This morning I rolled out of bed at 5:45 to get my last chance for a swim this week. I had to get back in time for Mark to leave for work. I can't really exercise on an empty stomach, but I was rushed, so I sawed off a slice of homemade bread, buttered it, found a cheese stick in the fridge, and ate them up. Not my favorite breakfast -- I like having an egg -- but it would have to do.
As I chewed my bread, I thought about a post I read yesterday by Willa at Quotidian: "Bread and Pittances," about the daily diet of Cistercian monks. The monks (except the sick) get bread and vegetables on ordinary days, and small amounts of eggs and fish on feast days. Willa did a nutritional calculation on the monks' meals; the results may surprise you.
If nothing else, it should be a corrective for that twice-annual fast day panic: "OMG it's Ash Wednesday, I only get to have one normal-size meal, I better make sure it's BALANCED AND HEALTHY."
Reality check number one with this: Fasting is not about eating healthy. It is supposed to be a mortification. Check out the root of that word.
Reality check number two, a corollary to the first: Clearly if we think our TWO fast days per year should be balanced and healthy, we must secretly be thinking that "eating balanced and healthy" is a penance, rather than everyday life. Balanced and healthy is Ordinary Time, folks.
Reality check number three: Check out that monk's meal. Bread and vegetables. And? Balanced and healthy. In particular, it's got plenty of protein. These guys are living simply, but they are not starving. They live every day on something that we would be worried we wouldn't make it through ONE day on. Clearly we are messed up.
For people who are inclined to be concerned about "balanced" meals, it is really easy to fall into the trap of thinking that you need animal protein at every meal to be "balanced." I am no vegan, believe me. I am pretty sure humans need at least a little bit of animal fat and animal protein for optimal health. (And the Cistercians that Willa mentions do get this, just not every day). But the longer I have spent living and eating my new life, the more I am shedding my Fear of Bread and the more often I find myself making meatless meals.