fasting, or not

According to one authority, to fast means:

1.a. intr. To abstain from food, or to restrict oneself to a meagre diet, either as a religious observance or as a ceremonial expression of grief.

b. with mention of the kind of spare diet permitted. Const. on; †formerly also in, to, with, and quasi-trans. in phrase to fast bread and water.
2.a. gen. To go without food. †Also (contextually) to go without drink. Const. from.
b. Irish Hist. to fast against, upon (a person): said with reference to the custom of sitting without food or drink at the door of a debtor, or any person who refused to satisfy some lawful demand.
c. quasi-trans. in various nonce-uses.
d. trans. To cause to fast or be without food.
3. trans. To pass (time) fasting; to keep or observe (a day, etc.) as a time of abstinence. Also, to fast out. Obs.
According to another trustworthy authority: “The Church defines this [fasting] as one meal a day, and two smaller meals which if added together would not exceed the main meal in quantity. Such fasting is obligatory on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. The fast is broken by eating between meals and by drinks which could be considered food (milk shakes, but not milk). Alcoholic beverages do not break the fast; however, they seem contrary to the spirit of doing penance.” The Church doesn’t approve of liquid dinners, though this article rightly points out that while there are guidelines for fasting during Lent, there isn’t a cookie cutter mold or one right way to do it. The practice is contextual, not absolute; “good fasting” will look differently from person to person. If you’re wondering whether you’re doing it right, I like this baseline rule: “If you feel as if you are cheating, you probably are.” Guilt is a powerful, revealing thing.

Last year, I observed Lent for the first time by giving up processed foods. I wrote a few entries on the experience, which ended up being a mixed bag. It got off to a rough start, as Lent apparently started before I realized it had. But I valued the opportunity to re-establish some of the connective tissue between myself and the natural products I consumed, and I was grateful for the excuse to struggle with what “processed foods” means in the first place. In the end, though, I questioned the idea of “giving up” something in favor of the inverse notion of “giving toward,” and wondered whether framing my Lenten resolution around the latter would have led to a more fulfilling, less frustrating experience.

At any rate, I’ve decided not to abstain from anything this season, and will content myself to continue pursuing the paths of mindfulness, happiness, and creative expression that I’ve recently discovered. In reflection, I think a lot of my life thus far has involved abstinence of sorts, and I’m willfully shunning that mindset for the time being. So, bring on the Girl Scout cookies — I have 18 years worth of catching up to do. 😛

Lent: stumbling to the finish line

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.

Lent: Day 6

I think I’ve been holding up well. I really enjoy discussing my commitment with others because it gives me a chance to think more about and better articulate what I am doing. For one, I’ve realized that processed does not equal preserved. So canning, dehydrating, pickling, freezing and other such forms of preservation that do not involve processing food with unnatural ingredients are kosher. In fact, I admire the way us humans have resourcefully discovered such diverse forms of preserving food. There is nothing wrong with finding ways to make food last longer, as long as the food isn’t zapped with non-food in the process. Eating fresh, raw food may be the ultimate ideal, and maybe it’s something to strive for, but it’s not the regimen that would keep me happiest and most fulfilled. I think most people would agree with me on that.