Ramadan for Atheists and Whole Foods Shoppers

3 Aug

Can one sincerely dabble in Ramadan? Although you might begin the week from a point of sincerity, you’re not so oblivious to believe you’re “doing” Ramadan beyond how Anthropologie girl does Ramadan. Will you cave like Whole Foods?

Over the years, you’ve done one-off iftar meals. You spent the ninth month of last year’s Islamic calendar in Cairo. “Doing Ramadan” is intended as a joke on you—not a joke on Ramadan. Maybe a better way to think of it is as an exercise in acknowledging Ramadan. An for those not raised in Muslim families. Above all, it’s about getting in on the spirit of the season. So unless there’s strenuous objection, you’ll stick with “do.” (And meet you on Talaat Harbat at midnight for a glimpse of the kind of seasonal materialism that gives American Christmas a run for its money.)


It’s worth mentioning that you got your first taste of Lent this year too, giving up booze, meat, smoking, dairy, flour and xHamster. For $35, you purchased a curious detox kit that comes with pills named bili-, cleansa-, and laxa– herb. There’s a vial of something called CL Extract. And a sparse sheet of instructions. The gist was to take the pills and eat combinations of brown rice, almonds, onions, ginger and fish. It’s a kind of fast. A fast for people who want to give things up, but don’t want to go without food. In the right hands, it could become a fast for people who want to dabble in Ramadan.

The information sheet states: “During the cleansing period, you may eat as much as you want, but your choice of foods is very significant.”

Flour products are not recommended during this program because, when mixed with water, flour forms a glue-like substance. This glue-like substance has a tendency to stick to the lining of the intestinal tract and plug-up the system. During a cleanse (especially), one should eliminate those foods which place an extra burden on elimination.

Peanuts must be avoided as they contain naturally-occurring yeasts and molds. Ridding the body of excess yeast is one of the functions of the herbal D-tox. All fermented foods are to be avoided due to the fact that yeast is a major ingredient in these foods. This means no wine, beer, vinegar, soy sauce, black tea or miso. It strongly recommended to not consume alcohol of any type during this program.

This is what happens on such a cleanse:

DAY 1: There is a strong urge to begin the way one begins Christmas, with 26 ounces of rye whisky, a bowl of butter chicken poutine and that cigar your sister brought back from Havana six months ago. As urges go, it’s insane. Yet not entirely misguided. Like a car is sold based on how fast it gets from 0-60 rather than miles squeezed from a gallon, there is a deep human curiosity to see exactly what the puppy can do.

It’s best to begin suddenly. Even haphazardly. You haven’t yet figured out how to participate in a Lent or a Ramadan, but you’ve swallowed a handful of pills. These pills serve no real purpose other than to indicate that the ride’s begun.

As a rule of thumb, it’s advantageous to start this sort of thing on a Wednesday night. That way you’ve got the illusion of one day down. The second day still feels like a piece of cake. It’s not until halfway through the third day (Friday) that the withdrawal symptoms begin, and you realize what you’re in for. But by that time, you have Saturday and Sunday (day 4 and 5)—the crux of the withrawal—to take it easy. But Ramadan began on Friday that year.

DAY 2: In the early morning light, there is a sensation of having a new tattoo somewhere on your body. On the way to work, you buy a juice from the place next door to the guy who sells breakfast bagels. The gal crams pounds of beets, carrots, tomato and ginger into a juicer. You tell her to double up on the ginger, and it’s like this cross between a Bloody Mary and a Moscow Mule. You swallow your next round of pills. Though it is well after dawn, you think to yourself: Ramadan fucking rules! (In the next 30 days, you will clean up your language.)

On the way home, you stop at one of those organic grocery stores that is in a similar vein as Whole Foods, and like Whole Foods charges a little more than you’d like to pay. You think about that scene in Leaving Las Vegas, where Nicholas Cage whirs around the liquor store stocking up a cart for his final binge. That’s you at the Whole Foods equivalent mart. At the bulk bins, you scoop black rice, red rice, wild rice, brown rice. Grains called millet and quinoa. Long fresh chunks of ginger from Jamacia. Bundles of leeks and shallots and spring onions. A piece of wild salmon (It’s almost disappointing when the bill comes to less than your last bottle of single malt.) Tomorrow night, you’ll hit the Farmer’s Market and splurge on every kind of two dollar heirloom tomato; every colour onion; Spanish, Russian and Hutterite garlic and higher end ginger still. And fish to eat every day the following week. (Wild Rose’s “most recommended” things to eat.)

You tell people that you are observing Ramadan. You still don’t know what that means. You don’t know what comes next. A hippy woman, who looks Japanese, tells you about Kazim Ali’s blog “Fasting for Ramadan.” Ali describes his blog as “searching descriptions of the Ramadan sensibility.” He has become estranged from his family’s traditions and wants to re-embraced the Ramadan ritual.

I kept reciting under my breath the poem “The Emperor of Ice Cream” by American poet Wallace Stevens. Stevens’ short poem describes ice cream being made in house of mourning. Though there is ever-present sadness the poet still wishes to “whip in kitchen cups concupiscent curds.”

Listen: Welcome O Ramadan.


One Response to “Ramadan for Atheists and Whole Foods Shoppers”

  1. Ghada September 14, 2011 at 2:13 pm #

    Hey V Ethnic, nice post!

    I was wondering which organic shop you went to that sells wild salmon.

    I’m desperately looking for decent health food shops in Cairo (or Giza).

    Your help would be really appreciated.

    Keep up the good posts!

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