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Right on the verge of the holiday gorging season, I’ve gotten a glimpse of what it means to be hungry.
It all began with a knee injury earlier this year. Deprived of my usual stress busters–running and yoga—I took to filling that extra time with food. So a few weeks ago, I decided to embark on a “cleanse.” Based on a book called If the Buddha Came to Dinner, the cleanse prescribed a restricted diet as a means of transformational nourishment: renewed energy; healthy eating; and clarity of mind, body, and spirit.
No matter how much and how often I ate, the first five days—when you can eat only fruit and vegetables—were tough. Caffeine withdrawal gave me headaches and nausea. Instead of my old friends, sugar and wheat, I had to turn to kale and beets. My dreams of chocolate croissants remained unfulfilled. Slowly, I began to get into the groove, but I was always hungry.
One Sunday, on a walk through the vast, tree-filled Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, I came upon a couple sitting on a blanket unwrapping sandwiches. My heart skipped a beat: Was that bread? Indeed, I saw olive bread glistening in the sun. Bits of juicy avocado. Potato chips…
Right then, I had an intense impulse to punch both of them, steal their sandwiches, and run. I can’t quite describe how the idea entered my mind, but it was visceral and deep. It rose up from the belly of hunger, five days long. Part literal hunger, because vegetables can only go so far, but part psychological, too: the hunger of, how-dare-you-deprive-me-of-the-bounty-of-the-supermarket? Suddenly all bets were off. My hunger had parted a curtain, exposing possible violence and theft.
Of course, I went home and grumpily ate grated daikon with lemon juice, no harm done to the picnickers. But I also felt humbled. For over 840 million people around the world, hunger is not a choice. And I’d had only a quick glimpse of how desperate it can make you feel.
Now that my cleanse is over, I can eat a hearty meal this Thanksgiving. But my experience casts a new light on the holiday feast.
A light not unlike the sun on that bewitching olive bread.