Week One – Fasting Food
by Katie Anderson
It feels fitting to begin this Lent season with the stereotypical fast – food. For me and maybe for you too, my early understanding of fasting had very little do to with God and much more to do with dieting or even disordered eating hiding under the guise of spirituality. But as I enter Lent, I’m interested in redeeming my view of fasting into what it is intended to be, and for me, that needs to start with food.
When we change our food patterns during a fast, we intend to reorient our thinking around food’s role in our lives. Our hunger and cravings are physical reminders to turn our eyes to God and reflect on His goodness, His provision, and His desire to redeem food for us as individuals and for His world. We undergo a purposeful emptying. As Richard Rohr writes, “emptiness in and of itself isn’t enough. The point of emptiness is to get ourselves out of the way so that Christ can fill us up.”
This is of course much easier said than done. There are two main messages I am reflecting on in anticipation of our week of food related fasts.
God is my Savior, not food.
In our culture, it is easy to fall into two equally problematic camps that make food’s role in our lives too large. In one camp, food becomes our coping mechanism. We use food to feel better about our stress or our disappointments; eating becomes our comfort object. In the other camp, food is the god of health. We obsess about calories, diets, eliminating and restricting; we think that we can control our own mortality if only we find the magic diet cure. In both situations, we “super-size” the role of food in our hearts.
When we fast, we can recalibrate on both sides. Our body’s cravings remind us that God is our ultimate sustenance, comfort and protector. We lean on Him for our health and provision, and our view of food becomes right-sized again. Maybe this Lent we can spend some time praying through where food is taking up too much room in our lives, and ask God to empty us so that Christ can fill us up again.
Modern food systems are broken, and God wants to redeem them
There is a third camp as well – one where we just don’t think much about food at all. In this category, food choices happen in the background of our lives without consideration or reflection. This is an easy pattern for me to fall into: I’ve never lived with food insecurity, I’ve never grown a significant portion of my own food, and I have six different Harris Teeters within 10 minutes of my house. This makes it too easy for me to take my food for granted, including the people and resources that got it to my plate. This Lent season,we can begin to uncover the hidden stories behind our food so that we can make more conscious and just choices. Here are a few considerations:
Moreover, food production contributes to 70% of global water use, 75% of deforestation and about 40% of the polluted U.S. drinking water supply. The irony is that our modern incentives and power structures in the food system are undercutting the very natural resources that they depends on: healthy soils, clean and abundant water, and a stable climate. As one example, a two-degree rise in global temperatures is estimated to reduce crop yields around 30 percent. Fasting from certain foods, specifically meat, during Lent provides an opportunity to reconsider how our choices impact our planet.
Food insecurity and hunger: Nearly one billion people globally suffer from food insecurity, which means they are not able to consistently afford or obtain nutritious food. While many of these people live in other countries, nearly 15 percent of the U.S. population is food insecure, including 17 million children. I spent a summer in college in a rural town in India and was confronted for the first time with extreme poverty. I remember experiencing intense culture shock in the grocery store after I came home. Here, we have an entire aisle devoted to different varieties of cereal, but people across the globe didn’t have access to proper nutrition or sanitary water. This Lent season, as you change your food habits, let your cravings remind you of God’s beloved children in our neighborhoods and globally that need food. Consider how we can build God’s kingdom by feeding His people.
Human rights in modern agriculture: Modern slavery and child-labor also hides deep within our food’s supply chains. While it is hard to pin down specific numbers, the Department of State consistently uncovers slavery in the production of palm oil, cocoa, shrimp and other major commodities. It would be easy to assume this is far away in other countries, but the U.S. is not innocent. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers has liberated over 1,200 workers held against their will as farm laborers, mostly in the Southeastern U.S. Migrant workers or homeless U.S. citizens are recruited to work long-hours with wages as low as $20 a week, and are unable to flee due to coercion, indebtedness, or threat of violence. Spend some time reading about these tragedies at the Coalition’s website or this NPR article, and then pray specifically for the safety and wellbeing of the people who grow your food.
Like so many topics, when the problems we see in this world come into focus, it can be incredibly overwhelming – especially since we all have to eat! That is why fasting at Lent can be so powerful. We can consciously make choices that are better for the planet and for people, even if just for a week. Reducing your meat consumption or food waste, supporting local farmers who are using good practices, or asking your favorite companies what they are doing to halt these problems in their supply chains can be great ways to engage in this topic. We can become “empty” so that God can fill us, and in doing so, we can help bring a piece of His vision for the Kingdom to fruition on earth.
Prayer: God, thank you for making the invisible visible to us, even if it is painful to see. We pray for everyone and everything impacted by our food system. As we empty ourselves of certain food luxuries this week, tie our hearts more to the hungry, to the enslaved, and to the planet that supports us. Remind us of our prosperity and help us see how we can share with others because we know that whatever we do for the least of these, we do for you. In Jesus name I pray, Amen.
This week’s guest writer/contributor is Katie Anderson. She and her husband Scott and their daughter Abby are precisely the kind of people who make Ekklesia a better faith community. Katie works for the Environmental Defense Fund to reduce the environmental impacts of food production.
- “Global Issues: Food Security” — Peace Corps.
- “How Climate Change Will Alter Our Food” — Earth Institute, Columbia University.
- “Your Food Choices Can Have a Big Climate Impact” — Inside Climate News.
- Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (Memoir) — by Barbara Kingsolver
- Omnivores Dilemma — by Michael Pollan
- In Defense of Food — by Michael Pollan
- Food and Faith: A Theology of Eating — by Duke Divinity prof. Norman Wirzba
This week’s documentary recommendation is FOOD, Inc. It is currently available on HULU and AMAZON VIDEO.
If you’d like to only eat seven foods for this week, here are some potential meal ideas for you, based on draft food list that you can tailor.
Foods: Rice or Quinoa, Beans, Eggs, Spinach (or more broadly, Salad), Apples and two items of your choice. I am picking carrots and onions; Stephanie Capps chose chicken and Texas Pete when she did it. Do what feels best for you. I’m also allowing myself to use cooking oil/butter, salt, pepper and garlic powder in moderation, and will be continuing to feed my daughter her regular diet.
- Scrambled eggs with sautéed veggies (Cook veggies first. Scramble the eggs and pour over the veggies, then cook it all together with salt and pepper.)
- Rice/Quinoa Bowls: Rice and cooked veggies (sautéed spinach, roasted carrots) topped with over-easy eggs.
- Rice/Quinoa and Beans (self explanatory, I will add caramelized onions to the beans)
- Frittata (see below for an easy to modify recipe)
- Fried patty of black beans, quinoa, and a scrambled egg. Mix together and fry like a fritter/thick pancake. Stephanie says you can do this with quinoa, eggs and Texas Pete too.
- Spinach salad with carrot, apple and hard boiled eggs (Stephanie says you can make a dressing with pureed apples mixed with water; I will allow myself a simple vinaigrette of olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt, pepper and garlic powder.)
- Snacks: Carrots (fresh or roasted), apples (Fresh or baked), and hard boiled egg.
- Preheat broiler on low.
- Chop ½ medium onion.
- Heat cooking oil in a 9-10 inch over-safe skillet. Sauté the onion until translucent.
- Add ½ cup starchy vegetable on top of onion (I would use chopped carrots and/or beans in my list. You could also use potatoes, sweet potato, butternut squash, etc).
- Add 3 cups spinach (or kale). Reduce heat to low and continue cooking, covered, about 5 minutes. Add water if it seems too dry. Season with salt and pepper.
- Beat 5 eggs together and season with salt/pepper. Pour evenly on top of the mixture.
- Cook on low heat for 2 minutes without stirring.
- Place skillet under broiler on a rack in the middle of the oven. As soon as the eggs are firm, it is done (about 2-3 minutes).