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Driving a hybrid on my Lenten journey

I’m not really driving a hybrid (not that I would object if Santa put a forest-green Prius in my stocking this year); I still have my 1993 Honda Civic, which gets a respectable mileage for its 4-mile commute to my office. So the title of this post is a metaphor for how I’m approaching Lent this year.

Usually I stop doing something for Lent. (Quick synopsis of this season: According to the Scripture, Jesus went into the desert. The Devil sought to tempt Jesus with worldliness, but Jesus, thrice, resisted. He came out of the desert, got whacked, and three days later rose from the dead. Notice how there are no bunnies in this story.)

My own Lents of previous years have been fairly typical. For 40 days (less a few slip-ups), I deny myself that “thing” — fat, carbohydrates, refined sugar, whatever. Then I observe the Passion of Christ, celebrate His rising, and resume my regular habits.

But Jesus didn’t go into the wilderness to take off a few pounds. He was looking for other things, such as introspection, education, and — most crucially — transformation.

This Lent I’m not looking for a quick diet or for presto abnegation. My goal this Lent is to move farther down the food chain, and closer to our local growers. I want to connect with the miracle of the food cycle right here in the Big Bend region. I want to understand where my food comes from. I want to talk to the people who grow my food. I want to know that what nourishes me supports my neighbor.

I’m not on some “test” where I do or do not “cheat.” Some days are easier than others, and travel is always tough. But I’m trying to avoid refined flour and sugar, and I’m also trying to embrace local markets, local foods, local farms, regional, seasonal products, and in general become more aware of and sensitive to the consequences of how we produce food in America. I’m trying to avoid CAFO meat and dairy, but also to embrace meat, eggs, and cheese from happy animals. I’m asking why I need to buy fruit from Peru or California when I live in an area with its own fabulous produce, and I’m also trying to understand what food should be available at this time of year — not just what we force into availability. As some of my favorite food writers have discussed, I’m trying to be a better omnivore.

Some things are easier than others. The bowls of office candy were hugely tempting for several weeks. Now I look at them and see high-fructose corn syrup and preservatives — basically, government-subsidized garbage. I already fight the tubbiness common to aging office workers; the nervous office nibbling needed to stop anyway. The more I read about our broken food system, the more repelled I am by commodity meat and dairy; I see those poor animals packed shoulder-to-shoulder in feed lots, forced to eat unnatural foods, and I don’t want to be part of that misery. I go to the market and bring home white eggplant and Vidalia onion greens grown in local farms, and my mouth waters all day as I think about how I’m going to cook them.

In a season associated with denial, I’m looking for transformation from a baby lettuce leaf. From a ruddy, hand-hefty tomato. From a sweet, crisp oyster.

Recommended reading: Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma; Barbara Kingsolver, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle; Eric Schlosser, Fast Food Nation.

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