another restaurant chain introducing a meatless burger this year is Denny's, which picked another meatless brand called Beyond.
Their Beyond Burger rolled out nationally. It was more convenient timing for Lent, rather than a dedicated rollout, but district manager Theresa Binder said she makes inventory decisions for the observance, with certain products in higher demand.
"We do increase our ordering on things like salmon and haddock," said Binder, who oversees restaurants in Oklahoma and Kansas.
The Beyond Burger has taken a while to pick up steam, but it now greatly outsells Denny's original veggie burger, she said.
A worthy tradition
Tiemeyer, now an Oklahoma City Archdiocese seminarian, knows there are fast food options for times when convenience is an issue. He mentioned a fish sandwich that Chick-Fil-A offers during Lent in some areas of the country. Other fast food restaurants like Arby's are promoting fish sandwiches, and there is always what seems to be a perennial favorite from McDonald's, the Filet-O-Fish.
For many, Lent is a season of reflection, repentance and renewal, with emphasis on prayer, fasting and charity.
Tiemeyer said he has always thought that it wouldn't be good to get "luxurious" by choosing a fancy meat alternative because that might not be considered a sacrifice.
Saying no to meat on one day of the week during this special season (plus Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent) is a worthy tradition for Tiemeyer.
"It's a small sacrifice to help us enter in the sacrifices that Christ endured for us," he said.
Carla Hinton, an Oklahoma City native, joined The Oklahoman in 1986 as a National Society of Newspaper Editors minority intern. She began reporting full-time for The Oklahoman two years later and has served as a beat writer covering a wide... Read more ›
Dale Denwalt has closely followed state policy and politics since his first internship as an Oklahoma Capitol reporter in 2006. He graduated from Northeastern State University in his hometown of Tahlequah. Denwalt worked as a news reporter in... Read more ›