When I was seventeen, I took a four-week mountaineering course in Wyoming. Our ration was 1.5 pounds of food per person per day. With a seventeen year old metabolism, I was always hungry. I remember one meal in particular from that time. It was lentils and instant potatoes. It stands out large in my memory, because there were leftovers. A specific warm memory of an evening with enough to eat. Decades later, I remember that pan of lentils fondly.
The last four days of the course were an intentional fast. The night before our fast was to start, my tent group complained that we had no food left. The instructor came over to inspect our food bags to see what we really had, but were reluctant to eat. “Powdered milk,…and paprika. What are you guys complaining about?”
So we spiced our warm milk and went to bed. It was snowing lightly. The next day we began a four day walkout with nothing to eat. Ten miles a day, two thousand feet of vertical elevation gained and lost each day. Heavy mountaineering packs- lightened though of any food.
Several times since, I have run out of food in the mountains. Once on a coastal sailing trip, all of our food was contaminated with outboard fuel, giving us a couple hungry days. Have you ever had those burps that tasted like gasoline?
These experiences have left me with a hatred of wasting food and an enduring pleasure at having enough to eat. One of the great enemies of a reasonable life is hedonic adaptation. The process by which we adapt to increases in prosperity and then begin to take them for granted. Many religions, among them Catholicism, Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism, have traditions of fasting. I suspect that one of the virtues of regular fasting is a kind of reverse hedonic adaptation, climbing down Maslow’s hierarchy of needs a rung or two, a reminder to be grateful for a full belly.
My children are picky eaters, frequently ungrateful for the dinner that is offered. I know that their ingratitude is my fault. There just isn’t enough hunger in their diet. But lent is on the way, and maybe this year….
-Harry Dexter White