But questionable behavioral economics. That's my read on Dan Murphy's reaction to Cardinal Tim Dolan's suggestion that Catholics adopt the practice of "Meatless Fridays".
One of the most prominent—some would say most influential—prelates, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of the New York City diocese, even attached himself to the losing ticket by giving the benediction at the Republican National Convention after Mitt Romney accepted his party’s nomination. Earlier this year, Dolan garnered applause when he introduced a group of Republican politicians, including Rep. Paul Ryan, at a special Mass he celebrated—despite the fact that many other bishops have been openly critical of Ryan’s proposed federal budget, calling it “immoral” because of cuts to food and other programs that serve the poor.
Now, however, Cardinal Dolan has a bigger idea, one that I believe ought to be seriously considered: He wants Catholics to change in their devotional habits and give up meat on Fridays all year ’round.
Of course, that was the law for practicing Catholics during the 1960s, and any kid who grew up back then can attest to the endless Friday fish fries that accompanied childhood.
Personally, I think it’s a great idea. And here’s why.I always reach back to Abraham and Isaac when the term "sacrifice" is used. I agree with Dan that true sacrifices must hurt, or they have no meaning. It is not a sacrifice to give from your surplus or to vote for policies that give to those in need. It is when you do without, at cost to your own well-being that you begin to understand why sacrifice required the best, the first, the dearest to have any beneficial effect.
Giving up meat by itself doesn’t make one any holier or more devout, and even if Catholics took Cardinal Dolan’s initiative seriously, it’s a voluntary plan. Nobody’s going to be held accountable if a burger or a pepperoni pizza makes a Friday appearance on the dinner table, and given the compliance rate of Catholics with the church’s proscription against using birth control, it’s doubtful that many people would offer anything other than lip service to a call to ban Friday meat-eating.
But here’s why such a recommendation is valuable: You don’t sacrifice something that has minimal value, dietary or otherwise. Nobody would propose giving up carrots or graham crackers or even pasta, despite those products’ popularity. They’re peripheral, unimportant individually to our nutritional well-being.
Making it “mandatory” to give up meat on Fridays restores beef, pork and poultry to their rightful place as the centerpiece of our daily fare. Catholics pray to be provided their daily bread, but we all know that animal foods are more important, nutritionally and culturally, to our collective diets. [More]
That said, this cannot be good marketing news on the whole for a protein industry looking at flagging consumption and growing criticisms about the health and economics of meat-eating. Adding a day when the devout learn to adapt to meatless, and I would suspect cheaper, meals can only grease the slide toward leaving meat out on other days.
Perhaps becoming a special occasion dietary item is higher status. But it doesn't look like a sales booster to me.