Thursday, March 01, 2007

Another Lead Fork award goes to . . .

the well-meaning but clueless youth director who recently sent home a flyer to parents in her church describing an upcoming activity for middle-schoolers titled "Hunger Feast!" This activity, which was described as "strongly encouraged," involves middle schoolers going without food for 30 hours in a lock-in at the church to "raise our awareness of hunger in the world and in our midst." The flyer goes on:

"Many of the activities we do during the lock-in focus on food (preparing food for and sharing it with others, doing volunteer tasks in the pantry, etc.); so we feel the ache of knowing that food is available to some, but—for this brief period of time—not to us. Experiences like this deepen our understanding of and increase empathy for the real human suffering that underlies the statistics.

There is, however, another aspect to this time of fasting. Fasting is a spiritual discipline, defined as “the voluntary abstention from an otherwise normal function—most often eating—for the sake of intense spiritual activity”. In addition to our hunger awareness activities, we also experience worship and prayer. It is always touching to observe the tender reactions of youth when they experience worship after having gone without food for a whole day. It is a powerful experience."

My recommendation: If you want your middle schoolers to develop empathy for those who are hungry, educate them--and yourself--about eating disorders. Celebrate food as part of life--a holy part of life, if you will--and have your kids volunteer at a food bank or soup kitchen. But for god's sake--and theirs--don't make self-starving holy or exalted.

8 comments:

CARRIE ARNOLD said...

Right before I went IP for anorexia, I received a phone call asking for donations to "feed the hungry." I got a chuckle out of that.

I understand the philosophy of making people aware of hunger, but fasting for that long seems like a real nice trigger for anorexia. Besides, I can appreciate the pain of childbirth without actually giving birth.

I'm just trying to decide whether to stab this woman with her lead fork and then feed her to the hungry masses, or just let her eat off of it and get lead poisoning.

Harriet Brown said...

Well put!

It's doubly ironic that this event is happening during National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. Maybe she's trying to drum up business for the e.d. counselors?

God knows they don't need it.

marcella said...

Perhaps her church needs to look hard at its policy on children and young people. Established religions who use feasting and fasting as a way of encouraging spiritual discipline have very strict rules about the unsuitability of extreme fasting (as in missing A meal let alone 30 hours worth of food).

CARRIE ARNOLD said...

I took a history of Christian Theology course in college, and the original term "fasting" didn't mean not eating. It meant abstaining from foods you found pleasurable as a way to bring you closer to God, to make you more aware of suffering. Typically, it meant eating bread and water for a day or two, doing a lot of praying, and then that would be it. That's a simplified version, to be sure, but nevertheless.

My friend (who has recovered from AN) celebrates Lent by giving up things she enjoys like crossword puzzles, so she is more aware of how much she enjoys them at the ending of Lent.

Harriet Brown said...

That's fascinating. Having a different cultural perspective really does change things--so when we read about "fasting" historically, we may think we know what we're reading about, but it might refer to something different.

Given what I now know about eating disorders, I don't allow my daughters to fast for Yom Kippur, either.

CARRIE ARNOLD said...

My psychiatrist always emphasizes that EDs are medical illnesses, and therefore sufferers do not have to fast (or should not fast, for that matter) because of medical reasons.

And to think, I just liked Lent because it meant a fish fry on Friday! :)

Anonymous said...

you guys blow it out of porportion

Another Maudsley Mom said...

You might feel differently, anonymous, if you'd seen your own child spiral into life threatening starvation and painfully fight her way back.

There's no benefit in these kooky efforts at "intense spiritual activity" for 11-13 year olds. That light-headed altered state that's being mistaken for a spiritual state is just unhealthy starvation-induced blood pressure flucuations. Anyway, Jesus was into multiplying loaves and fishes to feed people--not starving middle schoolers.