Fish sandwiches equal Lent: Maybe there's a religion hook in this meatless burger trend?

Fish sandwiches equal Lent: Maybe there's a religion hook in this meatless burger trend?

First, a confession: Which is a good thing during Great Lent.

I totally admit that the following headline caught my eye because, as Eastern Orthodox folks, my family is currently in the middle of the great pre-Pascha (Easter in the West) in which we strive to fast from meat and dairy. It’s a season in which the Orthodox have been known to debate the merits of various tofu brands and ponder the miracle that is apple butter.

Every now and then, people like me end up traveling — which means looking for Lenten options in the rushed, fallen world of fast food. Thus, you can understand why I noticed this headline in the business section of The New York Times: “Behold the Beefless ‘Impossible Whopper’.” Here’s the overture:

OAKLAND, Calif. — Would you like that Whopper with or without beef?

This week, Burger King is introducing a version of its iconic Whopper sandwich filled with a vegetarian patty from the start-up Impossible Foods. The Impossible Whopper, as it will be known, is the biggest validation — and expansion opportunity — for a young industry that is looking to mimic and replace meat with plant-based alternatives.

Impossible Foods and its competitors in Silicon Valley have already had some mainstream success. The vegetarian burger made by Beyond Meat has been available at over a thousand Carl’s Jr. restaurants since January and the company is now moving toward an initial public offering.

As I dug into this story, I had this thought: I realize that there is a religion angle here for strange people like me. But would the Times team include any kind of reference to the other religion angles linked to lots of other people who avoid beef?

Obviously, there are millions of Hindus in America and many of them avoid beef, for religious reasons. Then there are Buddhists who are vegetarians or vegans. Among Christian flocks, many Seventh-day Adventists strive to be vegetarians.

Then there is the Lent thing. Is there a religion angle to several fast-food empires — even Chick-fil-A, for heaven’s sake — emphasizing fish sandwiches during this Christian penitential season? #DUH

So I wasn’t looking for lots of religion-beat style content in this story. But maybe a paragraph noting the increasingly complex religious landscape in the American food marketplace?

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Live coverage of Ash Wednesday stories? Be on alert for ironic theological twists out there

Live coverage of Ash Wednesday stories? Be on alert for ironic theological twists out there

Ah, yes. Another year, another trip around the liturgical calendar. That means another request from an editor for an Ash Wednesday feature or two.

Based on my own experiences in newsrooms, I have always wondered if the tradition of news organizations doing Ash Wednesday stories has something to do with the high number of ex-Catholics or cultural Catholics (as well as Episcopalians) in newsrooms. Who will show up for work in the afternoon with ashes on her or his forehead? What will people say (in a post-Ted Turner world)?

Then again, maybe Ash Wednesday is a story year after year because it's an assignment that comes with easy, automatic art. 

Finally, there is the fact that Ash Wednesday and Lent are highly serious religious traditions (think meditations on death and repentance) for the people that take faith seriously. However, for some reason, it also seems easy for people to tweak and/or laugh at these traditions. What editor doesn't want to smile in an ironic sort of way at an "ashes to go" lede? And there is an endless possibility of trendy (and stupid) variations on the "What are you going to give up for Lent" non-traditional tradition. 

Then again, it is possible (#Gasp) to do stories on the actual meaning of Lent and it's relevance to issues in our day and age.

Yes, ponder the spiritual implications of Ash Wednesday selfies. This very interesting advance story -- "#Ashtags: When posting Ash Wednesday photos, use your head" -- comes from Catholic News Service, via an online boost from Religion News Service. Here is the overture:

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Ash Wednesday seems to offer contradictory messages. The Gospel reading for the day is about not doing public acts of piety but the very act of getting ashes -- and walking around with them -- is pretty public.
This becomes even less of a private moment when people post pictures of themselves online with their ashes following the #ashtag trend of recent years.

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Fasting for Ted Cruz: GOP presidential contender's appeal raises spiritual and political questions

Fasting for Ted Cruz: GOP presidential contender's appeal raises spiritual and political questions

With crucial primaries in Ohio and Florida today, the lead front-page story in the Dallas Morning News concerns Texas Sen. Ted Cruz's prospects.

The Morning News reports:

GLEN ELLYN, Ill. — Ted Cruz’s future hinges on contests Tuesday in Ohio and Florida. He’ll almost certainly lose both states.
The key is whether Donald Trump wins. If he knocks out John Kasich and Marco Rubio in their home states, it will set up the two-man contest for the Republican presidential nomination that Cruz has craved for months — but it also might pad Trump’s delegate lead so much that the Texan can’t capitalize.
Polls show Kasich in a close fight and Rubio in deep trouble. Stumping in Tampa on Monday, Trump declared that if he wins Ohio and Florida, “It’s pretty much over.”
Most analysts agree, though Cruz vows to soldier on.
Trump has won a majority of the contests already. He’s collected more than a third of the delegates needed to secure the nomination on a first ballot.
The Cruz camp remains convinced the senator has a shot not just of forcing a floor fight at the Cleveland convention in July, but also of winning enough delegates beforehand to clinch the nomination.

The politics are definitely interesting. But it was a different, smaller Cruz story -- this one on Page 9A of the Dallas newspaper -- that tingled your friendly neighborhood GetReligionista's spidey sense. The headline on that one:

Fast for Cruz, prayer team urges in email

And the subhead:

Candidate ignores query on whether he was forgoing food

OK, obviously this, too, is a political story. I mean, that's the case with any news report about someone running for president, right? I get that. But isn't there a potential -- even a need -- for the Morning News to address the religion angle, as well?

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Should religious believers keep their fasting a secret?

Should religious believers keep their fasting a secret?


I’m beginning to fast and was wondering if I should hide it from people because of the verse that says to. I don’t know if I can tell people without the intent to show off.


We’re heading into Lent 2015, the annual season when Christians are most likely to undertake fasting, which is part of most religious traditions though now somewhat neglected in the West. For Christians, such times of abstinence from food are a spiritual discipline intended to foster communion with God, purification from sin, and love toward others.

Haeven is referring to words of Jesus in the “Sermon on the Mount” (Gospel of Matthew 6:16-18): “When you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by men but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

Let’s unpack some of what New Testament experts tell us about this.

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Is a global fast for Syria a local news story?

Pope Francis made a global petition on Sept. 1 asking that everyone, regardless of religion or location, to fast and pray during the whole day of Sept. 7 for world peace, particularly in Syria.

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