After my first trip to New Orleans for Mardi Gras, I loved the city and the celebration so much that I decided I needed to better embrace the meaning. I thought that if the purpose of Fat Tuesday was to indulge before Lent, then I better start observing Lent so I can truly enjoy Mardi Gras. I have since learned about Mardi Gras’ Pagan roots which are very cool, but at the time I was going for the more commonly-held tradition–ginormous pink cocktails, crazy costumes, and lots of dancing. Now (thankfully) my crazy Mardi Gras shenanigans have tamed considerably, but I still love Lent.
So I survived it all…and am here to tell you that you don’t have to be a died-in-the-wool, penance-doing Christian to practice Lent. I may be a lazy Unitarian, but I have all the energy in the world to devote to Lent. I know it’s not supposed to be fun, per se, and I don’t mean to lessen the importance of it for those whose traditions incorporate it–but besides being a very interesting practice, I find it fun.
Traditionally there are 40 days in Lent which are marked by fasting and other acts of penance–ending on Easter Sunday with a feast. Early Christians observed much more severe fasting during Lent than most do today–in some places all animal products were strictly forbidden. Nowadays people practice varying degrees of fasting; while some traditions suggest giving up a vice or something you love.
The idea of Lent really took with me. It’s a funny kind of moderation–to be strict about something, but only for a defined amount of time. I love it as a practice of discipline, and I feel like it’s a great way to set back a bad habit or two. And while I have a hard time with strict resolutions, I can always manage Lent because it’s only 40 days. It’s the place where I can actually fulfill my failed New Year’s resolutions–and sometimes, after 40 days, something might actually stick.
My first few Lents were kind of predictable–chocolate one year, french fries another. And although those were rather difficult for a college-age gal, my raw food vegan Lent two years ago was by far the hardest. The vegan part was one thing, but the cooked part was excruciating! I had to undergo such a wild 360 in my eating habits, I thought my head might just spin right off into space.
I figured raw vegan was a great idea: I’d lose weight! I’d brim with health! I’d get the raw food glow! In the end, I may be the only one in history who didn’t lose a single pound eating only raw plant foods for 40 days. (Of course, I found it easier to eat lots of raw nuts and avocado rather than lots of raw late winter vegetables.) I don’t know if I glowed or not, but I felt great.
One of the benefits that I didn’t foresee was that I learned a whole new cuisine. I’ve been cooking since I was counter-high and have cooked professionally–I didn’t think I had much more to know. Wrong. I learned so much, it was like never having had Chinese food and then learning every last little thing about it–the ingredients, methods, tools. I did it with a friend and we did a weekly meal swap. On Mondays I’d (not) cook enough for both families and bring her a set, and she’d do the same on Thursdays. Since making interesting raw food is a bit more complicated than cooking, it was a great way to save a little time–and sharing the experience was very rewarding.
If you are already vegan, maybe you’ll try going raw for 40 days? Or if you do eat animal products, try going vegan. It’s only 40 days, and you (and the animals you don’t eat) will feel great. And try it with a friend, the support and shared experience are great. Here are some tips for starting, from Chooseveg.com (see the site for more information on each tip):
1. Enjoy vegan versions of your favorite foods
Becoming vegetarian doesn’t mean you have to give up the tastes you love. There are now delicious vegan versions of almost every meat, dairy, and egg product with all the flavor but without causing animal suffering and environmental degradation. Next time you are at the grocery store, fill your cart with these healthy and humane alternatives.
2. Think globally, eat locally
After exploring foods from other cultures, most new vegetarians find that they really have more food choices–not fewer.
3. Visit veg-friendly establishments
As the number of people requesting vegetarian meals increases, so too, does the number of establishments catering to those requests.
Most chefs are happy to show off their skills by making you a tasty vegetarian dish that will make your dining companions green with envy. Explore your local health food store. You will be amazed at all the wonderful canned, frozen, and fresh vegetarian foods that are available.
4. Grab a veggie cookbook
Countless vegetarian cookbooks, offering mouthwatering recipes ranging from grandma’s traditional “meat and potato” type meals to colorful and exotic foods from around the world are just a bookstore or library away.
5. Attitude, attitude, attitude
Becoming vegetarian is a process. Give yourself time to develop new eating habits. Soon your new diet will become second nature as you learn where to find wonderful vegetarian choices. Having other vegetarians in your life will make your new compassionate way of eating easier. Get involved with local vegetarian and animal rights groups to meet like-minded friends. Remember you are making a big difference in your own life as well as in the lives of countless animals.