Imagine you are Moses in ancient times, in that moment in the desert before he comes upon the burning bush. When the speaker, the Almighty, reveals His wishes by speaking through the bush, this is what he has to say: “Bread equals bloat, Moses. I want you to completely give up bread for a week – that means donuts too – and quit talking about eating more fruit and vegetables and just do it!” How seriously would you take that dieting mandate?
My Passover observances get a little less rigorous each year, but the main dictum that seems to represent keeping Passover for many not-intensely-religious people, is not eating any kind of bread or raised wheat-based item (muffins, donuts, cake, biscuits). If you were raised in a religion with a traditions that asks you (ok, tells you) to stop eating the way you usually do – be it a day, a week, all sunlight hours during a month, or the 40 days of lent – is it all about deprivation and control? Maybe it seems like that when you’re a kid and it seems arbitrary and non-negotiable.
And yet, now that I’m an adult and can follow or abandon such rules as I choose, I still stick with the no bread rule, and generally keep kosher for the week. Other friends I know who stopped being practicing Catholics held onto Lent. I think the reason for this is that Religion has figured out (and by ‘Religion’ I mean a religion’s machers or bigwigs of old who marketed Judaism/Christianity/Islam, etc. to us for good and ill) that the way to our hearts and spirits is through our stomachs.
You can complain and be annoyed by fasting for a day or giving up your favorite food for a week or longer. Or you can look at the interruption to your business-as-usual way of living and eating and think about what it means to change, or to sacrifice or do without. I certainly realized how much I take bread for granted, this week, and how much I depend on it to fill in the blanks and hunger pangs. And when I fast, as I do once a year on Yom Kippur, it reminds me to be grateful that I know a meal is coming at the end of the 24 hours and to be more conscious about those who might not know that they have food in plenty.
As it happens, this has turned out to be one of the easier years for me to give up bread. I’ve been setting up a new kitchen, and with the beginning of Passover coinciding with our move to a new place I was eating a lot of convenient, bready junk during the intensity of packing and clearing out, etc. When bread is ceremoniously yanked from your repertoire, you find you really do have to rely on a lot more fruits and veggies. I also got hungrier between meals, but I also got more creative because you can’t just fall back on the easy things to make. Another bonus, I have definitely lost some weight and started fitting into my pants better. (To me, matzah really is the ‘bread of affliction’ as far as my digestion is concerned, and other than at the seder dinners I avoided eating that flat and tasteless contrivance as much as I could.)
So even though I will joyously start eating bread again very soon, I want to try to eat less of it generally. Have kefir and tangerine breakfasts a little more often, even without religion breathing down my neck. (I seem to have much better will power during the week of Passover than at any other time.) And as I observe my daughter, who has been skipping bread this week too, I remember the pride I took when I was a child in getting through my first fasts and successfully completed Passovers. There is something satisfying about seeing that you have what it takes to not give in. Many might say that this is some meaningless, patriarchal exercise steeped in oppression or whatever, but why not try to be open to looking at the spiritual side of the exercise? See what you’re made of in the you-are-what-you-eat spirit of things, but also in what you can give up to gain a broader perspective.