• Sales of faux meat products are going at a rapid clip but have yet to take a bite out of traditional meat products
  • The Archdiocese of Chicago says the question of whether Catholics can eat faux meat products on Fridays during Lent runs deeper than just from what the foods are made
  • Theological questions aside, restaurants and grocers are going with Lenten specials for faux meats

Think grabbing an Impossible Burger or Beyond Meat patty on Friday is legal for Catholics during Lent? Think again.

“I think it all comes down to the intention and interior disposition of the individual,” Rebecca Siar, director of campus ministry at St. John Paul II Newman Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago, told the Chicago Tribune, adding, “If someone is just eating them in order to ‘cheat the system’ in a way, then that might defeat the purpose of abstaining from meat in the first place.”

The Office of Divine Worship at the Archdiocese of Chicago says substituting fake meat for the real thing violates the spirit of Lenten sacrifice.

Fake meat products from Impossible Foods are made from soy while Beyond Meat uses protein from peas, rice and mung beans.

“What’s behind the whole tradition in practice is to go without in order to be in solidarity with those who are hungry, with those who can’t afford meat,” Todd Williamson, director of the Office of Divine Worship, told the Tribune. “By going without that we are reminded of others. We experience hunger ourselves. So, it’s a bit deeper than whether it’s just a meat product.”

Catholics have abstained from meat on Fridays from the early days of the religion in penitential observance, believing Jesus Christ died on a Friday. And though U.S. Catholics have loosened the observance, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops adopted rules in 1966 that kept the meatless Friday stricture during Lent.

Nielsen reported in August sales of faux meat products are going mainstream. The report indicated 21% of U.S. meat buyers also buy meat alternatives, with 15% of all food sales supporting plant-based diets. Products made from spelt, seitan or lentils have generated $620 million, a fraction of traditional meat’s $96 billion. But sales of meat alternatives are going at a much more rapid clip.

More than 60% of those queried told Nielsen they’re willing to reduce their meat consumption to help stem climate change, with 43% saying they were willing to replace meat with plant-based alternatives.

The results have Chicago area grocers and restaurants seeing dollar signs. Jewel-Osco had a buy-one-get-two free Ash Wednesday promotion for Pure Farmland products. Lettuce Entertain You-owned M Burger, which began selling Impossible Burgers in 2017, said the imitation burgers are its No. 2 seller, and for Lent, it’s topping them with green chili, white cheddar and sriracha mayonnaise.

Spencer Most, marketing manager for Epic Burger, which has eight restaurants, told the Tribune meatless burgers are “perfect for people who aren’t eating meat who want to indulge without feeling guilty.” He said the Beyond Burger represents 13% of the chain’s sales.

There are some 1.2 billion Roman Catholics in the world. The Chicago area has 2.2 million, among the largest concentrations in the United States.