The transition from the excesses of Carnival to the forty-day period of Lent is an abrupt one, marked by the ceremony of Ash Wednesday.
The ash cross on the forehead, the words, once spoken to Adam and Eve, “You are dust and to dust you shall return’ introduce the believer to a period of self-examination and spiritual preparation for the holiest of Christian events, namely Easter.
The forty days, give or take, commemorate the forty days Jesus spent in the desert, fasting and overcoming the temptations of the devil. Nowadays, emulated with various degrees of intensity, according to local and historical practices, lent has for most of us become a mishmash of rules, more or less adapted to our current lifestyle. Excl. the hardcore core …
Lent is marked, firstly, by fasting i.e. refraining form both food and festivities and, secondly, by acts of penance, the repentance of sins. In practice this means controlling our food intake, praying and giving (our time, effort or money) to a charitable work, a modern variant of the old fashioned ‘almsgiving’.
Lent as such has become an uncommon word and is nowadays mostly replaced simply by ‘fast’. And fasting has become fashionable. Intermittent fasting, going from skipping a meal to the alternate day fast, the 5:2 fast, the warrior fast, the water fast, the juice fast, the detox fast, whichever fast you adhere to, every form of fasting is a form of abstinence and abstinence involves discipline and a certain level of suffering. Lent is after all a season of grief.
The difference is of course that lent is imposed; it is a solemn observance. Fasting on the other hand is a choice, mostly inspired by our girth.
But no matter. One meal once a day, one main meal interspersed with additional collations, no meat on Fridays, … the truth of all abstinence lies of course in the spirit and intention.
Visiting your favourite seafood ‘eat all you can’ buffet on a Friday? I don’t think so.
No candy on a weekday but a tub of ice cream on Sunday? Think again.
And yes, a chicken is an animal thus chicken is meat. Simple.
As for eggs, don’t ask.
This year, a number of politicians, celebs and health guru’s have decided to promote a ‘forty day without meat’ pledge, inspired not by abstinence but by climate and environmental reasons. Lent is now but circumstantial.
Butchers of the world, I sympathize.
But jokes aside, is this a good thing? Here the intent argument reappears. And good intentions alone do not suffice.
No meat, but what else? And is the ‘else’ environmentally sane?
Salad is a water-hungry product. In a calorie comparison (two iceberg lettuces equal two rashers of bacon), its prep, washing, packaging, transport and storage costs, and thus carbon footprint, are indefensible especially if we take into account the likelihood of the end product ending in a bin.
As for unethical foods? Try the avocado, aka blood guacamole, almonds, cashews, soy, coffee, quinoa, pre-packed fruits and vegetables, mineral water, winter strawberries, out-of-season asparagus, …
Who said it was easy, being consistent?
Respect for all those who find the killing of animals morally revolting and live by this credo. Respect for those who believe food intake is a question of balance and variety and who have the drive and energy not to just quickly throw a slab of meat in the pan in order to feed the family but venture into the world of the fresh and the wholesome and who do so, consistently, all the time.
In 2009, the Archbishop of Modena, Italy urged people to stop texting and gaming during lent as a way of penance. Badly received – how about a ban on electricity, cars, or other mod cons – other bishops have proposed a ban on mineral water or a special effort in recycling.
No meat for forty days? No SMS? No Evian? Abstinence, a pledge, a strange mélange of the personal, the worldly, the temporal, the eternal and the fashionable. Could it mean the start to a new awareness? Perhaps. For forty days at least.