But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way. “Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food, and treat your servants in accordance with what you see.” So he agreed to this and tested them for ten days. At the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food. (Daniel, 1:8,12-15)
The “Daniel Fast” seems to be a popular pastime among Swazis, serving as a “spiritual path to developing a closer relationship to God”. When some of my colleagues voiced interest in undertaking this vegan regime, I quickly signed up – I was keen to witness lachanaphobic, carnivorous Swazis going 10 days without meat or processed foods.
The Daniel Fast is restricted to nothing but unprocessed fruit, vegetables, wholegrains and water. While guidelines differ in relation to some of the “modern” foods (I can’t quite picture Daniel tucking into avocado fudgsicles), I tried to keep as true to the original text as possible, with two simple exceptions: tea and rice.
So, there I was, each morning, juicing my fruit by hand (no electric juicers in those days) and mixing it with my oats, nuts, seeds and dried fruit. I made big pots of vegetable cous cous for lunch, and indulged in lentil and vegetable stews for dinner. In fact, apart from some milk on my cereal and the life-giving morning coffee, my daily diet hadn’t really changed.
The clincher came, though, when I attempted to go out. No matter what vegan dishes Swazi restaurants claim to have, they inevitably don’t have it on the day you want it. I spent many painful evenings watching those around me tuck into pizza, prego rolls and beer, while hunger gnawed at my insides. Clearly, Daniel had no social life.
So, at the end of 10 days, how did we do? Well, Shelley gave up in the first hour, after she “accidentally” poured milk on her cereal. Tanele lasted an admirable four days, largely because a diet without meat for her meant a diet without food. I carried on solo until day nine, at which point I realised that the continual tiredness, hunger and joylessness that I was experiencing were not worth the effort. I can’t say that I feel any closer to God on account of this regime, and I definitely don’t feel healthier, but I do have a renewed appreciation for the good things in life. Especially pizza.
In an almost opposing act, I visited my friend’s homestead a couple of weeks ago to experience another foodie element of Swazi life. This is the point where I warn all vegetarians, vegans and those with sensitive stomachs to STOP READING! Seriously.
As I look around these days, I see an increasingly popular push for edible backyard gardens, and understandably so. Food straight from the vegie patch is cheaper, has more nutrients, and can be grown free from nasty chemicals. It also plays a role in enhancing our connection with the food we eat.
However, as an omnivore (of which 98% of Australians are), I often wonder why this wholesome, home-grown living doesn’t extend to the fauna elements of our diet. Sure, we have no qualms about gutting and filleting a fish, but how many will pluck a chicken out of the garden and turn it into a fresh, evening meal? As a chicken eater, I felt I owed it to my tasty friends to understand how they get from the coop to the cooking pot, in the hope that it would enhance my connection and appreciation of their juicy offerings.
I wasn’t sure if I could actually do what I planned to do until I did it. As I held my new feathered friend’s head, while Vuyisile tightly gripped his legs and wings, I was instructed to slice, not chop. It is amazing, and rather unnerving, how much power the mind can have over one’s actions. With the head clearly separated from the body, the rest of the process was painless: Plucking was rather meditative; cutting open the head and removing the cartilage was straightforward; digging out the intestines was squishy; slicing open the gizzards to reveal the stony insides was fascinating; and squeezing out the intestines was totally unappetising. In less than 30 minutes, we had the makings of a delicious meal – less time than it would take to go to the local supermarket.
Now, I’m not suggesting that everyone should get out there and commence mass animal slaughter, but I must admit, I did find the whole process rather enthralling. It has definitely increased my appreciation for what’s on my plate, and seems to have left me feeling more in touch with nature than most people would wish to believe. I guess there’s something to be said for that hunter-gatherer DNA that remains in all of us.