Since jumping on the sustainable food bandwagon about a year ago, I've put a lot of thought into how culture and diet influence each other; how what's good for the body should be good for the soul and vice versa. So, I've decided to give up meat for Lent, which starts this Wednesday and lasts until Easter on April 8th.
As little kids at Our Lady of Mercy, my friends and I almost always gave up some variation of candy or dessert for Lent. We were all doing the same thing, so no one's motivations were questioned, and we unwittingly helped each other along like grown-ups who use the buddy system to diet: there just weren't a lot of sweets being brought to school so there wasn't much temptation to break our fast. (Although this was back in those blissful days when carbs were good for you and high fructose corn syrup was way under the radar, so some things snuck their dubious way into the “healthy snacks” category that, in hindsight, probably didn’t have much more nutrition than a chocolate bunny.)
The other nice thing about the season was counting down the days until the fast was over. We knew that when Easter Sunday finally came, we'd each have a basket filled with near-Halloween levels of chocolates, and, in the immortally pretentious words of Andy Warhol, "the idea of waiting for something makes it more exciting."
This combination of cultural bond and promised reward made Lenten sacrifice easy and natural. As a grown-up, things aren't so easy anymore. Sure, everyone still has dietary restrictions, but they're all different ones, and for all different reasons, lending to a general sense of confusion and lack of success at achieving dietary goals.
I guess that's why I wanted to go back to a diet with centuries-old rules to back it up. Problem is, the rules have been changing for centuries. According to the research I did on the subject, the forty days leading up to Easter have always been a time of fasting and quiet reflection, but some traditions take those loose terms more seriously than others. In fact, there seems to be the same lack of consensus there is today on what we mean when we talk about not eating meat. The twentieth century Catholic tradition of forgoing meat on Fridays year-round didn't count fish as meat, while some Medieval churches encouraged people to go fully vegan during the fasting period. It seems that some extremists back then would even go so far as to eat only bread for a large portion of the season. (Although one would think that with that pesky bubonic plague going around, eating at least some fruits and vegetables would have been a smart move.)
As for my own rules for this month, I'll probably keep it simple: eggs and dairy stay, but no fish. Look for fun new vegetarian recipes in the weeks to come. In the meantime, anyone else making diet-related Lent resolutions?