There was a time when most people did not need to give up anything for Lent. By the time the holy season came round, their supplies were low: perhaps they had a few wizened apples in store, a bit of wheat blighted with mould, and a few pickles. Lent would thus have been a time finishing off what had been hoarded since the previous autumn, and going hungry until the first crops of the spring could be harvested. It is only a generation that is used to plenty that needs to consider what to give up.
My suggestion is to cut out some luxury food. I do not mean tea and coffee, which are relatively cheap; true, they have no nutritional value. Nor do I mean chocolate, which like tea and coffee is a cash crop for some of the world’s poorest countries. Rather cut out beef. Cattle are a wasteful food source. They drink huge quantities of water and graze over tracts of land that could, in many places, be used for better purposes. They do great environmental damage, something highlighted in Annie Proulx’s excellent novel That Old Ace in the Hole. Other livestock use less and produce more. Lambs graze on uplands that are unsuitable for arable farming. Pigs can be kept almost anywhere and eat human leftovers. A beefless Lent might wean us off our dangerous addiction to this meat. And really, would it be such a huge sacrifice? I love burgers, but lamb burgers are just as nice as beef burgers. The same goes for meatballs: lamb and pork meatballs have far more flavour.
If this sounds a little bit too justice and peace, well, fasting is supposed to have a social justice angle to it. That at least seems to be the message of the 58th chapter of Isaiah which was read out in church last Friday.
Meanwhile, why not try some lentils? Here is the recipe that I was given recently. To some boiled Puy lentils (just follow the instructions on the pack) add lots of balsamic vinegar and soy sauce to taste. Throw on some thinly sliced leeks that you have fried in olive oil, and then either some pulled ham or some cooked lardons of bacon. Stir the whole thing together. Delicious hot or cold.