For almost two years of my life, I fasted every single Wednesday, which, for me, meant that I consumed nothing (no food, water, mints, anything) from sun up to sun down. Whenever people asked why, it was hard for me to explain. Most folks assumed it was some sort of religious reasoning, as that was their only context for understanding fasting, and it wasn’t. While it was most definitely a spiritual exercise, I did it for more practical reasons.
I chose to fast to stay in touch with my privilege. I have never once gone hungry in my life except out of choice. And that is an incredible privilege! I have had nourishing meals to keep me well fed and fueled every single day of my life. I mean, what percentage of the world’s population can boast that?
It is a mark of great class privilege to be able to literally pop something delicious and/or nourishing in my mouth every time that I am hungry, and it helped me to stay in touch with that privilege to feel the hunger that rolled in every Wednesday afternoon while I fasted.
I stopped fasting weekly when I became a teacher. I just couldn’t keep up with the afternoon energy of my students when I was so lacking in blood sugar.
Since then, I have fasted only sporadically. I often fast a day or two during Lent in solidarity with my Christian brothers and sisters and once a week during Ramadan in solidarity with my Muslim brothers and sisters. I’ve fasted on occasion during Yom Kippur, and a few years back, I participated in a 38 hour fast to honor the legacy of Cesar Chavez while recommitting to my own social justice work.
In thinking about these fasting experiences as opposed to my Wednesday fasts, I realize that what I was missing was the experience of fasting in community. In community, we can talk about our shared reasons for fasting, our shared experiences of hunger and the reflection it prompted. In community, we can break bread together at the end of the day and laugh and reflect on our privilege to eat so well together.
Fasting, much like social justice work, is best done in community.
This idea, denying oneself food to make a point or to force a hand or to connect spiritually, has been on my mind a lot recently. I was reminded this week of the powerful Guantanamo Bay hunger strike when I saw the harrowing video of Yasiin Bey (formerly Mos Def) being force fed in the same manner as the Guantanamo prisoners. I’ve also been reflecting on the incredible commitment of fasting every single day without food for a month (something I would have a very hard time doing) like my Muslim family and friends are undertaking in Ramadan right now. And I’ve been thinking of the California Prisons Hunger Strike.
For those who don’t know, 30,000 prisoners in California in two-thirds of the state’s prisons are currently participating in a hunger strike. 30,000 people are refusing food. They are doing so while family members and prison reform activists demonstrate on the outside in hopes of changing 5 reasonable aspects of California prison policy. (Keep an eye out for an upcoming piece at Everyday Feminism I’m authoring with Dr. Venus Evans-Winters on how you can act in solidarity.)
So with the weight of these things in mind, today I fast. And tonight I will break fast in community, sharing a meal with a friend and ally in justice work who is fasting every day of Ramadan.
To my readers, I ask: Do you fast? Why do you fast?
And I encourage you to fast in solidarity with the hunger strikers in California and Guantanamo Bay, people who would rather die to make their point (or be disturbingly force fed) than continue to live in a system built fundamentally on dehumanization and oppression. In doing so, talk to your friends and family about why you’re fasting, and call them to act for change as well.