FOOD FOR CONTEMPLATION AND GROUNDING
by Jnana Hodson
Through much of the history of the Society of Friends, Quakers lived under stick codes of conduct that shaped their distinctive Plain Speech and Plain Dress, along with a host of less visible restrictions. Apart from the Peace Testimony and sets of guidelines that would have us not swear oaths, gamble, live ostentatiously, indulge in most of the fine arts or other entertainments, and so on, those days are long past.
When it comes to food, Friends have long held to the “eat to live, not live to eat” standard, one nonetheless accompanied by a delight in fresh produce, good cheese, and gardening itself. Some of this outlook is guided by our testimonies of simplicity and, by extension, honesty, as well as a respect for quality rather than quantity. Alcohol has had a more varied history, given that it was a basic of daily life at the time the movement emerged in the mid-1600s. Initially, the offense was for “being disguised by hard liquor,” rather than imbibing itself. Only later did much of the Quaker world abolish the consumption of alcoholic beverages altogether. As social drinking has become more widely acceptable in recent decades, so, too, has much of that opposition abated in Quaker households.
That’s not to say individual Friends don’t follow dietary disciplines. Vegans and vegetarians are common in our communities, even before we get to the medically prescribed limitations of gluten, lactose, diabetic, allergies, and more. (Trying to plan for a dinner of potluck can be trying these days – should we save that for a later discussion?) And, a step away, smoking is always discouraged.
As I discussed in Around the Table, a Dec. 17, 2015, posting in the Talking Money series on my Chicken Farmer I Still Love You blog, the issues of feasting and fasting, as well as dietary limitations, are major components of religious practice and awareness. To my thinking, apart from the reasoning behind a ban on one item or another is the essential strengthening of an ability to say No – to curb one’s initial desires and impulses, a virtue that can be conveyed to more difficult decisions in one’s life. We start with the simple things, after all.
Fasting, a common practice among early Friends, is a cleansing I came to appreciate through my residency in a yoga ashram in the early ’70s. It can also be quite liberating and joyful. You’d be surprised.
More recently, I’ve had to acknowledge another kind of fasting – one in which food is not totally avoided but instead the daily diet is greatly curbed, with entire categories of food perhaps removed from cooking or eating.
Looking at the complex regulations the Eastern Orthodox churches impose for Advent and Lent, my wife remarked that vegan would generally fit right in. Since we’ve already (voluntarily) been observing Advent and Lent by abstaining from alcohol, we decided to switch to a vegan cuisine for last Advent, something we’ve considered returning to with Lent, which starts Monday. Yes, I do miss the milk in my coffee, but I’d been intending to reduce the sugar intake anyway – while sweets themselves aren’t off limits, sometimes one step makes another one easier, too, as I’ve found here.
We recognize there are two ways to approach this. One is to go for self-mortification, a bit of suffering, if you will. The other is to delight in many of the options that get overlooked in the abundance we enjoy daily. We’ve been intending to eat more beans, for instance. How do we rise to the challenge? What do we have to use instead of butter or olive oil? Is margarine cheating? How about coconut milk? You get the picture.
Since the Orthodox do relax the Advent rules at times during the week, we’re pondering similar with fish and (other) meat – once or twice a week, at most, and then in small quantities – as an alternative approach . Well, we will confess that Thanksgiving Day was a big exception in our Advent observance. The rules for Great Lent, by the way, are much stricter than those imposed in the approach to Christmas. How do the Orthodox do it?
Anyone have similar thoughts on Kosher or Halal or the yogic considerations of Satvic, Rajasic, or Tomasic or any of the other places where spiritual practice meets earthly tastes? Pipe up, please!