Eating Alongside the Poor for Lent

Eating Alongside the Poor for LentLent for me has become a chance to hunger and thirst for God’s kingdom to come more fully in my life and in the world. I want to hunger for Easter, to hunger for resurrection, and to hunger for the dawning of God’s good-news-to-the-poor kingdom in me and through me. This Lent I want to invite you to join me in 44 days of eating with the poor.

Food is pretty amazing. I love it. It excites all five senses (OK, maybe the hearing sense only when cooking or when you eat with your mouth open). Jesus did a lot of eating in the gospels. In fact food or feasting is pretty central to all of Scripture. Something about it connects with our emotions. Not more than a few waking hours can go by before our bodies and minds turn to the topic of food. Maybe that’s why fasting is such a critical spiritual discipline.

The idea of eating the simple fare of the poor around the world during Lent is an attempt to identify with Christ’s longing for those who are poor. It is a quest to be in touch with the frailty of our own humanity. The hungry poor are mostly distant to me, but they are not distant to Jesus. Eating what the poor eat draws me into a kind of relationship with them ... and with Christ who ushers in a kingdom which favors those at the bottom of the human food chain.

I’ve tried to represent what the poor eat in six different places for the six weeks of Lent. Eat only a couple of meals per day without snacks and eat the same food all week. Pray through your hunger pangs. Ask God to make you hungry for his kingdom come among the poor and ask him to provide for the needs of those who suffer hunger. Celebrate the beauty of spices – don’t overdo it - but use creativity in spicing your food. Remember that even among the poor there is flavor.

You will likely be saving about $5 per day or more on food. Consider giving that $200 savings over the 40 days of Lent to an organization committed to feeding the hungry. If you want to simplify your Lenten experience, choose only to eat simple rice or bean dishes throughout Lent.

Ash Wednesday through Week 1 (February 25 – March 7)
Kolkata, India
Make up a good sized batch of rice and dal (or lentils) for the week. Take whatever you would consider a single serving of vegetables and make it last for four meals. For a treat, have a little fish once or twice this week or perhaps a banana on the side. Be sure and eat with your fingers. Then, check out some stories of hope in Kolkata.

Week 2 (March 8 – March 14)
San Francisco, USA
I plan to eat only what my family leaves on their plates at the end of a meal. Serve at a shelter this week then stop to have a meal with someone you serve. Here’s a recent article on homelessness in San Francisco. And take a look at this video some friends from 2100 productions put together on the poor in SF. If you live in a town with a homeless population, then for one meal eat two items from the dollar menu at a fast food restaurant where the homeless in your town eat.

Week 3 (March 15 – March 21)
Guatemala City, Guatemala
About 50% of kids under 5 in Guatemala are chronically under nourished.  Here’s what the World Food Programme has to say about Guatemala. If you want breakfast, have only some watery oatmeal with ¼ of a sliced banana and a bit of sugar. For lunch or dinner have a half cup of rice or potatoes and plenty of tortillas. Once or twice this week have a little chicken and some broth.

Week 4 (March 22 – March 28)
Nairobi, Kenya
Check out the Kibera slum in Nairobi on and read about hunger in Kenya here. This week eat red beans perhaps with some corn or rice or vegetables mixed in.

Week 5 (March 29 – April 4)
Cairo, Egypt
Meals for the poor in Cairo center around filling up on bread (flat round loaves—similar to pitas that you can find in America), and when bread becomes unavailable people get angry (see an article about last year’s riots here).  This week eat bread, fuul (mashed fava beans with oil and salt, similar in taste to Mexican refried beans), a small salad of onion, tomato and cucumber, and tea with lots of sugar.

Week 6 (April 5 – April 11)
Moscow, Russia
For your meals this week use Cream-of-Wheat as a substitute for the Russian staple among the poor – Kasha. Have this with some bread and boiled potatoes. Make a simple broth with carrots, onions and beets. Read about the growing gap between rich and poor in Russia here.

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