Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Hard and Fast

Editor's Note: This is a blog about food, so in a post-modern sense, I ought to be able to write about the absence of food too, right?

Yesterday I fasted for Lent. Usually when I choose to fast I make it from bedtime one day until dinner the next day, but the group I was fasting with chose sun-up to sun-down. That meant breakfast was allowed, so although it is Spring Break, I set an alarm to make sure I got out of bed with enough time to eat before meteorological sun rise. The orange juice, egg-and-toast taco, and yogurt with fruit and muesli were delicious.

And then I didn't eat for 13 hours. The group had decreed a food fast to allow for liquids to stay hydrated. Figuring nourishing liquids like juice and milk were off limits, I stuck to three cups of tea and a stick of gum spaced across the day.

The point of fasting during Lent--as during Ramadan--is to imitate the Prophet in the desert. Some believe denying "the flesh" can elevate them to a higher spiritual plane, but I fast for more mundane reasons. First, it's an exercise in self-control. Despite what my stomach was grumbling a few hours before sunset, I will not (and did not) die of hunger.

Second, it allows me to experience my physicality in different ways. During previous fasts I found that I miss the feeling of food in my mouth. (If I ever eat when I'm bored, it must be because my brain and my tongue are ganging up on me.) This time, rather than rush to still my hunger pains, I reveled at the thought of how good it was going to feel when I quelled them in several hours. [Edit: That was all very well and good in the middle of the day, but by the end I was actually bored with being hungry!]

Third, fasting reminds me how lucky I am to have constant access to good food: 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, from my well-stocked pantry to my refrigerator to grocery stores and restaurants in easy walking and driving distance. While I appreciate that privilege, this one-day exercise did not give me insight into the everyday reality of hunger for millions of people here and abroad.

I would have broken fast half an hour earlier than I did (and with better food!), but I was helping with the Brownie Girl Scouts when the sun officially went down, so I settled for a packaged of creme cookies and an apple. Once home I had left-over Pechakucha and Old Bay-seasoned, home-made popcorn for dinner.

Perhaps my productivity was down on account of a little headache and light-headedness, but I certainly had no end of formatting and emailing and other mindless tasks to do as I prepare to deposit my dissertation. The group will fast again on Maundy Thursday, although I have to decide whether to participate, since I am supposed to be giving a big symposium paper that day. Maybe the adrenalin rush will carry me through? Maybe it won't be that hard to fast.

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