I’m giving up free food for Lent

Ok, I know that sounds weird, but there’s method in my madness.  I try to be on guard against my Kantian-to-solipsist tendencies, and I think I’ve noticed another spot festering.  I’m lucky in that, within walking distance of my office there’s a delicious cupcake place that, once a week, gives away free cupcakes if you come in and do a talent.  And right across from my building is a restaurant that does free wine and cheese tastings twice a week.  Like a certain Transylvania count, I never drink… wine, but I quite enjoy the cheeses.

The trouble is, I find that my pleasure in the food and in not paying for it tends to be commingled with a kind of smug feeling that I’ve somehow gotten one over on someone.  I guess it’s better to feel that when I’m not actually taking advantage of people, but it’s pretty obviously a bad pleasure to cultivate.  There’s something pretty weird about redefining a generous gesture as a weakness I am exploiting.

So I’m going to skip the cupcakes and cheese and hope that a Lenten hard reset will help me come back to them with just innocent enjoyment and actual gratitude.  I know this a strange, picayune thing to focus on, but it’s actually a small fault, all the more reason to root it out and burn it off.

So that’s what I’m giving up.  As for the thing I’m taking on, I’m finally reading The Brothers Karamazov.  I’ve been working my way through some of the must-read religion-or-philosophy-related books I’ve had recommended by friends or commenters.  (The Power and the Glory. Brideshead Revisited, Fear and Trembling, I am a Strange Loop, and After Virtue were also on this list, and I’ve finished them).  The Brothers K is the big one left, and I promise you all (but mostly TKB) that I will read it now.

The comment thread is open for making fun of me or sharing any Lent plans of your own.

About Leah Libresco

Leah Anthony Libresco graduated from Yale in 2011. She works as an Editorial Assistant at The American Conservative by day, and by night writes for Patheos about theology, philosophy, and math at www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked. She was received into the Catholic Church in November 2012."

  • Spambot3049

    “… I’m finally reading The Brothers Karamazov. ”

    I hope you blog on it on occasion. I’ve been struggling with it for a few months and starting to lose interest because I don’t understand what is going on all the time.

    • http://last-conformer.net Gilbert

      My first attempt at reading it failed for the same reason, so perhaps two points I understood on the second (successful) try years later might help:
      -There really isn’t that much going on. It’s about characters and partially about the embedded texts the form of a novel allows for, but there is just enough pretext of a plot to hold it all together. Trying to get to the interesting part is a sure way to miss it.
      -The name proliferation is orders of magnitude worse with Aljosha than with everyone else. It is safe to assume that any unknown name beginning with A refers to him. Other than for the billions of variations of Aljosha the Russian naming system is actually quite sane.

      • Spambot3049

        Hey, thanks. I’m motivated to try again.

      • leahlibresco

        I really appreciate the naming conventions heads up

  • http://not-atamelion.blogspot.com Michael H.

    It actually sounds like a fantastic thing to give up. (Though Latter-day Saints don’t observe Lent, in the past I’ve done similar “fasts”… and from similarly esoteric-but-personally-meaningful things.)

  • http://last-conformer.net/ Gilbert

    Can I offer a tip for additional enjoyment, totally unrelated for the main reasons you should read The Brothers Karamazov?

    Take a look at St. Simeon’s prayer in the bible (Lk 2:25-32). Then know that the the Orthodox (like, b.t.w. we Catholics) sing it as a nighttime prayer in a somewhat contemplative tone. To get an idea of how it’s used you may look at this Youtube video, though the music admittedly was written after Dostojewsky’s time.

    The reason I recommend this is because the novel also contains the best. joke. ever. and this is the background you need to get it.

  • Brian S

    “Pretty obviously a bad pleasure to cultivate.”

    I disagree, or at any rate don’t feel that you’ve demonstrated that sufficiently. I could make the argument, as you almost do, that “getting one over on someone” is a natural human feeling, and you’re finding a healthy outlet for it. Or I could argue that what you’re feeling isn’t a sense of having outfoxed someone, but rather just a misinterpretation of your pleasure at getting something for nothing – since it’s often the case that doing that does involve taking advantage of something, you’ve been conditioned to associate the two implicitly.

    Also, I see no reason why giving anything up for Lent is meaningful. Presumably you don’t find religious value in Lent. Are you giving things up because “that’s what some other folks are doing during Lent”? (That’s not a good reason to do things, generally.) Or is it just an excuse to give something up that you feel you ought to give up? (If so, you should give it up regardless, and should question why you need excuses to make sensible life decisions. However, I still feel that giving up free food is NOT a sensible life decision.)

    And just so we’re clear, do you think the free cupcake place, for example, offers the free cupcakes hoping that no one will actually ever come in, do a talent, and get a free cupcake? I think they kind of want / expect you to enjoy the free cupcake. Presumably it’s part of their business strategy, or else it’s just nice (which can also be part of a business strategy)…but in any event, if everyone acted as you do, it would render useless their offer to engage in a presumably value-maximizing transaction for both sides. I don’t think your behavior is going to have any real impact on them, but I still don’t see giving up the cupcakes as a positive thing for anyone involved.

    • Brian S

      Ugh, and to be clear (as I don’t think I can edit)…”acted as you do” in the last paragraph means giving up the free cupcakes, not eating the free cupcakes. If everybody ate free cupcakes all the time, the business would adjust their model. They expect you to take advantage of their offer, was my point. Are you better off without a free cupcake, health concerns aside? (No.) And neither are they, really, or else they wouldn’t offer it in the first place.

      • deiseach

        Brian S, free cupcakes are to entice us cupcake (and other baked goods lovers) in so that once we have tasted of the sugary goodness, we will (a) in a frenzy of tastebud-maddened desire immediately buy half a dozen not-free cupcakes (b) decide to regularly patronise ‘that place that gives away the free cupcakes’ on the days there are no free cupcakes so we will buy something else.

        On that, you and I (and I imagine Leah) all agree.

        Now, if Leah only heads over there on ‘free cupcake’ days, and only scoffs down the free cupcake and then leaves without purchasing anything else, then (I submit) she may well feel she has “gotten something over on someone” (ha! I get a free cupcake every week and I’ve never bought so much as a single breadroll from them!)

        • http://last-conformer.net/ Gilbert

          That’s true if the cupcake shop’s evil plan is to have people come in for free cupcakes and then get them hooked.

          But there might be an entirely different evil plan: Have a free talent show, sell cupcakes to the audience that watches it, and then pay the talent in cupcakes which probably turns out far below minimum wage. So it may actually be the cupcake shop getting something over on Leah. Or maybe Leah and the cupcake shop getting something over on the IRS by reverting to barter trade.

          On the other hand, the cheese is getting something over on the place and hilariously so. A tee-totaler going to a wine tasting for the cheese sounds almost like the plot of some Monty Python sketch.

          • deiseach

            So many evil plans, so little time to eat cupcakes ;-)

          • leahlibresco

            What is really surprising to me is how often when I do a talent, someone else is in line behind me and is confused, I explain what’s going on, and they opt to pay for a cupcake instead of singing something.

          • deiseach

            If the ones who pay are as vocally gifted as I am, it would be more a case of “I’ll give you two free cupcakes if you don’t sing” :-)

        • leahlibresco

          Err… I do mostly only go there on free cupcake days, but I talk the place up to my friends. I don’t think I’m actually hurting the store, especially as almost no one takes advantage of this deal. When I got there particularly late one Tuesday, they told me I was the fourth person that day (the freebie is capped at 50).

          • deiseach

            So you are not indulging your cupcake addiction at the expense of society :-)

            No, I get the idea about changing your attitude from “Suckers!” to “Wow, I live in a world where I can get free cupcakes???” and I think you’re on to the right idea – it’s not about giving up cupcakes, it’s about developing a habit of gratitude. Every success in your endeavour!

  • Ed

    If memory serves, Dostoyevsky wrote Bros. K when he was in a bit of a manic state, drinking heavily and over a very short period of time. Head over to the wikipedia page of B.K. and look at the photo of Dostoyevsky’s notes for chapter 5 for some visual evidence of his state of mind. As such, the book is best read in large, day-long gulps. Drinking vodka is also recommended.

  • http://denythecat.blogspot.com Brian Sullivan

    what talent do you do to get the free cupcake?

    • leahlibresco

      Singing, swing dance, or reading the front page of the NYT in an Irish accent.

  • Emily

    Brothers K is awesome, hope you find it so.

    I have a similar question about your Lenten resolution – why Lent? If you don’t buy into the belief system behind it, but presumably think enough about what it means that you know it’s not just a fun fashion, why not just take a break from free food? I really don’t think Lent is secularized like Christmas….

    My own plans involve making greater efforts at structured prayer and giving up a food item that I will miss a lot, so there will be some disciplinary benefit, but is not so much a part of shared meals with my non-Christian husband that it will affect him very much.

  • http://sublimitynow.blogspot.com/ TKB

    Very excited about that reading list!

    SMG actually recently read Brideshead, you should get him to write about it.

    • leahlibresco

      SMG is our tranhumanist friend, not the Buffy actress, right?

  • paul rinzler

    Talk to any musician and you will get a guilt-free, clear, level-headed approach to the joys of free food, with no ethical paradoxes to get in the way.

    The only questions is, “Will the musician’s behavior toward obtaining free food maximize or minimize the probability of another opportunity for free food?”

  • Paul

    Why do you involve yourself in “Lent”, if you do not hold to the rationale behind the Lenten Season and/or Lenten practices?

    • http://moralmindfield.wordpress.com Brian Green

      I don’t know about Leah, but my response is that practices are usually detachable from their theory. In other words, one can come up with numerous different ways to justify the same practice. Besides, self-improvement hardly needs a justification.

  • http://thinkinggrounds.blogspot.com Christian H

    Because I like talking about myself…

    Negative: I’m giving up TV shows on Netflix. With any luck I’ll have done the bulk of my work for the term before the season ends.
    Positive (and tentative): I’m writing a Lenten sonnet each day. (I’m not sure this will hold up; a sonnet takes me about an hour. I may not have that to spare.)

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