My college roommate and I once had a dream of opening a cafe and calling it “Viva Los Veggies”. We thought we were very clever. I’m sure someone else has already thought of this catchy title, but I can’t bear to “google it” to find out!
I am writing this post primarily for my Orthodox audience because today marks the beginning of another season of fasting. Today is 40 days before the Feast of the Nativity of Christ (Christmas) and we Orthodox prepare for the feast by fasting for 40 days. Traditionally, the Orthodox fast from meat, dairy, oil, and wine. This is the strictest sense of the fast. Women who are nursing or pregnant are exempt from these rules, as well as invalids or those with restricted diets. The spirit of the fast, however, is to eat less, obesess about food less, and focus more on the season.
Before I became a big fan of Nourishing Traditions and Weston Price, I, like most American Orthodox who fast, relied heavily on pastas and soy products. This left me very sick. Fortunately, I had a respite for several consecutive years because I was either pregnant or nursing. For the record, I’m still nursing, so I am going to do more of a vegetarian fast (including limited amounts of goat milk kefir and eggs).
The whole Weston Price movement is pretty much anti-veganism, and I’ve had to reconcile the fact that no traditional societies are strictly vegan while one significant component of my faith involves fasting. To be fair, fasting is an ancient practice that is seen in nearly every ancient world religion. The ancient Hebrews fasted for periods of time and also fasted two days per week. The Orthodox have practiced fasting since the beginning (Orthodox Christianity is the most ancient form of Christianity).
Fasting has always made sense to me from a spiritual standpoint. We need a break from complicated food processing (usually the most complicated processes, traditionally, involve processing meat and dairy). We need a break from eating too much meat, dairy, and fat; all of which are acid-forming (but healthy!) We need to practice mindfulnessof being filled by something greater than food….we need to remember our weakness as humans and rely upon our Creator.
From a cosmic perspective, there is wisdom in fasting. From a village/agrarian perspective (one that most of us have lost in the factory-farm/supermarket era), there’s a realization that the animals need a break from producing milk— the hens don’t lay as many eggs in the wintertime— the body needs a chance to cleanse from digesting meat and oils….
Nutritionally speaking, I believe it’s possible to fast and be healthy, but in America, it can be difficult to instinctively know what to do. Here are my top 5 Do’s and top 5 Don’ts for fasting. The point is to cleanse, both spiritually and physically. I don’t believe the point of fasting is to get to the point of complete exhaustion, sickness, and ultimatly deficiency. That’s not a good thing.
Don’t: Rely on soy, especially not processed soy. If it looks like meat, tastes like meat, but isn’t meat; you probably shouldn’t eat it!
Do: Try fermented soy such as miso. Soy was never meant to be eaten without fermenting. Traditional tofu is also a fermented product, and if you can find it, by all means, try it!
Don’t: Make pasta (or grains, for that matter) your mainstay. If you must do pasta, limit yourself to a few days per week and use whole-grain sprouted pastas or gluten-free options (Trader Joe’s has great ones!)
Do: Try incorporating more of the alkalizing seed-grains such as millet, amaranth, quinoa, and buckwheat. Quinoa in particular is very nourishing as it is a complete protein. Make sure that before you cook these grains you let them soak in a little bit of lemon juice or vinegar for 12 hours to break down phytic acid.
Don’t: Give in to the temptation to gorge on “vegan” cookies or treats. In fact, if I highly reccommend fasting from sugar (particularly during this winter season). Yes, Oreos are vegan, but nutritionally, they’re just a big black hole.
Do: Try to eat 50% (or more) raw during a fasting time. This is particularly cleansing and will help fill you up and provide vital nutrients. Some suggestions:
*Sprouted sunflower seeds added to salads
* Make and eat sauerkraut or pickles with every meal, especially if you’re eating beans and grains. this will add a “cheese-like” flavor and will help your body digest the extra starches.
* Add fat-rich olives and avocados, as well as dehydrated sprouted nuts to a salad to give a huge nutritional boost.
*Kombucha, juice kefir, and beet kvass are inexpensive, vitamin-rich tonics that provide B vitamins and help alkalize the blood.
Don’t: Obsess about beans. Many people try to just replace meat protein with soy or bean protein. Protein is important for sure, but since beans are so high in starch they should be limited to 1-2 meals per week so that you’re not taxing your digestive system so much.
Do: Eat from the sea. The Orthodox have always permitted shellfish during fasting periods. Although these should always be eaten sparingly due to mercury content, having scallops or shrimp once or twice per week is a great way to get protien and vitamin D. Don’t forget to try seaweed in a veggie saute.
Don’t: Be a pharisee. Don’t become a glutton, or judgemental, or too hard on yourself. This defeats the purpose of fasting!
Do: Most importantly, take advantage of the myriad of delicious vegetables available to us today. It’s amazing how filling and revitalizing a plateful of steamed veggies can be! Not to mention rich in vitamins and minerals. Fresh juicing, if you have a juicer, is a highly beneficial component to fasting.
I hope these tips are helpful to those of you who are embarking on the journey to Nativity. May all of your advent seasons be blessed as we journey to welcome the Light of the World!