What is a fast anyway?
Monday: 7am. It’s hot. Dogs are barking. The roosters sound like the cacophony of a 100-piece orchestra gone mad. The kids will soon be up. They’ll be hungry. Last night’s dinner consisted of rice and some arguably sour milk. The beans ran out on Thursday. I empty the communal pee bucket and tiptoe past the rows of three-levelled bunks.
Surprised to be the first in the kitchen, I grab the pan and rifle through the cardboard box in search of oil for frying leftover rice. Mrs. Maria walks in.
“¿Qué estás haciendo?!” she shouts.
“Um. Para niños? A comer?” I say.
She points to the calendar and then to the clock.
“No ‘a comer’,” she says, mocking my poor use of Spanish.
I later learn that it’s custom in many Mexican Christian communities to fast until 12pm on Monday mornings.
I go to the fridge for juice.
“Okay?” I ask.
And then to the carafe.
Mrs. Maria laughs. “Si. Agua.”
Relieved, I take my water and leave the kitchen. Pastor walks in and I can hear them talking. A worker from San Diego later explains that they were puzzled, asking each other, “Don’t Christians fast in Canada?”
Well, some do. But usually not corporately.
Here I was in an orphanage, surrounded by children who, by Canadian standards, were gravely malnourished, and I was embarrassingly reminded of the spiritual call to fast.
Sadly, I think the very idea of fasting (whether from food or any other commodity) goes against the core of Western culture.
Still, I am encouraged by how many “fasters” are out there and am thrilled that my personal journey as The Fasting Consumer is allowing me to meet some of you and hear your stories.
Fasting can mean many things. It might mean “nothing but water until 12pm on Mondays,” or maybe, “30 hours of transparent liquids only,” or “a lemon juice cleanse for 10 days,” or perhaps just skipping a single meal in order to meditate, pray, do yoga, or simply give the body–and appetite–a break.
Regardless of what your fast entails, there will always be someone whose fast is–outwardly–more challenging than yours. And, needless to say (and sadly to say), there will be millions of starving individuals living and dying in ways that make your relatively tiny fast seem like nothing.
But it’s not nothing. As long as it challenges you, it doesn’t matter how big or how small the commitment is.
People fast to improve their spiritual, mental, and physical health. Sometimes their fasts inspire others (as the orphanage in Mexico inspired me). Sometimes their fasts lead to lives of greater simplicity, which–as the saying goes–may allow others “to simply live.” Sometimes people may choose to take an amount of food equivalent to what they gave-up and donate it to the local food bank. This is all awesome, but ultimately, a fast’s purpose is to help the fasting individual grow.
To fast is to identify our dependencies and free ourselves from them. – Tariq Ramadan
So, what is a consumer fast?
You, friends and readers, have shared many fantastic stories. Some of you were already on a “consumer fast,” and some of you have been inspired to join me in your own ways. I am honoured!
One family said, “Yes. We’re going to do the same thing. We’re going to buy tape, and glue, and tinfoil, and all that, but generally speaking, we’re not going to buy stuff for a year.”
Another friend said, “My electric kettle broke. I was going to buy a new one, but then I thought of you. I decided to see if I can survive for a while just boiling water in a pot. (I think I’ll survive.)”
One couple said, “This year, we’re ditching the credit card.”
Someone else said, “This has really made me think. Every time I’m about to buy something I think of whether or not I really need it.”
Whether you are simply striving to be a more mindful consumer or whether you have made a dramatic pledge to buy absolutely nothing (you go, Geoffrey and Julie!), I applaud you and I want to hear more!
I have created a new category for blog posts called “Readers’ Stories.”
Whatever you’re doing to change your consumer habits, even if it’s simply changing your thoughts, I’d love to hear about it. Comment on posts, on our Facebook page, or send me an email. Every so often I’ll compile your stories and share them, anonymously, in a post.
Since then, a friend has aptly pointed-out, “Yes, but, buying food from a bakery or a restaurant … that is consumerism.” That it is. And, to a certain extent, so is buying groceries. Where to draw the line? That’s a question I’m still wrestling with (see Confessions and Coffee).
So for now, I’m at the stage of completely banning the purchase of all material things (and am in the process of removing soaps and shampoos from my “allowed to buy” list–hooray!), and I’m putting huge restrictions on non-essential food purchases as well as experiences.
There are certainly “fasters” who are more limited in their purchases than I, as well as “fasters” who are less limited.
Whatever kind of “faster” you are, I hope my journey will be an inspiration, and I hope you will share with me your journey, and I too will be inspired.