Mary DeTurris Poust, author of Cravings: A Catholic Wrestles with Food, Self- Image and God. She will be speaking in Windsor March 7 as part of Assumption University’s Christian Culture Series.

There’s a religious-secular disconnect around food

By  Ron Stang, Catholic Register Special
  • March 5, 2016

WINDSOR, ONT. - It’s obvious that fasting during Lent has slid, dramatically, over the last several decades.

There could be several reasons — the fact it’s an old-fashioned tradition, that Catholics like everyone else lead busier lives, that the wider consumer culture has become more omnipresent.

Ironically, this is happening at a time when fasting, abstinence and “mindful eating” have become more popular than ever in the non-religious world.

“In the secular world or the spiritual, not religious, we’re seeing that refocus on food and how to make our meals slower and more local and healthier,” said Mary DeTurris Poust, author of Cravings: A Catholic Wrestles with Food, Self-Image and God.

DeTurris Poust, who is speaking March 7 at Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish in Windsor as part of Assumption University’s Christian Culture Series, said in recent years Catholics may have foregone fasting because they resented the Church “telling me what I have to do.” As well, many churchgoers have substituted charitable works for fasting. The thinking is, “I can be a better Catholic if I serve people than if I give up meat on Friday,” she said.

Yet, contrary to how people generally in the “slow food” movement concentrate on how food is prepared and its nourishment, traditional Christian fasting, which contains some of those same ideas, has been ignored.

“The (traditional) reasons may have been real and they may have been good but we kind of threw the baby out with the bathwater,” she said.

DeTurris Poust, author of seven books on Catholicism and spirituality, a blogger and frequent contributor to U.S. Catholic radio, also said that fasting and food fit into the broader religious ritual.

“For Catholics our entire faith surrounds a meal,” she said. “Every time we go to Mass we’re going to a meal.” Communion is taken reverentially and “we go back and sit in our pew and think about it.”

In other words, it’s hardly fast food culture.

“We don’t drive up to the church and take communion in the car and drive home.”

Moreover, food historically has had some of the same connotations as current trends in dieting and culinary arts.

“I always say The Monastics were the original locavores,” she said. “The Monastics show us that eating in season, eating as much as you can grow yourself, if possible, eating in a spiritual way, a certain rhythm, the whole day is set to a spiritual rhythm — that was the original version.”

DeTurris Poust hopes the religious and secular worlds can now bridge the gap, infusing how we think about food in a less superficial way.

“If we could just get the word out it would help people make that connection.”

She said we may want to think about fasting as a “transcendent” quality that goes beyond how our wider society thinks about changing behaviour and personal renewal.

She said that traditionally people stuck to fasts during Lent in a way they wouldn’t, say, to New Year’s resolutions or diets. “Because Lent is tied to the spiritual element and that gives it something with depth.”

Generally speaking, in her writing and talks, DeTurris Poust addresses thinking about food from a spiritual perspective.

“Often times we use food to fill that space where God should be and where our inner search should be.”

(Stang is a freelance writer in Windsor, Ont.)

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