my husband complains about the ash wednesday fasting part, and also wants an all-meat diet on saturdays. :rolleyes: he should be glad we're not eastern rite. but seriously, there's been a package of bacon in the fridge unopened for a few weeks, and I had no craving for it until wed. and then again fri. :rotfl:
basically, as kslat noted, meat was a huge luxury. sure, because you had to own land and have money to feed and water any animals you wanted to raise, but also because that whole area was pretty barren - there really weren't wild animals available to hunt that also fit the "cloven hoof, chews cud" requirement. fish was easy to catch and abundant, and was probably eaten at nearly every meal - but again, they could only eat fish with both scales and fins. then there's the symbolism of giving up flesh and fasting, which texas roofer listed.
abstinence from meat is required on ash wed and fridays of lent (those over 14), and fasting on ash wed and good friday to mean one full meal, and any other food taken throughout the day to be less than another full meal (those between 18 and 59), with dispensations for pregnant/nursing women and people with special dietary needs (illness, dietary restrictions, physical laborers, etc).
I had this drilled into my head from when I was little - there was never meat allowed, and before I was 14 I wasn't required to fast but I wasn't allowed any food between meals, and certainly nothing in those meals like soda, chips, or candy. it was also made clear that I should be glad we weren't living "back in the day" when things were stricter.
eventually I looked that stuff up, and learned a bunch more, which of course now makes the "almost two meal" fast seem like nothing at all!
1) black fasting used to be the norm. One meal after sunset, no meat/dairy/eggs, and bread and water only during holy week.
2) in the 10th century, the meal was allowed at 3pm, and in the 14th century was moved up to noon. soon after a small bit was allowed in the evening, and by the 19th century a small morning bit in the morning as well.
3) fasting and abstinence was required on all wednesday and fridays of the year. eventually wednesday was ignored, and friday's requirement was turned into any act of penance. abstinence also used to be required for lenten saturdays. for 1-2, see newadvent.org/cathen/02590c.htm, 3 was found on several websites with no actual citation. I think the all friday requirement changed with vatican II but I'm not sure about the others.
4) I also read that the remaining days of lent traditionally only had meat in one meal, but I couldn't find a citation for that, either.
also, the eastern orthodox currently abstain from meat, eggs, dairy, fish, olive oil, and wine on all weekdays of lent. there are slightly different requirements for other days - see abbamoses.com/fasting.html
all this makes me feel rather wussy, especially because modern western meals are way bigger than they used to be!