Thursday, January 21, 2010

Guilty Pleasures, God’s Hedonism, and Fasting

Not long ago (before the “Salt Files”), my mom posted on God’s hedonism—commenting on food and furthering some thoughts Lewis entertained in The Screwtape Letters. Monday’s gospel reading contained Christ’s commentary on his disciples having no need to fast while the bridegroom was with them, and those who have followed this week's gospel readings have heard a good bit of Jesus’s considerations on the Sabbath. Which brings me to the issue of fasting; not, quite frankly, one of my favorite things by instinct. Some recent recommendations to fast and donate the money saved to the suffering people of Haiti have brought the issue of fasting back to my mind (as has the awareness that Lent is really just around the corner!), and have reminded me of its purpose.
I spent my junior year of college abroad—in Florence, Italy. The food (not surprisingly) was extremely good (though I once joked to a friend, during a very active vacation, that it wasn’t that the food was so inherently great, it was that you were always so hungry when you ate it). Which brings me to the focus of today’s reflection: one of my most memorable and guiltiest food pleasures. One of the best meals I had the whole year I lived in Italy was on Good Friday. My friends and I had spent most of the day reflecting on the Lord’s Passion in a very engaged and active way: I was part of a choir that sang during a lengthy Via Crucis whose path went up the hills around Florence. After the Via Crucis was done, we raced back to our apartment to get our things since we were staying with my roommate Raffaella’s family in Rome for the Easter weekend. When we arrived at her parents’ Roman home a couple of hours later, her mother presented us with a wonderful Caprese salad of fresh mozzarella and tomatoes with basil leaves and good bread to go with it. Now, a Caprese salad is tasty on any day, but when you haven’t really eaten all day, it is *unbelievable*. I devoured that salad with an ecstasy that made me a little uncomfortable. But that very enjoyment I experienced reminded me that fasting is useful, even for hedonists. Abstaining from food for a period reminds us that we are not as dependent on eating as we think we are: we will survive a day without our usual three squares (or second breakfasts!). Fasting reminds us that our engagement with food is not purely instinctive: we have choices about what and how we eat: while food is necessary to our lives, we have a tremendous amount of flexibility in how we respond to that need—we’re not just animals. Fasting, in the end, serves many great purposes: 1) reminding us that our relationship with food is more than purely instinctive; 2) reminding us that we are more dependent on our God than we are on bread; and 3) reminding us just how tasty food really is!
None of this can be bad! And if we save some money to donate to the suffering, it's even greater!


  1. What a fabulous, interesting post!

  2. what type of tomatoes would you recommend using for this salad?

  3. Regarding the tomatoes, the short answer is tasty ones, and not too soft! The longer answer is that, for me, it's a seasonal salad-- in the Northeast where I live anyway: the tomatoes just aren't good enough in the winter for me to bother most of the time. It's one of those salads where the tastiness of the individual ingredients is a decisive factor. But if you can get good tomatoes it's worth a shot. You don't want tomatoes that are too ripe, since they will just mush themselves all over the place--and generally, you want to alternate mozzarella slice, tomato slice, basil leaf when you make this salad, and super-juicy tomatoes will make that pretty much impossible...

  4. Wonderful post to revisit on Good Friday. I have just one slight "complaint" -- your assertion that we're not "just" animals. Nothing lowly about being a good animal, actually....