The power of food

This is how unconscious I am about the eating of food: It is Ash Wednesday, a day of fasting for Catholics, a fact I reminded myself of multiple times this morning when packing to head home from the conference I was at. I’ve also reminded myself that my 40-day sacrifice centers around giving up certain food and giving the money saved to charity, the alms-giving part of Lent that is easy to forget. Lucky, we have the Pope explaining on Twitter:

And yet, in spite of these reminders, when I walk into the hotel lobby to wait for my cab and I see the box of salt-water taffy, my first thought is, “Great, if the taxi is late, at least I won’t go hungry.” Really. Then, a nano-second later, I slap my subconscious to remind it that today is Ash Wednesday and I move the taffy out of my view.


I am a stress-eater and a happy-eater and a eat-at-my-desk eater. I wasn’t always this way, but these past couple of years, I have grown more and more unaware of what and when I eat, eating far more than needed of particularly unhealthy foods. It is a problem on a number of levels, not the least of which because I call myself a Christian and in that name comes a certain promise to treat my body as a temple. To appreciate what God has given me and not prance willy-nilly through sugarland. So, this Lent, I want desperately to be more aware. My experience in the hotel lobby shows this will be a long 40 days.

There’s been a movement in the last decade or so to “do something for Lent” instead of give something up. Me thinks we’re all such a mess and have so much need for improvement and drawing closer to God and neighbor that we should be doing both, and also, that sometimes, “doing something” is simply an excuse to not have to suffer with giving up something. We are physical beings and our senses help us relate to the world. When you have to say no to something you want desperately to say yes to, you are more likely to think about people who have no option for yes or no. And when you’re hungry – like during the Ash Wednesday fast – you pay closer attention.

For me, that’s meant noticing today how much food we are surrounded by. Everywhere, all the time. If not in reality (the guy sitting across from me in the airport waiting area eating a 500-foot-long, mile-high sandwich), then in the virtual world (food commercials breaking up the CNN news feed). No wonder people struggle with obesity. Who could have daily will power in this land of food excess?

And then, you also notice this: The woman in the park sleeping, an apple core near her head. The guy digging in the trashcan outside a restaurant. The small children in the soup kitchen line. I think this noticing is probably important, and it doesn’t happen without a heightened awareness that comes from giving something up. That said, if you’re looking for something to do instead of something to give up, this year-old video by Fr. Jim Martin (who lets his college roommate choose his Lenten sacrifice) offers some great advice.

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