Today is Ash Wednesday, marking the beginning of Lent for Roman Catholics. The Orthodox Church has a different start date for Lent- Coptic Lent is already underway, and Greek/ Russian orthodox Lent begins next Monday.
The Catholic Lenten fast is pretty light- you just abstain from meat for a handful of days, and if possible, eat only one meal plus two snacks on those days.
The Orthodox Church is much stricter, requiring a vegan diet for the duration of lent, but is ambiguous about how many meals a person can eat each day. Only the Coptic Church is specific: those who are able to must abstain from all food and drink (including water) until a single evening meal- similar to the Ramadan fast but without the pre-dawn breakfast. Children, sick and elderly are exempt and can eat throughout the day.
I always found the “vegan fast” kind of odd. Having been a strict vegan for many years I know it is entirely possible to eat sumptuously on a vegan diet. I got damn good at cooking “fake meat” dishes- they rivaled the real thing. I could bake mountains of cookies, breads, cakes, muffins and churn out delicious pilafs with quinoa and brown rice. My salads were fantastic- a carrot raisin salad with peanut dressing was my favorite. YUM!
Fast forward to my diabetes diagnosis and I had to ditch the vast majority of vegan foods. Even “healthy whole grains” like brown rice, and the health-food-worshiped bean spike my blood sugar astronomically. Practically overnight I went from a bean, fruit, veggie and grain devouring vegan (I was a “healthy vegan,” having eschewed sugar for years before my diagnosis) to an all out carnivore.
Ironically I find eating a meat based, very low carb diet far more restrictive and spartan than my vegan days. I mean, technically I was following an orthodox Lenten fast for years! Funny, right? I never felt deprived in any way. But for three years now I have eaten nothing but meat, fish, egg yolks (I don’t like the whites) low carb vegetables, mayonnaise and the occasional binge on peanut butter. That’s it, and yes, it can grow taxing being boxed into such a restrictive diet by fate of health.
Another puzzle for me is that without restricting when you can eat, I don’t see where the fast is. Not to be a bible thumper, but when the bible mentions fasting it means NOT EATING! In some cases it means not even drinking water! How is having three square vegan meals a day “fasting?” There is a running joke in the Orthodox Church that people gain weight during the Lenten fast- Greeks are amazing cooks.
As a diabetic I am exempted from the fast, but would like to try the once-a-day eating if I can handle it. I’ve never done that before in my life, so one more thing to cross off the bucket list. Technically this is intermittent fasting which is all the rage these days.
Orthodox Christians are annoying. Try asking one about fasting rules, or what their personal views are on fasting. All you will get is “Ask a priest!!” Jeesh. God forbid you have an autonomous thought.