The physiology of taste, by Brillat-Savarin

Meditation XXIV.

Fasting.

Definition.

FASTING is a moral abstinence from food, from some religious or moral influence.

Though contrary to our tastes and habits, it is yet of the greatest antiquity.

Origin.

Authors explain the matter thus:

In individual troubles, when a father, mother, or beloved child have died, all the household is in mourning. The body is washed, perfumed, enbalmed, and buried as it should be — none then think of eating, but all fast.

In public calamites, when a general drought appears, and cruel wars, or contagious maladies come, we humble ourselves before the power that sent them, and mortify ourselves by abstinence. Misfortune ceases. We become satisfied that the reason was that we fasted, and we continue to have reference to such conjectures.

Thus it is, men afflicted with public calamities or private ones, always yield to sadness, fail to take food, and in the end, make a voluntary act, a religious one.

They fancied they should macerate their body when their soul was oppressed, that they could excite the pity of the gods. This idea seized on all nations and filled them with the idea of mourning, prayers, sacrifice, abstinence, mortification, etc.

Christ came and sanctified fasting. All Christian sects since then have adopted fasting more or less, as an obligation.

How People Used to Fast.

The practice of fasting, I am sorry to say, has become very rare; and whether for the education of the wicked, or for their conversion, I am glad to tell how we fast now in the XVIII. century.

Ordinarily we breakfast before nine o’clock, on bread, cheese, fruit and cold meats.

Between one and two P. M., we take soup or pot au feu according to our positions.

About four, there is a little lunch kept up for the benefit of those people who belong to other ages, and for children.

About eight there was a regular supper, with entrees roti entremets dessert: all shared in it, and then went to bed.

In Paris there are always more magnificent suppers, which begin just after the play. The persons who usually attend them are pretty women, admirable actresses, financiers, and men about town. There the events of the day were talked of, the last new song was sung, and politics, literature, etc., were discussed. All persons devoted themselves especially to making love.

Let us see what was done on fast days:

No body breakfasted, and therefore all were more hungry than usual.

All dined as well as possible, but fish and vegetables are soon gone through with. At five o’clock all were furiously hungry, looked at their watches and became enraged, though they were securing their soul’s salvation.

At eight o’clock they had not a good supper, but a collation, a word derived from cloister, because at the end of the day the monks used to assemble to comment on the works of the fathers, after which they were allowed a glass of wine.

Neither butter, eggs, nor any thing animal was served at these collations. They had to be satisfied with salads, confitures, and meats, a very unsatisfactory food to such appetites at that time. They went to bed, however, and lived in hope as long as the fast lasted.

Those who ate these little suppers, I am assured, never fasted.

The chef-d’oeuvre of a kitchen of those days, I am assured, was a strictly apostolic collation, which, however, was very like a good supper.

Science soon resolved this problem by the recognition of fish, soups, and pastry made with oil. The observing of fasting, gave rise to an unknown pleasure, that of the Easter celebration.

A close observation shows that the elements of our enjoyment are, difficult privation, desire and gratification. All of these are found in the breaking of abstinence. I have seen two of my grand uncles, very excellent men, too, almost faint with pleasure, when, on the day after Easter, they saw a ham, or a pate brought on the table. A degenerate race like the present, experiences no such sensation.

Origin of the Removal of Restriction in Fasting.

I witnessed the rise of this. It advanced by almost insensible degrees.

Young persons of a certain age, were not forced to fast, nor were pregnant women, or those who thought themselves so. When in that condition, a soup, a very great temptation to those who were well, was served to them.

Then people began to find out that fasting disagreed with them, and kept them awake. All the little accidents man is subject to, were then attributed to it, so that people did not fast, because they thought themselves sick, or that they would be so. Collations thus gradually became rarer.

This was not all; some winters were so severe that people began to fear a scarcity of vegetables, and the ecclesiastical power officially relaxed its rigor.

The duty, however, was recognised and permission was always asked. The priests were refused it, but enjoined the necessity of extra alms giving.

The Revolution came, which occupied the minds of all, that none thought of priests, who were looked on as enemies to the state.

This cause does not exist, but a new one has intervened. The hour of our meals is totally changed; we do not eat so often, and a totally different household arrangement would be required for fasting. This is so true, that I think I may safely say, though I visit none but the best regulated houses, that, except at home, I have not seen a lenten table, or a collation ten times in twenty– five years.

We will not finish this chapter without observing the new direction popular taste has taken.

Thousands of men, who, forty years ago would have passed their evenings in cabarets, now pass them at the theatres.

Economy, certainly does not gain by this, but morality does. Manners are improved at the play, and at cafes one sees the journals. One certainly escapes the quarrels, diseases, and degradation, which infallibly result from the habit of frequenting cabarets.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/b/brillat/savarin/b85p/part29.html

Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31