Wishing all our industry a great start to Lent on 10 February - it is not something that gets promoted by our industry as much as it should, but I learned a few years ago from some special marketers that we really should take up the prospect.

I never appreciated how important Lent was until I got involved in fish retailing back in the early 90’s. We had not prepared anything specific for Ash Wednesday following Shrove/Pancake Tuesday and we were inundated with customers and there was enormous demand. From that we learned quickly about the importance of the first day of Lent – traditionally 6 weeks out, or I should say 40 days, from Easter.

There are people who only buy fish at this time of the year, no doubt because of the religious connections. They often need guidance because they lack regular connection with fish and seafood, and this important group needs to be encouraged to eat seafood more often.

Lent originated as a mirroring of the gospels that spoke of Jesus Christ fasting in the desert for 40 days, where he avoided temptation from Satan. The 40 days fasting is seen as a preparation for Easter. Every Sunday was acknowledged as a tribute of the Sunday of Christ's resurrection and so as a feast day on which fasting was unsuitable. Story has it that the Christians fasted from Monday to Saturday during 6 weeks and from Wednesday to Saturday in the preceding week, thus making up the number of 40 days. 

‘Ash Wednesday’ gets its name from the practice of blessing ashes made from palm branches blessed on the previous year's Palm Sunday, and placing them on the heads of participants to the accompaniment of the words "Repent, and believe in the Gospel" or "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return." The day is observed by many religions and by a surprising number of countries – in the Republic of Ireland, Ash Wednesday is also National No Smoking Day.

It seems from an article that I recently read that we have Saint Thomas Aquinas to thank for fish not being considered meat and thus being seen as acceptable to eat during Lent.

“Legend has it that, centuries ago, a medieval pope with connections to Europe’s fishing business banned red meat on Fridays to give the industry a boost. That story isn’t true. Sunday school teachers have a more theological answer: Jesus fasted for 40 days and died on a Friday. Catholics honor both occasions by making a small sacrifice: avoiding animal flesh one day out of the week. That explanation is dandy for a homily, but it doesn’t explain why red meat and poultry are targeted—and why it’s perfectly okay to eat seafood.

For centuries, the reason evolved with the fast. In the beginning, some worshippers only ate bread. But by the Middle Ages, they were avoiding meat, eggs and dairy. By the 13th century, the meat-fish divide was firmly established— and Saint Thomas Aquinas gave a lovely answer explaining why: sex, simplicity, and farts.” (see more at http://mentalfloss.com/article/56205/why-isnt-fish-considered-meat-during-lent)

As an industry we should be doing more to educate the consumer. The six weeks starting from today would seem to be ideal. As I mentioned many marketing companies see Lent as a catalyst for connecting with seafood – the reason is simple –it is top of mind with a large number of people due to the religious aspects. Ideally we should be making full use of these weeks before Easter to educate consumers about the importance of seafood for health and nutrition, food security, jobs/employment and the economy. It makes sense and it would build into a great Easter occasion.

May you all enjoy today and a big thanks to all the people who are engaged in the full supply chain ensuring that we get healthy seafood on our tables.