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This was the plan: not to eat for ten days and then tell you about it. Now let me tell…

By Kate Allen , in The Masticator , on February 2, 2009

This was the plan: not to eat for ten days and then tell you about it. Now let me tell you about it: it’s been eight hours and I’m going to go eat something.

The full plan was to write a two-part post on hunger. There is a hunger-strike relay happening in Vancouver, which involves one participant fasting for a week and then “passing on” the fast to the next participant and so on. I was going to interview one of the hunger-strikers about what it’s like to actually be hungry.

My “fast” was the infamous Master Cleanse, during which the participant consumes nothing but an elixir of water, lemon juice, maple syrup and cayenne pepper.

The two-part-ness of the post was meant to juxtapose real hunger and voluntary hunger— in other words, starving because you have to (or in solidarity with those that do) and starving because you want to (usually for reasons aesthetic, religious or medicinal).

I told my friends I was doing the cleanse because I wanted to think even harder about food than I already do, and denying yourself solid food for ten days is certainly an effective way to do that. I said it was an experiment for my blog. I said I was interested in the whole phenomenon, especially prevalent in the new year, of fasting-as-dieting. All this is true.

But now that I’m really and truly hungry, famished, ravenous, needing-of-a-sandwich, I’m starting to think I had other motives. It’s nice to believe that I was doing it on some meta-level, and that I had an ironic, journalistic detachment from the whole thing. But the truth is that I also bought into the whole rhetorical dieting bag. I wanted to be cleansed.

As a food writer and lover, this is bad. It’s can’t help my gourmet street cred (if that exists) that on some level I think not eating can be good. If you are a foodie, there is no possibility that not eating can be good. (I mean obviously, not all eating is always good, but it’s not like we gourmands are over here killing ourselves on ketchup chips and cans of Rockstar.) The incomparable eater and critic A.J. Liebling put it best in his essay “A Good Appetite”:

The primary requisite for writing well about food is a good appetite. Without this, it is impossible to accumulate, within the allotted span, enough experience of eating to have anything worth setting down. Each day brings only two opportunities for field work, and they are not to be wasted minimizing the intake of cholesterol.

So yes, not eating is bad for a food blogger/eater/rhapsodizer. But it’s also bad for a woman. From the moment as an adolescent that I became conscious of the relationship between the female body image and mass marketing, I’ve resisted connecting food to any negative feelings. And now that I’m feeling hungry, and feeling bad that I’m feeling hungry, I’m starting to think I’ve lost my way.

I expected fasting to make me think harder about all those oft-cited Starving African Children. But now, eight hours in, I find myself thinking about friends and family who have had eating disorders. Struggling to fast felt pretty smug considering the women I know who have struggled to eat three meals square meals a day.

In the end, here’s what I got out of my undeniably pathetic, eight-hour fast: if you have been blessed with a good appetite, and you’ve been doubly blessed with the means to satisfy that appetite, who are you helping by flouting those gifts?

So I went to Gastown and got a sandwich at Finch’s. Sandwiches at Finch’s are like candy, if candy was made from salt and fat instead of sugar. I still feel guilty—for starting, for quitting, for those Africans, etc.—but I think the best lesson to take from this is that I should think harder about my real motives before I undertake anything that connects eating well to feeling badly. Bon appetit.


  • I kinda feel your pain. I was listening to a podcast from 60 Minutes a few days ago about a magic pill in development made from some concentrated chemical found in red wine, that is supposed to be enable people to keep their crappy eating and exercising habits and still live into healthy old age.

    But they also interviewed this group of people who like to starve themselves, eating only one meal a day. believing it’s healthy and that you shouldn’t eat until you’re not hungry anymore. One guy even spoke about how sexy his wife looked naked because she starves herself (I got the idea that they were in their fifties, but it was an audio podcast, so I couldn’t tell.) Then I started thinking “maybe they have a point, maybe I should be eating only one meal a day.” It occurred to me shortly after that I was veering into eating disorder territory, and while I shouldn’t go out and eat all the fattening food I can get my grubby little paws on, eating food is one of life’s greatest pleasures, and why should I deny myself that for the sake of someone possibly thinking I look hot naked when I’m 50?

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