Members of the LDS church are asked to fast the first Sunday of each month. The fast begins after dinner on Saturday and concludes with dinner on Sunday. Along with the fasting, members are asked to share their testimony at church and spend the day connecting with God. (I want to make a note here – children do not fast until they are of an age where they can actively choose to do so.)
The reality is not so spiritual. It’s a day when most members spend their time waiting for the day to be over. While there are some wonderful testimonies shared, the hunger fog affects most. The testimony time can be very quiet – with everyone looking around for that brave soul to stand up and help pass the time.
In my house, I can’t fast. My blood sugar just doesn’t hold out for that time. I have tried but the end result is not pretty so my husband makes sure that I get something to eat while he fasts. My father fasts as well. When church is over, they start the bingefest.
We go without as a sacrifice. We are also asked to contribute the money we would have spent on those meals we skipped to those in need of food.
Last month, I just thought it was not working. Not with my family. How can I make it a more spiritual event? More importantly, how can we use this time to understand the plight of those less fortunate and not end the day in opulence?
The answer came to me – we could spend the day eating like those who are truly impoverished. I had just read the book The Rent Collector – that is a story of true poverty. While it’s still fictional, the characters are real. Their plight is real. The story of what they ate called to me. The joy of having extra money so they could add meat to their dinner. The rice meal after meal.
So I did some research. What I discovered was quite interesting and said a lot about the understanding that those who have vs those who do not.
I found some challenges for those in America to eat like those who are hungry. I’m sure you have heard about some of the food bank challenges (such as the Gwenyth Paltrow “scandal”). The one that stuck in my head was one that had the person eat nothing but rice and beans. Plain rice and beans. After so many meals (I can’t remember how long but I think it might have even been after 24 hours), the family becomes “sponsored” and gets seasonings and some veggies. The stories from those who took the challenge actually made me angry. The lack of food was hard but they had choices, they didn’t have to do these challenges so they did them and complained the entire time.
But what struck me most was the ideal that “poor” people only eat plain foods. Where were the onions? The salt? The spices? Being poor meant you had nothing but rice and beans. Every country has condiments. I can almost bet that every poor family in America has a bottle of ketchup. Why wouldn’t that be the same for other countries? Where’s the soy or fish sauce?
So, I decided to research the foods of the countries and what people really ate. These sites were almost the polar opposite – showcasing the variety and expanse of foods in their country. To be honest, I couldn’t find a site that just told me what the average person in a country eats (poor or not).
This left me with a problem – I had no idea how to move forward with this plan. This past Sunday was our first “Fast Sunday” with this new concept. I made rice congee seasoned with a little chicken stock, miso and ginger. I had a bowl for breakfast. Then for our late lunch we added plain black beans to the pot and ate it with Indian tortillas (basically just flour and water). We also had some cottage cheese and tortilla chips because the guys got into them before I got home. And we had some cattail pickles because poor in third world countries forage for food to supplement as they can. In fact, they eat foods we can’t afford because they grow wild. So it’s about balancing the meals.
It got us talking. First of all, my family was surprised at how good the food was. My dad said I cheated by eating with a spoon because the third world countries eat with their fingers. The food satisfied our hunger but wasn’t excessive. The weird part is that the small amount of food we made fed us the next day (we had 1 cup brown rice and 1 cup dried black beans).
Now that I’ve had a little more time to see how it works and get a bit more into the “project”, I’m thinking I’ll take a country, figure out what the poor eat in that country and add it to a slip of paper. We’ll draw a slip each month and spend some time contemplating what it’s like to be impoverished in that country. We will be skipping America but I think it will be a great chance to step into the shoes of someone else.
Food is a powerful teaching tool. It connects us as human beings. It is the cornerstone to our cultures. While this is not a perfect experiment, I believe this will help my family become closer to a culture and, in the end, closer to God.