Wednesday, March 01, 2006


I originally posted this on my shared weekly essay blog, but I thought it warranted being repeated here.

Well, it’s Wednesday again. This isn’t just any Wednesday though, it’s a special Wednesday. This is the Wednesday when I actually post on essay on time, with good grammar, proper spelling, and maybe even a dash of wit.

Ok, that’s not actually why I meant it’s special. I was referring to the fact that it’s Ash Wednesday. This day marks that special that time of year when good Catholics try to live a purer life closer to god, while remembering the temptation Jesus suffered at the hands of Lucifer while fasting in the desert. Starting today, they’ll give up their vices for forty days; hopefully maintaining this fast through the eve of Easter, after which they can participate in Pagan fertility rituals involving eggs, bunnies, and feasting, and forget about Jesus until Christmas rolls around they get presents.

Despite my jest, I actually always liked lent. Unlike many of the Catholic sacraments which don’t have a lot of practical use, the lentin fast contains a sense of purpose. It reinforces the ideas of self discipline and will power, which make you a better person. I try to practice these on a regular basis and encourage others to do so as well.

Lent also makes sense from a historical standpoint. Back in the glory days of the middle ages when nonsensical concepts like separation of church and state were unheard of, the churches had the mandate and power to forcibly control and mold the populace. Dictating the practice of will power would have been one way to turn parishioners into better citizens. It also fits neatly into their greater plan of imposing guilt and self loathing as a method of creating a perceived need of salvation, which the church was more than happy to supply, well, as long as you paid your dues. Overall, it was a good plan.

Unfortunately, in today’s world, the practice of lent has really lost its meaning. Although people will abstain from certain things for the season, many don’t actually make any sacrifices. They’ll simply trade one vice for another one that is just as easily accessible. They might give up coffee, only to drink more soda instead. Maybe they’ll stop eating chocolate, but then increase their intake of other candy. Granted, I’m not saying that all lentin promises are rubbish; in fact I’ve known many people who really take it serious, and rather impress me. There is one main practice mandated by the catholic church, however, that has always annoyed me, and that’s the meat rule.

For those of you not inculcated with the ways of the meat rule, let me quickly indulge you. The catholic church mandates that good parishioners abstain from eating meat on the first day of lent, Ash Wednesday, and every following Friday until Easter. That’s a total of seven days. (They don't count Sundays towards the forty days, so there's an extra week) One exception, however, is fish, which is not considered a meat for the purpose of the rule, and is thus allowed to be consumed on the forbidden days. I think this has something to do with the fact that people in the biblical era ate fish as a staple, and it follows that eating more fish could potentially allow one to relate more to the people back then. That’s just my theory. It could be that fish was harder to come by years ago or maybe harder to prepare and make taste good, which could at least conceivably make it a sacrifice to eat it. (At least maybe for the person who did the cooking.)

Regardless of the origin of the rule, I don’t think it applies today. You can go into any restaurant or grocery store and find a plethora of sales and specials on seafood during lent. Perch, cod, salmon, chump, shrimp and lobster; it all counts, and most of it tastes quite good. Even McDonalds will offer deals on its fish fillet sandwich over the five weeks. Additionally, you can find many fish fry specials on Friday nights where the entire family can go out and gorge themselves on endless plates of greasy fried perch and french fries. Although these options technically follow the rules, they seam to completely go against the entire point of having the rules in the first place. It’s like the church allowed a giant loophole as to not actually inconvenience its parishioners.

With all this in mind, I’ve decided to participate in the lentin tradition of sacrifice this year even though I have little affiliation with the Catholic church these days, or Christianity in general (Although I do agree with most of the stuff Jesus said; he was on to something). I’m going to give up not eating at McDonalds. Wait, huh? Yeah, NOT eating at McDonalds. Just stay with me a moment; it’ll make sense. Trust me.

I used to eat at McDonalds a lot, especially my first year in grad school when it was the closest and cheapest food available in a timely manner. Eventually though, I started to taste my food and eat healthier in general. It really has little appeal to me now. It depresses me to think what I’m actually putting in my body when I eat there, compared to when I cook for myself, and I not only know, but can pronounce every word of the ingredients. Plus there’s the whole practices of the meat industry, which I won’t bother going into here, but I find rather revolting. These days, I maybe eat at McDonalds once every six months, until today that is.

Hence, to start off lent today, I went to lunch at McDonalds. This is actually a sacrifice for me though. For starters, I wasn’t able to eat the nice healthy lunch of fruit and sandwiches I’ve accustomed too. Second, the closest McDonalds is a mile and a half away. Since I don’t drive my car to work, the only options are either biking or running down the hill and back. Today I chose to run. Although that did allow me to get a short run in, it didn’t allow me nearly as long as I would have liked, which leads to my third point, I don’t have as much time over lunch to exercise. All the sacrifices I make to try to be a good catholic. Plus, do you have any idea how hard it is to run up a mile and half hill with a stomach full of Big Mac and fries? Its six hours later, and my stomach still hurts. (I did consider driving to work, which would also be a sacrifice since I couldn’t get any writing done on the train, it would cost more, and I’d have to sacrifice some ideals, but I just don’t have strong enough faith for that. Baby steps I guess)

The idea for this plan came to me last year when I found myself sitting in airport hungry on the Friday before Easter. The only place without a huge wait for food was McDonalds. As I was eating my greasy burger, it occurred to me that it was lent. I’ll admit that this at first filled with a bit of guilty pleasure, breaking rules that I didn’t agree with. As I thought about it more though, I began to realize how stupid the meat rule really was. I had actually completely forgotten about lent up until that point, and now that I remembered it, I was somewhat disappointed that I didn’t have more Fridays left to eat fast food. I decided that the following year, I would make a point to eat a Big Mac on every Friday of lent. I like the irony, and now, after almost a year of waiting, the time has come. You can call it an exercise in irony if you like, but I just like to refer to it as McLent.


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