Quaker "Fasting": Simplicity in Food

Hello Friends,

I have searched for answers to this question, but have found yet no one really discussing this very much. The topic: Simplicity in Food. I suppose this could be a discussion topic in the Plainness and Simplicity group, but I don't know if it would be welcome there, and so, I hesitate to clutter that page unnecessarily. I will say that I feel a commonality between what seems to be a call to me to eat simply and Quaker Jane's description of why she went plain.

My question is: Does anyone here similarly feel called by God to eat simply? I don't mean to be vegetarian or vegan (which I certainly see as valuable as well). I mean to eat just to satisfy your need for nourishment and not for pleasure. I have often felt this calling, but have just recently began to take it more seriously. I want to get to the bottom of it.

I know that George Fox describes this in his journal, saying: "I might not eat and drink to make myself wanton but for health." So I am not alone. Also, many faiths adhere to periods of fasting, which must be seen as somewhat similar: Islam, Baha'i, Catholics, Greek Orthodox, etc. If you follow the Greek Orthodox calendar, for example, there are over 180 days where the diet is restricted. On the strictest of days, one may not consume meat, fish, dairy products, oil, or wine. Of course, I think there is a distinction between fasting and eating for nourishment and not pleasure, but as I said, they are similar: Both come from a notion that in eating simply we draw our focus on God and seek joy in God, not in food.

I'm trying diligently to discern what I believe may be a calling from God and to understand what exactly my Quaker Simple Eating would look like.

I would appreciate any thoughts or insights.


Views: 3027

Comment by Raye on 9th mo. 25, 2009 at 8:27pm
Michael, Eating is an area I would say, in my life, is not exemplary because I do enjoy treat foods regularly, sometimes overeating. Still, I know a number of Friends who follow patterns of simple eating, and I have learned and adopted much from them, so I would like to think I am on my way.

Ed Kirk once told me that his suppers consisted of lentil soup - mostly lentils and carrots. He spoke of how inexpensive the meal was, how very nutritious and satisfying it was. Ed lived a faithful life, and I can see that in his choice of dinners, he kept it healthy.

One of the steps toward a simple healthy diet for me has been slow food (making my own meals from scratch) and growing my own as much as possible. Many Friends in my Yearly Meeting raise at least some of their own food in kitchen gardens or on farms. Watching them, I see that they eat what is ripe, or what they have preserved, a variety of fruits and vegetables, with some meat with a meal or two, most of the time, but not huge piles of it.

This makes for regional differences in diet. My friends on dairy farms have abundant milk, another with chickens has fresh eggs for protein, and so forth. Those who live in the south have fresh foods more often than those up north, who eat from their frozen and canned stores some.

If you don't grow any of your own food, you may want to locate (if you haven't already) local farmers and markets, and eat a balanced diet of what is in season as much as possible. That seems basic.

Just as with plain dress, I find that there is a difference between following the Lord's leading and deciding that one ought to adopt a certain behavior for other reasons, some of which may seem very good. Listening intently to the Lord's further instructions is the way to go. I find He provides good detail when the time is right. He also often leads me to share my thoughts with others, especially seasoned Friends (I consider them my elders).

Your post pointed out to me that there are still some eating habits of mine that are doing nothing for the Kingdom, thanks for the nudge!
Comment by funnel101 on 9th mo. 25, 2009 at 8:59pm
I think eating just for nourishment would be a good way to live our Testimony on Simplicity. To stop eating when one's full, no matter how good the food tastes, reduces consumption, reducing our environmental impact and socio-economic impact as well (since a lot of food profits are made by underpaying those who grow the food or do the hard labor).
Comment by Liz W on 9th mo. 26, 2009 at 3:05am
I try to eat simply and only when I am hungry. For me, this mostly takes the form of simple one-pot dishes - the kind of thing my husband calls "peasant food" (and it's meant as high praise.) I make as much as I can from scratch and am starting to grow some of my own vegetables. I also get a weekly vegetable box to help me eat in tune with the seasons and take some of the element of choice out of it, rather than ordering whatever fancy air-freighted thing might come to mind. It still leaves me enough choice as to how to prepare the food that I don't feel deprived. I do eat vegetarian, but that is mostly for health reasons, as I cannot digest meat well. I also gave up fish some time ago for environmental reasons, well before I figured out that meat was the culprit for my digestive issues.
Comment by Stuart Masters on 9th mo. 26, 2009 at 5:11am
I have felt myself called in this direction in recent years too. I think that in the fulness of life in the Kingdom of God a joyous enjoyment of the abundance of creation should be assumed. However, in current circumstances our testimony must speak to the hungry and impoverished victims of a fallen world. I am a long way from achieving simplicity in food but find myself empowered to take one positive step at a time. My limited experience of fasting has certainly made me much more conscious and appreciative of the food I eat.

I have found Richard Foster's words in the 'fasting' chapter of A Celebration of Discipline very helpful.


Comment by Chel Avery on 9th mo. 26, 2009 at 8:04am
Off and on for about a decade I have been trying to limit my food intake as much as possible to ingredients that come from within a 100-mile radius (or when I don't know their source, at least ingredients that *could* come from that area). My stumbling blocks have been coffee and spices. (Also chocolate, but when I discussed this challenge with students at the Friends school where I was teaching, they insisted that chocolate was a local food -- it comes from Hershey, PA.)
For me, the harder part has been social. Getting together with small-f friends almost always comes with a built-in assumption that there will be exotic cuisine.
Comment by Alan Paxton on 9th mo. 26, 2009 at 7:12pm
I have found the late Doris Janzen Longacre's More-with-Less Cookbook (Herald Press, Scottdale PA/Waterloo Ont.) a very helpful guide to plain eating from a Mennonite perspective. I can't recommend the chapter on fasting from A Celebration of Discipline (a book I otherwise think highly of) because Richard Foster describes some really quite extreme fasting exercises without discussing the dangers of eating disorders. There are people who have starved themselves to death on a religious impulse - Simone Weil comes to mind.
Comment by Amelia Anne Schafer-Rutherford on 9th mo. 27, 2009 at 7:51am
This is very much a topic of simplicity I think. My household is not total a Friends based household. My husband see food as a real treat to the point of over indulging. I want to be supportive and not just critial. Which of course in act of simplicity is the fine line. I am also really struggling wiht simplicity in dress. I think these are all aspect of the great issue of simplicity in life style for religious reasons.
Comment by Stuart Masters on 9th mo. 27, 2009 at 8:21am
Hi Alan,

I accept the validity of your worries about irresponsible guidance about fasting. I wonder however whether Foster has amended this chapter in light of such feedback. My version of the book (which I think is the latest revised version) sets out what I would say is a cautious and phased approach to fasting and recommends seeking medical advice before undertaking an extended fast. I don't think I've dreamed this but I will need to check the text. My copy is on my bookshelf at work.


Comment by Jan Lyn Lewis on 9th mo. 27, 2009 at 6:05pm
I'm in a book study currently on Richard Foster's COD. We already covered the chapter Fasting and Foster indeed states: "There are some people who for physical reasons should not fast: diabetics, expectant mothers, heart patients and others." That being said, he does advocate serious consideration of fasting. He feels that it can help keep balance in our lives. I think that the guidance of the Light along with common sense is best. I am one of those individuals physically unable to fast so while it may be a spiritual discipline leading to further freedom in some, it can be medically dangerous in others. I second Alan's suggestion of the cookbook More With Less. We've had this in the family for years. May you be guided in the Light.
In Friendship,
Jan Lyn
Comment by Michael on 9th mo. 27, 2009 at 7:15pm
Dearest Friends -- I want to thank you wholeheartedly for taking the time to offer your insight on this topic. Michael.


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