Days: Feast and Fast
Between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day, the average
American adult will gain about 6 pounds. This means
that in a time period of a little over a month, most
Americans will eat about 21,000 more calories than they
expend. But this holiday binge is just an exaggeration
of the year-round consumer mentality that characterizes
American culture -- every day a feast, every day a holiday.
Within this culture, which has forgotten how to fast,
which indeed has forgotten even moderation, the choice
of veganism appears as extreme as the mortifications
and penances practiced by saints and martyrs in the
early centuries of Christianity.
The culture has a vague recollection of the religious
and spiritual significance of fasting, but few have
themselves practiced the fasts of Lent, Ramadan, or
the Jewish holy days, and even those fasts are less
rigorous than the restrictions of the vegan diet. It's
not surprising that a culture that has little comprehension
of religious, inner-directed fasting fails to understand
why anyone would choose a diet as restricted as veganism
-- not mandated by an authority and without a defined
endpoint -- simply in order to make the world a better
Though veganism is certainly not a religion, the vegan's
perpetual "fast" can be seen as an attempt to spiritually
balance out the endless "feasting" (on food, cars, entertainment)
of American culture. By eating consciously, vegans perform
a sort of group penance, attempting to mitigate the
damage done to animals and the environment by the business
of food production.
But this is only a metaphor, because our language has
no words for a sacrifice that is not a sacrifice, a
penance that doesn't hurt. I think most vegans would
agree that eating a plant-based diet doesn't make them
feel deprived, but joyful and creative. The vegan's
self-imposed dietary restrictions require and encourage
creativity and an adventurous approach to food.
At this time of year, veganism seems even more out
of step with the mainstream than usual -- after all,
how could a vegan gain 6 pounds nibbling on carrot sticks
at the office Christmas party? In this season of feasting,
vegans are a reminder of fasting, of mindfulness, of
compassion, values and activities important to all seasons
of the year.
Rachel H. B.
e x t e s s a y -
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