During lent a Roman Catholic may not consume meat other than that of a fish. However, there are some non-fish animals that have been considered okay to consume during that time, like beaver for example. What other non-fish animals are okay for a Roman Catholic to eat during lent?

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    The capybara is also mentioned. Should also note that the classification of beaver as fish was local to the diocese, so there might not be a general answer for all of Catholicism. Oct 20, 2012 at 18:00
  • I was under the impression that lent asks you to choose something significant to give for lent, but there is no rule that it must be meat... meat is merely a convenient acceptable option that many catholics use, but far from the only option. Oct 20, 2012 at 23:28
  • @joel, that's the case for most Fridays during every season except Easter, they're supposed to be penitential and it has been a custom to give up meat on all of these Fridays. In the United States, I think every diocese requires that folks go meatless during Lent. In England, the Bishops recently required that everyone go meatless throughout the year on Fridays. Not sure how that's working out for them...
    – Peter Turner
    Oct 21, 2012 at 2:27

3 Answers 3


Canon Law 1251 says:

Abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the Episcopal Conference, is to be observed on all Fridays [...] (emphasis mine).

In other words it is to be determined by the bishops exactly what constitutes abstinence. The bishops of Quebec can simply state that beaver meat is OK to eat on days of abstinence. They don't have to declare it 'fish'. I would imagine that this is common practice in areas where fish is very hard to come by and meat is a staple food. In areas where meat is a rarity, giving it up would be little sacrifice and the rules might again be changed. As this page puts it, "when we abstain, it's not because the food is impure; we're voluntarily giving up something good, for our spiritual benefit". The exact nature of what is given up is of secondary importance.

  • There is a story that barnacle geese get their name because it was thought they hatched from barnacles, and were therefore counted as fish by St Patrick. I have no idea how true this is.
    – TRiG
    Oct 20, 2012 at 18:53
  • I'm not convinced that the words you have emphasised allow a Conference to declare something which is obviously meat as non-meat. They allow the Conference to declare something non-meat to be treated as meat and therefore abstained from. Oct 20, 2012 at 19:50
  • I think the word "or" would imply that abstaining from the other food is an alternative to abstaining from met. In other words the Conference declares that abstinence is to abstain from "all meats except beaver meat". But I admit I am not an expert. Maybe someone out there is. Oct 20, 2012 at 21:09
  • @DJClayworth "In respect of his [the beaver's] tail, is a perfect fish, and has been judicially declared such by the College of Physicians at Paris, and the faculty of divinity have, in consequence of this declaration, pronounced it lawful to be eaten on days of fasting" page 27 of volume 1 of the 1760 book "The natural and civil history of the French dominions in North and South America" archive.org/details/naturalcivilhist00jeff
    – DavePhD
    Jan 8, 2016 at 18:44

As DJClayworth wrote, nowadays it's not a strict rule what you can eat in lent. But in Middle Ages, there were strict rules about it. All fish were allowed. But fish were not defined as today, but as "all water animals", including a beaver or a capybara. Molluscs were permitted too - thats why monks (some order had to fast for most of the year as others fasted in lent) brought Roman snails (helix pomatia) to some regions where it's not native.


The classical definition of what constituted "fish" in the days of St. Thomas Aquinas was based on the Summa Theologica's understanding of animals which took into account both animal habits as well as anatomy.

Generally speaking fish could be eaten on days of abstinence but not the flesh of animals. In the Rule of St. Benedict abstinence is considered the flesh of four-legged creatures.

Usually seafood was permitted and occasionally cold-blooded animals might be acceptable in certain areas. First Things offers a great list of some weird Lenten foods.

  • I edited this to properly format the links. Click edit to see how it should be done.
    – user3961
    Jan 27, 2016 at 6:13
  • Some US bishops are granting a dispensation to allow some Catholics in various places (usually a parish or even an entire diocese) the privilege of eating corned beef on the Feast of St Patrick (March 17) when it falls on a Friday of lent. [usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/nation/2006-03-15-lent_x.htm].
    – Ken Graham
    Jan 27, 2016 at 14:01
  • This answer would be significantly improved if you summarize Aquinas' definition of "fish" instead of just linking to it.
    – ThaddeusB
    Jan 28, 2016 at 16:52

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