Fasting Makes the Heart Grow Fonder



About halfway through the evening Yom Kippur service, my dad poked me and gestured outside.

"Sun went down," he said. "Jesus, am I hungry."

We had left for services at around 6:10, cutting right into the crucial pre-sunset cramming hour. I only managed to get some kugel, chicken, and a whole lot of milk before I prepared to fast.

"I cannot wait to get home and get some potatoes," my dad said to me. "Remember," he said, holding up his hand,"—I'm not Jewish."

I don't regularly attend services. But on Yom Kippur, I fast. It's practical religion—you think about your sins, you get hungry, you atone, the sun sets, and you eat. It's a combination of ancient tradition and my New England Puritanical notion that pain must be good, or else we would just move from Western Massachusetts to California.

Despite the health warnings the Rabbi had given the previous night, fasting is not that hard. Come 1:00, it could easily have been any other day when I had slept through breakfast and not gotten around to lunch until I could hit up the burrito cart on the way to the coffee shop. Except that today, it was a choice. You feel hungry, you look at food, and you walk by, because that is what God wants you to do. You feel righteous.

We repent, and the whole world slows down and freezes over as if satisfied.

On the Day of Atonement, I decided to hike Mount Greylock, our favorite mountain. I figured that the bosom of the mountains absorbs all sins. The total lack of calories in my stomach led to some lightheadedness in the more strenuous parts, but that only made me feel all kinds of spiritual. The grand, sweeping Berkshire Hills helped.

Yom Kippur always comes during the time when New England at its purest place—when there's a slight prick in the air that you know presages an explosive plume of orange and red before the ground freezes and everything dies. We repent, and the whole world slows down and freezes over as if satisfied.

Those in the Slow Food movement like to say that our particular environmentalism is about embracing the pleasures of the table rather than abstaining from the technological wonders of the modern world, but we take our fasts. Even a mealy, tasteless peach in winter is better than no peach at all, or whatever god-awful root vegetable the locavore is expected to gnaw on come February, but the purest of foodies still makes a choice. You want the peach. You walk by. Because that is what nature —and God—wants you to do. You feel righteous.

The ground is getting cold and the clouds are rolling away the summer humidity. The peaches will shrivel and we start that months-long fast until new peaches ripen on the trees. Our idyllic ancestors abstained because they had to, but the Slow Foodie makes a choice. Springtime will come. We will get those first peaches, and my god they will be good.

I broke my fast by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration sunset estimate that assumes a perfectly spherical earth: about 6:48 that day. I was planning on burgers.

In some ways, the doleful Yom Kippur is meant to be the happiest day of the year, even more so than the orgiastic, four-drink-minimum Passover celebration. It's the day that nothing can be wrong because we just forgave ourselves for everything that was. Those burgers were staring me right in the face— I could have eaten them all day. I made a choice. But at 6:48? My god they were good.

Local beef—not that it matters.