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Lent begins

7 March 2011

Today is Clean Monday, the beginning of Great Lent. Well, actually it started last night, about halfway through the Vespers of Forgiveness.

A few years ago I went to Greece towards the end of Lent, and I thought it would be easy, in a country where most of the country is Orthodox, to find fasting food, but it proved remarkably difficult. We wanted to go to a restaurant with some friends, and the only place we could find was a very expensive specialist vegetarian restaurant halfway up the Acropolis above the Plaka, and it was clear that most of their clientele were New Age types, and the last thing on their minds was nistisimou — fasting food.

McLent at McDonalds, Athens 1998

Somewhat surprisingly the one place in Athens where fasting food was quite easy to get was McDonalds. They offered a “McLent” special — a veggie burger or six spring rolls with chips. Strictly speaking, oil is only permitted at weekends, and so the fried chips weren’t really Lenten fare, but at least they showed willing, more so than most of the local Greek restaurants did. And soon after that I read about some Hindu guy in the USA sueing McDonalds for having beef fat in the cooking oil in which they fried their “vegetarian” chips.

We now have McDonalds in South Africa, but back then we didn’t, though I’ve rarely visited a South African McDonalds — for one thing, I doubt that they offer Lenten fare here. The first time I ever went to a McDonalds was in Hong Kong — I’d read about them and wanted to sample their wares. It seemed little different from the Wimpy chain in South Africa. I also went to one in Moscow, to see how they differed from the Hong Kong branches, and was amused to see that they advertised “feelay o’ feesh” (written in Russian letters).

McLent in Athens, 1998

Anyway, the Athens McDonalds got a lot of custom from us in Lent, but come Pascha, we went elsewhere, because everywhere other than McDonalds offered lamb done in half a hundred different ways.

Back in South Africa I’ve been to conferences and seminars on various subjects, and where they’ve served food they’e had special tables with kosher and halaal food, and occasionally one for vegetarians, but for all their cultural “sensitivity”, none of them has ever offered nistisimou. I’ve wandered round them nibbling at the lettuce leaves and cherry tomatoes that have usually been put there for decorative effect — they were never meant to be eaten, but rather to make the vegetarian egg mayonnaise sandwiches look pretty.

I wonder of McDonalds in Moscow offers a McLent — does anybody know? Thank God for falafel.

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