Why Do We Eat Corned Beef and Cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day? - NYCM Insurance Blog

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Mar 17, 2023

Why Do We Eat Corned Beef and Cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day?

The arrival of Saint Patrick’s Day brings with it shamrocks, leprechauns, lots of green, and pots of gold. It also comes with the abundance of one particular dish on special at restaurants everywhere—corned beef and cabbage. But why is corned beef and cabbage a Saint Patrick’s Day staple?


Despite our affinity to relate this dish with the holiday celebrating the culture of Ireland, corned beef and cabbage is actually not a national Irish dish. It may surprise you to learn that this tradition originally began and continues today not in Ireland, but in America. The dish’s path to our hearts and stomachs every Saint Patrick’s Day was forged not as a direct testament to Irish culture, but in a more roundabout way.


In the 17th-century, Saint Patrick’s Day was made an official Christian feast day and is today widely observed as a celebration of Saint Patrick and Irish culture, commemorating Saint Patrick’s supposed death on March 17 in 461 A.D. The holiday was initially made to celebrate Saint Patrick and the arrival of Christianity in Ireland, and over the years several different traditions have come to be associated with the day.


Every year parades take place across the world showcasing Irish music and culture, massive rivers are dyed to run green, Lenten restrictions for Christians on food and alcohol consumption are sometimes lifted, and for the most part the reasonings for these traditions are easy to infer. But why the focus on corned beef and cabbage?


The integration of corned beef as a dinnertime staple on Saint Patrick’s Day began in the late 19th-century, after the Great Famine in Ireland caused millions of Irish to immigrate to America. At the time, Saint Patrick’s Day was actually celebrated more in America by Irish immigrants than by the Irish living in their homeland, as immigrants were eager to celebrate their Irish heritage from afar.


To underscore the celebration, Irish-Americans were in need of a meal worthy enough to enjoy on their feast day but still within their often limited price range. The meal of choice among Irish-Americans in the late 19th-century was salted pork and cabbage, but bacon could be expensive and difficult to find for immigrants in America.


Not to be deterred, the Irish-Americans resorted to corned beef: a salt-cured brisket of beef that the Irish were familiar with, having produced the bulk of the corned beef that was traded and enjoyed in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland through the 19th-century. Although corned beef wasn’t what the people of Ireland wanted to enjoy at the time–ironically, it found a place at the table of Irish-American immigrants.


The tradition stuck. Even as the food industry evolved and immigrants became more established in their communities, every year on Saint Patrick’s Day many people return to the familiarity of this old favorite for their feast. By combining the enthusiasm to celebrate Irish heritage with a do-what-you-can-with-what-you-have attitude, a new tradition was born.