Absence

By Jeremy Majid

On a recent trip to the library, I came across an intriguing cook book. It was not just a collection of recipes but a history of cook books dating back centuries. Each recipe was preceded by historical context which provided fascinating insights into how people lived. What most interested me was how many of the recipes from that time were separated into feast and fast days. On fast days, no terrestrial (land-based) animal products could be eaten.

On feast days, there was no such restriction. The church dictated which days were for feasting and fasting, and people complied.

One rule that stood out to me was that no eggs could be consumed for 40 days prior to Easter. Then at the traditional Easter festival, eggs featured both metaphorically and literally-the egg became an object of desire, in part, because of its absence. Decorating the eggs with paint and dyes built anticipation before the feast was enjoyed together among family and friends. It is no coincidence that eggs are abundant in traditional Greek and Italian Easter recipes. 

Reflecting upon my own experience with celebratory meals, last Christmas I travelled with my wife and toddler to my in-law’s hobby farm. We drank lots of wine and ate too much meat. By the time Christmas day rolled around, I wasn’t all that hungry. I of course ate, and ate, and then had thirds, but a meal of meat and vegetables felt less special than it should have. What was missing was the fast to give the feast meaning, otherwise the feast becomes close to just another day. 

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