What should a vegetarian do on days of abstinence from meat?

There are certain days during the year that Catholics abstain from consuming meat, and some people do this every Friday or when fasting for a specific intention. For many meat-eaters, this can be somewhat difficult to follow and requires recollection and planning, but for vegans or vegetarians who don’t eat meat, abstinence from meat makes no difference. Should people with a meatless diet make another sacrifice?

“I’m a 40-year vegetarian and I’m open to abstain from another food staple in lieu of meat, fish, and fowl,” wrote a listener in an email to Father Simon. He asked for his recommendations for obligatory days of fasting and abstinence, such as Good Friday, Ash Wednesday, Fridays during Lent.

If you feel inclined to do more, decide what might be a similar sacrifice for you that giving up meat would be for an omnivorous Catholic. “We are required to fast by abstaining from meat, if that’s not a big deal for you and you’d like to do more, God bless you! What you need to do is find out what it is – now remember: you never fast from something bad. … You don’t give up something bad; you give up something good. You refrain from sinning, but in addition. Or, you can do a positive penance, you can do extra charity, extra prayer, that kind of thing,” explained Fr. Simon.

Your additional sacrifice on fasting days need not even be centered on your diet. “So it isn’t a matter of giving up, it’s a matter of exercising freedom. I think I’ve shared that frequently about why do we fast—because it’s an exercise of freedom. It’s saying no to oneself. So say, ‘No, I’m not going to spend this time watching cat videos on YouTube, I’m going to spend this time saying the Rosary. That kind of thing.”

On no-meat Fridays, some people abstain from meat, but instead go out for an extravagant lobster or seafood dinner. But that’s kind of missing that point, right? It’s meant to be a sacrifice. “People talk about, what is this arbitrary thing about fish? Well, once upon a time, fish was the food of the poor. … You got a line and a pole and went down to the river—you fished. But now it is not the food of the poor, it is the food of the rich.”