I was in the seminary before I realised that abstinence meant not eating meat.
There are just two days of abstinence now, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. I am sure that the Church introduced abstainence as a sign of solidarity with the poor but not just that. It is also about Life being sacred. The slaughtering customs of Judaism and Islam both involve prayer, a recognition that killing is somehow treading upon sacred ground, something we need at least to draw a breath on before doing it, it is not something that is ever to be taken lightly. Good Friday, the day God is slain on the Cross we cannot think of taking life or spilling blood, the Church applies the same rigour to Ash Wednesday.
In the 21st century when meat comes packaged in such a way that it is disconnected with anything that might have once been alive, the Bird Flu outbreak in the Norfolk turkey sheds reminded us how cheap and how inconsequential the breath of life has become. I used to shoot a bit, I was very against the hunting ban because of its consequences on rural life, with these activities there is a certain effort or even ceremony involved in the killing. I love eating meat, I think there is something a little odd about vegetarianism but the industrial scale of production - 10,000 turkeys killed on one farm - and the very cheapness of meat is an indictment of our society.
The traditional Christian attitude to eating flesh was that it was for feast days because it was expensive, and not just financially, those who eat it were in a direct relationship with those who killed it and in the past one invariable had a "personal" relationship with the animal that was killed, one reared it, maybe even named it or one hunted it, along with the choice cfuts there was also the blood gore and intestines.
I know this is one of my rather cranky things but one of my Lenten things is trying to cut back on my carniverous activity to try and re-acquire a sense of the the holiness of a lamb chop or a pork pie.