Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Brazil's Ash Wednesday Diet

Officially, in Brazil as in other Christian countries around the world, the Wednesday that follows Carnaval marks the beginning of a40-day period of renunciation leading up to Easter Sunday. Lent (Quaresma in Portuguese) is considered a time of mourning, repentence and abstinence, and there are traditional dietary restrictions associated with the Lenten period.

According to the Roman Catholic calendar, the 40 days of Lent are divided into days of abstinence and days of fasting. Fasting, in the Christian sense, means reducing one's daily food intake to one full meal and two small meals. Fasting is appropriate to the whole Lenten period. Sundays during Lent are not considered part of Lent itself, so fasting is not required on Sundays. In addition to the daily fasting requirement, there are two days during Lent, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, in which abstinence is required. Abstinence in this sense means the elimination of meat from the diet (fish are not considered meat).

In fact, in contemporary Brazilian Catholicism, those two days, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, are the only two days in the entire year when abstinence is obligatory.

During Lent, the majority of Brazilians eat their daily meals on their normal pattern, and the idea of only one full meal a day is mostly restricted to religious communities. Abstaining from meat on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday is a common practice among Brazilian Catholics, however, and many Brazilians choose to remember the religious significance of those two days by not consuming meat.

Traditionally, during periods of abstinence, fish or eggs are substituted for the forbidden meat and become the central focus of the meal. In earlier times, before the introduction of electric refrigeration, fresh fish was unobtainable in many places, particularly those far from water. People in these locations largely depended on salt cod (bacalhau) to nourish them on days of abstinence. Today, even though modern transportation and refrigeration allow the sale of fresh fish far from the waters they lived in, Brazilians associate salt cod with abstinence and often prefer it to fresh fish.
salt cod (bacalhau)

Consequently, if you ask a Brazilian what he or she plans on eating today, there's a very good chance that it will be salt cod. Shelves in supermarkets have been laden with bacalhau for the past couple of weeks, and as families get together to recover from the madness of Carnaval, it's most often around a dinner table set for a meal of bacalhau.

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