It’s Lent. Forty days of dedication to prayer, penance, almsgiving and fasting in the name of the Lord. Not fasting like medical fasting before a scan or surgery. Not trendy intermittent fasting for weight loss, either. This is fasting invented by those mean old religious people. They want you to eat less meat and just eat less in general, and they expect that to have some kind of an effect on your relationship with God. Ridiculous.
Back in the old, old days, before the inventions of canning and freezing food, this was a lean time of year. You’d be scraping the bottom of your barrel of salt pork and wild game would be at its scarcest and scrawniest. There were no fresh fruits or vegetables, the hens were just picking up laying again after the long winter and the cow may not be giving much milk either. That is, if you could afford a cow. Most people got by in late winter on a diet of bread and root vegetables stored up over the previous year, punctuated with a little dried fruit, an egg here and there, or a glass of milk if they were lucky. Meat was a rare treat. When spring finally sprung, people headed out to hunt for the first wild greens — onion grass, mustard greens, poke, ramps. Old grannies said it “cleaned the blood” and strengthened the liver. It probably does.
A lot of people were a little hungry this time of year. Some people were a lot hungry. So when spring abundance swept in, they were not just full, but grateful. They were deeply grateful for wild greens and mushrooms, milk and eggs and fresh cheese, the first garden produce, and even lamb and veal.
Because it was seasonal and sometimes scarce, people appreciated their food in a way we no longer can. They were intimately aware of the work it took to hunt a turkey or find a morel. They knew the heartache of sacrificing the first innocent lambs so that humans could be fed. The bread they held at supper had already passed through their family’s fingers many times: first as seed being sown, then green grass, then ripe wheat being harvested, then finally as flour sifted and kneaded under the hands of the woman of the house.
The most we know is the heartache of Aldi being out of a particular kind of cheese.
Yearning, patience, hard work, sacrifice, waiting in hope. Awareness of the natural world. Shared work of family and community. Humble dependence on the mysterious caprices of sky and seed and soil. Acceptance of your limits and state in life. Solidarity with the hunger of the poor. Gratitude. All these will absolutely deepen our relationship with our Creator, if we let them.
The lean time of year is the perfect time to pray and do penance, to give alms out of what little we have left, and yes, to fast. Just a little hunger can connect us with nature, the poor, our ancestors, and God himself.
Those mean old religious people weren’t ridiculous at all. They were our ancestors, and as usual, they knew exactly what they were talking about.
Liz Schleicher lives in Green Ridge and is a wife, stay-at-home-mother, writer and rare-cancer survivor.
This article was originally published in the Feb. 24, 2023, edition of the Sedalia Democrat newspaper (sedaliademocrat.com) and is reprinted here with permission.