Fish Sticks Dinner

Fish Sticks on Friday to Save the Planet?

Perhaps in grade school when the cafeteria served up those fish sticks on Friday, it felt a bit like penance. But a new working paper from scholars in the UK and Taiwan suggest that the Catholic practice of having fish on Friday (or simply abstaining from meat) could measurably benefit the planet by reducing carbon emissions. The authors explain:

“We measure the impact of a return to meatless Fridays for English and Welsh Catholics
on consumption behaviour, climate change mitigation and religiosity. We find evidence
of partial compliance with the reimposed obligation. We then measure the corresponding
greenhouse gas reductions – which are non-trivial. The estimated religiosity coefficients
are insignificant. We highlight the important role that religious regulations can play in
achieving environmental sustainability. We identify a new source of low-cost greenhouse
emissions reductions, especially if this practice were to be reinstated by the Catholic
Church at a global scale.”

An Odd Path to an Environmental Benefit

Perhaps you loved those Friday fish sticks and had no clue you were ahead of your time, helping to save the planet. We confess that we did not – not even with plenty of ketchup.

We also note that the Catholic church clearly did not start this practice for the sake of reducing carbon emissions. Nor did a medieval pope make a secret deal with the fishing industry. The tradition simply flowed from a Christian ritual of fasting on Fridays to remember the sacrifice of Jesus. It did, however, get a boost from Edward VI in the 16th century. He reinstated fast days by law:

“for worldly and civil policy, to spare flesh, and use fish, for the benefit of the commonwealth, where many be fishers, and use the trade of living.”

Spiritual Practices with Worldly Effects

Church requirements for meatless Fridays eased in the 1960s, but Catholic bishops in England and Wales called for a return to the practice in 2011. In their new paper, Shaun Larcom, Luca Panzone, and Po-Wen She estimate this led to a reduction of 55,000 tons of carbon in the atmosphere. Taking this to a global scale could have far more impact. In the U.S., they estimate the benefit would be 20 times larger.

Examples of the divisive effects of religiosity are hard to miss. But this analysis suggests a different possibility.

Click here for the paper by Larcom et al, here and here for further perspective.

Fish Sticks Dinner, photograph by Mateusz Giełczyński, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

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November 10, 2022

One Response to “Fish Sticks on Friday to Save the Planet?”

  1. November 10, 2022 at 11:46 am, John DiTraglia said:

    We ate cream cheese and jelly sandwiches for lunch and pasta fazul (pasta e faggioli) for dinner and i lived it.
    what about ramadan for health and global gentility?