Growing up Catholic, I ate fish before it was cool to eat fish.

On Fridays, I ate Mrs. Paul’s fish sticks, tuna noodle casserole mortared with Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup, or fish patties made from those cans of salmon with the big bone down the center. And during Lent (which begins this year on Ash Wednesday, March 6), I had fish for 40 days and 40 nights.

I first realized that pain is the name of the game for Catholics when, one Friday night, I saw my mother making her famous halibut “steaks.” She flung slices of frozen halibut onto a baking sheet as though they were horseshoes. Then she’d dab some mayonnaise on each and top that with a squirt of ketchup. A half hour in the oven and, um, dinner.

Over time, my mother taught herself to be a fabulous cook, but in those days she was just shoveling food into the mouths of nine kids, a husband and a Great Dane. Her oven was like Noah’s Ark: everything entered in pairs. Two hams. Two pans of scalloped potatoes. Two peach pies. Our family would go through two loaves of bread, two gallons of milk and a jar of peanut butter a day.

When I was young, it was a mortal sin to eat meat during Lent. A mortal sin was serious business. If you committed one and, say, crossed the street and got run over by a truck before you went to confession, you went straight to hell.

Then, around 1964, the pope decided that it was OK to eat meat during Lent (except for Ash Wednesday and Good Friday) and that it wasn’t a sin anymore. You tell me.

It’s no surprise to me that so many Catholics (or, better said, recovering Catholics) are in the food business as chefs, restaurateurs, purveyors and cookbook authors. We are trying to make amends for a childhood of apple brown betty, lime Jell-O with dabs of Miracle Whip, Knights of Columbus spaghetti dinners and pancake breakfasts, Rice Krispie and marshmallow squares, Chex party mix, lima beans and carrot and raisin salad.

I don’t believe Catholic eating habits changed because of the openness of the pope. I think everyone — pope to pauper — just got tired of eating awful food.