My Ode to lent

I was raised Roman Catholic and for those of you not familiar with Roman Catholic tradition, the 40-days before Easter Sunday is called Lent. During Lent you traditionally “give something up” and as a child I always gave up candy each year. I can’t tell you what the bible teaching is behind this tradition, but in my own mind it was about making a sacrifice and about making myself purer by giving up something that wasn’t good for me anyway.

Anyway, to get back to what inspired this posting, I’m a subscriber to a great magazine called Ode: an independent magazine about the people and ideas that are changing the world. What I love about Ode is that it is such a positive magazine…it always lifts me up and inspires me to learn about the amazing, and often counter-intuitive, things that are going on around the world. For instance, this month’s magazine had an article about cities that are solving traffic problems by eliminating signs, lights and rules. Apparently, the rationale is that by giving people less rules, they will take on more responsibility…and people who live in these cities love it! I think that’s so cool, talk about thinking outside the box.

Well, this month’s Ode had a simple nod to the tradition of fasting in the spring that is often a part of the religious celebrations of this season. It talked about how the origin of fasting was really less of a spiritual tradition and more of a reality caused by the fact that the winter stores of food were often used up by spring-time when we lived a more agrarian life. The Ode article asked readers to consider showing solidarity and empathy for the millions of humans who don’t get enough to eat by eating less and eating simpler during this season.

Well, I’m not sure why, but for some reason this idea spoke to me. Maybe it’s the memories of my Catholic upbringing, but I decided to pay homage to Lent this year by taking ODE’s suggestion to heart by eating less, eating simply and eating repetitively. Unfortunately, by the time I read the article there was only one week left in Lent, but since I’ve never done anything like this before I also thought that 5-days sounded like a reasonable start so I was okay with that. When I brought up the idea to my husband he was all for it and thought this was a great idea until I reminded him that it also meant no coffee or beer. You should have seen his face when I said the word “beer”…I think he might have actually turned pale.

So the Monday-Friday before Easter we did our modified fast. Our plan was to eat vegan, eat the same thing every day and eat smaller portions. We ate cereal with soy milk for breakfast, had lentil soup with soy bacon for lunch and stir-friend greens with brown rice for dinner. I only drank water but my husband said he couldn’t do without coffee, so he had coffee. Now I’ve eaten very strict diets for extended periods of time in my life before and so I thought the 5-days would breeze by easily, but boy was I wrong. Before when I’d eaten a modified diet it was because I personally had something to gain (a smaller waist, more energy, whatever…) I’d never modified my diet as a way to empathize with others or teach myself a lesson, and that mental shift, as I found out, makes a huge difference!

Day 1 was the hardest. I don’t know what it was that was so difficult since I regularly eat that menu in any given day of the month, but the “mind game” of knowing that was all I could eat for 5-days straight made the food incredibly bland in my mind and I was obsessed with the idea of all the foods I couldn’t eat. My husband floated the idea of only doing the fast for that single day. His sound logic was that “we’ve learned the lesson that we obviously take the bounty and variety of our food for granted, can’t we move on now?” I told him NO WAY…I couldn’t believe what wusses we were and if we couldn’t do this for 5-days we didn’t deserve all the food we get anyway! He agreed and we kept going.

By Tuesday I had a mild headache and was achingly hungry all day long. Although the idea had been to not eat anything except the menu we outlined, it became clear that our bodies were having difficulty functioning on the reduced calories so by Tuesday evening I broke down and had a brown rice tortilla which took the edge off my headache. On Wednesday we agreed to add fruit into our diet and we also decided to not be so strict on the portions. When Wednesday was over we were practically dancing in the street at the fact that we were more than half-way done with this experiment. The fruit and larger portions made the hunger and headaches go away, but it’s amazing how spoiled we are with the variety of our food. The lentil soup and brown rice stir fry that we normally love any given day was completely unappreciated by us during the last few days. Eating our food had become a job rather than something we enjoyed. We both couldn’t believe how much we take the quantity, quality and variety of our food for granted everyday.

At the end of the week I did a rough calculation of how much money we saved by eating this way and sent a check to the LA Mission. The modified fast was such a great way to learn, in a really visceral way, our ungrateful attitude towards food, and we walked away much humbled by the luck of our bounty. We’re going to try and incorporate this modified fasting ritual into our year on a regular basis to remind us to be grateful of all that we have. And now, on to the rice crispy treats…

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