Thursday, March 6, 2008

Lent without Meat, loosely defined

Since we won't be cooking today, it seems a good time to hold forth on a mildly schizophrenic topic in our household, namely that of Lent.

Lent, all torturous forty days of it, is a traditional time to make winter suck even more than you thought it could. Don't get me wrong, as an Episcopalian I'm part of a long line of folks who take to such self-disciplined displays of liturgical symbolism like a pig to mud. In the past, I've engaged in such hardcore (and short-lived) forms of piety that included 30min of daily prayer and a no-solid foods diet (soups and yogurt drinks only, that year involved a lot of cheating).

The thing is, though, D is not Episcopalian. If I had to peg him down, it would be a sort of Durkheimian Jew who adamantly repudiates all things ascetic. One day of fasting for Yom Kippur is one thing, forty days of it in the dreariest part of winter is quite another. So I was completely blown away when D took my suggestion of one meatless day a week and upped it to five.

The logic was that both Judaism and Christianity frown upon Sabbath fasting, so our household should clearly not restrain itself between Friday night and Monday morning. And since it's a Christian ritual, it seems only fair that we should follow the Jewish definition of meat, which conveniently does not include seafood. (Now would not be a good time to mention that clams are strictly not kosher under any circumstances, but hey, who's checking). So here we are, making a reasonably good faith effort to not eat meat during the workweek. Three weeks down, three to go.

We, or at least I, embarked on this exercise not so much for religious reasons, really, as for intellectual and ethical ones. When designing a meal, we tend to start with the meat and work our way out from there. In our defense, so do our main sources of inspiration, namely our cookbooks and our parents. But still, how much creativity would it require to think beyond that stand-by square 1 when assembling something as mundane as weeknight dinners for six weeks. Especially in the dead of winter, when it's not like veggies are at their most glamorous. Could we get along without missing meat? Would it inspire new cooking habits, reduce our grocery bills, introduce us to new favorite dishes? Would it allow us, both financially and mentally, to splurge on "happy" meat on the rarer occasions when we did cook it? I read Omnivore's Dilemma in the fall and we visited the "beyond organic" Polyface farm with their grass-fed beef and chicken. Would we be more enlightened, or simply have another reason to cry out TGIF?

We'll keep you posted on that. So far all I can say with certainty is that it's definitely making it more difficult to work through our weekend leftovers!

No comments: