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It’s… Lent.

I’m a little late to the party talking about things that one might do during Lent, seeing that it’s already more than a week since Ash Wednesday – but better late than never, right?

Fasting times such as Lent is one of the things that fascinate me in a way as they are obviously a religious thing, but can also have a very practical aspect. This time of year is one of scarcity – before we had canning plants and freezers and large climate-controlled storage facilities and an overall abundance of food available all year round, the time of year just before Spring proper was when food supplies were running out, but there was little or no fresh food available yet. So having a period of fasting with severe food restrictions in this time of year was actually less of a harsh restriction than it would have been at other times.

It does still serve, however, as an opportunity to look again at what one has, and what one may eat and drink. In turn, the release of the restriction still means some extra enjoyment and festive feeling when Easter comes around (with fresh foods as well) – so the period of restriction enhances the impact of the feast, helping everyone appreciate what is available again.

In our modern days, there’s no scarcity due to the season anymore, so the restriction for Lent might feel harder today. On the other hand, having a restriction with more impact probably does a better job at reminding how comfortable life usually is – which is also why quite a few modern people do not follow the “traditional” Lent rules, where there is no meat allowed, but make up their own fasting rules. One of the quite popular choices is to drink no alcohol during this time, another to forego all sweets. The idea behind this is that something convenient, or dear, is given up for a while; something that feels hard to give up, as a form of penitence.

The BUND Naturschutz (which is one of the eco organisations in Germany) has taken this year’s Lent as an opportunity to ask people to “fast plastics” instead of alcohol, or sweets, or meat (or, of course, in addition to that). Plastics, especially single-use plastics, are everywhere in our consumer society, and they pose a huge environmental problem. So the BUND asks us to look at what we buy, and use, with an open and critical eye for this Lent period: Is the stuff packaged in plastics? If yes, is there a way to avoid it? Maybe something packaged in plastic can be made at home, with little effort and for less money than when buying it; maybe avoiding plastic is as simple as bringing a canvas bag; maybe it’s just choosing another brand. Some things, such as milk, are available both in a tetrapack and in glass bottles; yoghurt can be bought in glass jars instead of plastic tubs.
While there are some people who actually try to go “zero plastic”, I find it really hard or impossible to non-plastic in some cases. So I still buy some plastic-wrapped stuff – but I am trying hard to reduce it, and even if I am still creating quite a bit of waste this way, every single bit of the stuff that is not used helps.

So… are you fasting? If so, what? Or trying to reduce plastic? Or both, even?

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