Fasting from Food in a Land of Plenty

Abstaining from eating confronts the cultural lies we believe about our bodies.

I stood frozen in the cereal aisle. On either side of me were thousands of boxes and bags of breakfast grains stretched out row after row, in scores of varieties: Vitamin fortified! Extra marshmallows! Cinnamon clusters with organic wheat germ for twice your daily fiber!

For the past four and a half years, I’d been living in another country, limited to the street of local food vendors near my house. I’d walk up and down the market past wriggling eels in gallon buckets, steaming dumplings from a little chrome cart, and gritty bundles of bok choy heaped on a card table. I’d buy only what I could fit in my bags and carry back home on foot. Now, just after moving back to America, I was paralyzed by the excess surrounding me at my local grocery store.

A land of plenty is a strange place to fast from food. And not just because many of us have not known of fasting by necessity, but also because of our underlying cultural assumptions.

On one hand, we embrace the indulgence of hedonism—what the body wants, it must have. We enthrone desire as the highest good, give in to every craving, and let it enslave us. And as a rule, our pleasures are designed for excess. Just as streaming companies encourage binging and smartphones aim for addiction, a lot of what we eat is scientifically engineered to addict us. It’s hard to rightly order our appetites when they have been manipulated by global food conglomerates that profit from excess.

On the other hand, we embrace a modern-day iteration of Gnosticism. Strongly influenced by Platonic and dualist philosophies, we split the physical from the spiritual in a false dichotomy. We elevate the supernatural realm as purer and truer than the corporeal—which …

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