A couple nights ago I had a slice of cake that, while fresh-baked, must have contained at least one processed ingredient. I also recognized in retrospect that my restaurant dinner that same night (a seafood curry) probably also contained processed food, even though it was served inside a splendid ripe coconut. I’ve decided to finish out the week before Easter, but am definitely conceding that I am dragging two weary legs to this year’s Lenten finish line.
Nevertheless, I’m thankful for the chance to reflect on this challenge, and challenging it definitely was. Even now, I don’t think I’ve fully grasped what exactly I was giving up (which makes me think: what the heck was I doing this whole time?). Given what I normally eat, foregoing meat would have been much easier than processed foods, and it would also have been easier in terms of defining what can/cannot be consumed. It seems pretty obvious what “counts as” meat and what doesn’t, at least on the more unprocessed end of the food spectrum. Whether Spam is real meat, I would not know. However, my sense also was that giving up meat would have been a less rewarding/edifying choice as well, so that’s why I went the unprocessed foods route.
It’s relatively clear that some foods are unprocessed (fresh fruits and vegs, farm-fresh eggs), and conversely, that some are processed into oblivion (I’ll hate on Spam again). The trouble arose in defining the foodstuffs in between; and considering that most (75%? 90%?) of what constitutes food in the modern diet exists in that fuzzy gray middle, I was constantly forced to calculate the kosher quotient of what I was about to eat. Where was one to draw a line that was both significant and sustainable– i.e., what was that magic kosher quotient number? I don’t know. I was able to establish some useful criteria (no preservatives being key), but even then, I always came across food that I couldn’t categorically define, even by the no preservatives dictum. I was trying to draw my line on the fly, and the line squiggled all over the board.
A friend’s brief post on her own experience raised a good question I think bears repeating: can, and should, our seasons of Lent be defined not by “giving up” but by “giving toward” something? Or perhaps there’s a connection between the two that suggests they complement each other, that in fact, one cannot be done without taking into account the other. I’m left thinking if I would feel more positively about this whole thing if I had focused less on self-deprivation and more on the giving that could stem from it.