Sunday, 24 April 2011

The trials of Lent, aka Bootcamp for Christians

I don’t always give up anything for Lent, as I'm generally quite rubbish at noticing when it starts (I forget to eat the pancakes, too). But so far, over the years I have managed to go the distance in a couple of different ways, starting with the sacrifice of tea. Not being able to take part in the ritual of the cuppa was surprisingly hard – as Mrs Doyle would say "You’ll feel left out!"

I recall only vaguely the Lent when I gave up chocolate – I figure I've mostly blanked it out. Strangely, I do remember that when the blessed day came, I WASN’T desperately shovelling chocolate into my mouth the moment I was "allowed" to. Many people claim that "a little bit of good quality chocolate is satisfying". I don’t know if they've been brainwashed by Green and Blacks, or are trying hard to convince themselves, but... a small piece of ANY  kind of chocolate does not leave me satisfied. "A little goes a  long way" may apply to ultra-rich, truffle fudge mocha cake with an inch of icing, but a square of chocolate? No. I want my mouth to be FULL of chocolate. I need MOUTH FEEL. It's the same delicious sensation that you get when biting into one of those ridiculously over-frosted cupcakes. The icing reaches the roof of your mouth and squidges as you bite down. Gah. I just made myself drool a little bit.

I also hit a mental brick wall when people say they don't like creme eggs, or "can only eat one, because they're so sickly". Well, gooey and cloying they may be, but teamed with a cup of tea to balance the super-sweetness, I can comfortably eat two on the trot, before decorum forces me to stop. However, if we ever start substituting drinking games with chocolate games, I am certain that I would be left standing while all around me were collapsing with sugar shock. A meagre talent, but there you go.

During last year's Lent I abstained from Facebook; this created a gap in my daily routine but it wasn’t agony. I was lucky in that I escaped being photographed during this period – I imagine it must be quite traumatic if you’re notified that you’ve been tagged and you’re unable to see the picture that's being flagrantly displayed in your absence. 

I'd say giving up something for Lent is a pretty good way of finding out if you want to make it a lifestyle change; you're got that safety net in the back of your mind that it's only for 6 weeks, yet it's long enough for any physical addiction to have gone, so you can think more objectively about whether you want to continue.

But this year has been my biggest challenge yet, as I have become vegetarian. I was a bit daunted at the idea and thought “Ooh, I couldn’t do that”, which of course made it into a challenge which I then had to take up. My fear was that I would have trouble balancing meals, and would either feel constantly hungry or constantly bloated from a carb overload.  But I have been ASTONISHED at how easy it's been. The hardest part is the lack of choice – when you pop out at lunchtime, instead of having twenty options, you have two.

Interestingly, I had a strange bitter/ sour taste in my mouth from about day 6 to day 15, which I am guessing was some sort of detox. (I generally cringe when I hear people talking about “detoxes” as I think it’s a fairly meaningless term which is bandied about to insult our livers and kidneys.)  But in this case... does this mean that a) meat is "toxic" and b) it was still only leaving my body weeks after I last ate it? Yuck.

I actually feel lighter and more energetic on the whole; I'm suddenly realising what people are talking about when they say that historically, humans have never eaten meat regularly: ie in "cave times" it would be a treat once in a while to catch an animal for food, and for much of the time we’d be surviving on the easier-to-catch diet of nuts and fruit.

Fire revolutionised the human lifestyle because it meant we could cook meat – thus making it easier to digest – and freeing up our time so that we could use our meat-fuelled brains to get on with doing art on our cave walls and drawing up blueprints for the wheel etc.

Despite this, there are those who claim that humans were never meant to eat meat. Physically, we have far more in common with herbivores than carnivores – check out the fascinating list at
We have a plant eater’s intestinal tract, which is several times the length of our bodies – while meat eaters have short ones to allow that festering flesh to pass through quickly. (Ah, my detox question answered. Lovely.)

One of the points made is that we don’t drool at the sight of a prey animal, the way that a true carnivore, eg a tiger, would. I would question this, as I have occasionally spied a fat little pigeon pecking on the lawn and contemplated just how plump and juicy it would look in a roasting tin. When watching Lambing Live (Kate Humble must be raking it in – she’s never off the telly!) with its array of incredibly adorable lambs, I said “Oh, I could just EAT them!” which was perhaps a little tactless. Also, I have a strange confession to make; my mouth waters if I spent several minutes looking at pictures of cute animals. Weird and slightly psychotic, I know. I have no idea if this has any origins in evolution, I’m pretty sure we have never, as a species, licked kittens. But I kind of want to.

Easter bunnies: Don't tell me these little pink noses 
don't make you salivate. I know I can't be the only one.

No matter how much you like your steaks and burgers, I think for most people, there is a part of the brain which "knows" that eating animals is wrong. Looking at the Bible, Jesus may have been a part-time fisherman, but in the original Genesis story, animals were just around for our companionship. It was only after "the fall" that everything went wrong and our symbiotic relationship turned a little one-sided. But according to Isaiah 11:7, there will come another time when the original plan will be restored, and "The cow and the bear will graze, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox."

In the meantime, I guess I justify my meat eating by singing "It's the circle of life....." and the fact that it’s only by purchasing ethically sourced meat that I can make any impact on the market. If everyone but the totally heartless opts out, battery eggs and Danish pork will be flying off the shelves and nobody will be monitoring standards at all. Not buying "happy meat" is like not voting – you may be making your point, but somebody still gets elected.

In a similar way, some of the nicest, most thoughtful and socially conscious people I know have made the decision not to have kids, because the world is over-populated enough. I can't help feeling this might be short-sighted; if the only people reproducing are those who really don't give the tiniest shit about society, it could create an underclass of chavs who become grandparents at the age of 26 and continue to ruin lives by weaving in and out of temporarily set up families. Oh, wait. That’s already happened.

Good lord, I’m right wing and feisty today. Must be all those pulses.

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