Last year, I went to Mardi Gras and attended a fancy ball in a black Cher wig and a borrowed thong, though to be fair, the woman who gave me the underwear did so with the understanding that “Once you wear them, just go ahead and consider them yours.” This year, I almost missed Fat Tuesday altogether.
It was a student who reminded me. He lived in New Orleans until Hurricane Katrina, and when he explained that he was going back to N.O. for a week as part of something that he described as, “You know, sort of like a…a family gathering, you might call it.” It was an excuse that fooled no one, and his peers were happy to rat him out on going back for Mardi Gras. Last year when I went, one of my tour guides had grown up in New Orleans, and for Randy, Mardi Gras was a tradition—almost like Christmas Part 2—so I actually think it’s cool that my student got to go back home for it. But since I have a job that I can’t leave for a week, my mind went to a different place. What the hell was I going to give up for Lent?
The goal is always this: give up something challenging, but not impossible. (Giving up coffee would basically ruin my quality of life.) I focus on something I feel like I’ve become too dependant on or that I would be healthier without. Somehow this usually leads to me giving up abstract concepts like the year I gave up fast food or the time I gave up shopping.
The problem is that these things always need to be defined. How fast does food have to be to qualify as forbidden? Clearly McDonald’s is out, but can I eat out at all? So, the rule became, if I was expected to leave a tip, it was a restaurant and not a fast food place. Shopping was defined as all non-essentials. So, I could buy milk, but not new shoes. That one was surprisingly hard and I found myself having protracted debates with myself about things like: My lips are feeling a bit dry and chapped, so does that mean that I can buy a new lip gloss that just happens to be in a flattering mauve shade?
This year, I gave up desserts, which I thought was relatively straightforward. Dessert= something sweet eaten after a meal. The thing is, though, that after my last class of the day, I am always craving sugar. What can I say, they wear me out, and sometimes the only thing that will pick me up is a snack sized Snickers or three. That’s pretty dessert-y, so I mused to my team teacher that I would have to bring a sweet snack like a muffin.
“Um…muffins are dessert.”
“What? No,” I protested. “They’re a breakfast food.”
“They’re basically cake,” she told me.
We debated until she offered to look up the ingredients for muffins and cake so we could see if there was any substantial difference. At that point, I backed down because, look, she’s right. I know she’s right, but now she was thinking out loud. She was making the point that yogurt might be considered dessert, and I put my foot down.
“You have to give me yogurt because I actually hate yogurt. I only eat it because it’s supposed to be good for me, but it can’t be dessert if I don’t enjoy it.” I didn’t like the direction the converstaion was taking. Did giving up dessert mean I had to essentially give up sugar for six weeks? I tried advocating for other breakfast foods, including doughnuts, which I almost never eat anyway. I just wanted a little wiggle room like sweet breakfast foods are okay if eaten before 9:30. Why do I never give up things that are specific things like chocolate or booze?
My roommate later refused to back me up on the breakfast food debate, assuring me that muffins were dessert and helpfully suggesting that I stock up on fruit. I mean, I love fruit, but could I occasionally mix things up with a graham cracker once in a while or are those just cookies? Ultimately, I elected to let my conscience be my guide in the Great Muffin Debate.
For Fat Tuesday, I called my boyfriend, Eric, to see if he wanted to meet me for coffee and one last dessert before Lent began. He picked me up, and we headed to a coffee shop that has arguably the best and widest selection of desserts in town. When we got there, I eyed the glass cases pretty seriously. There’s a certain pressure to choose wisely since it’s the last one for a while. I pointed to something that the guy behind the counter said was chocolate peanut butter cake.
A lovely way to say goodbye to sweet stuff.
“That’s the one,” I said before I had time to second guess myself. In my world, it is hard to beat the combination of chocolate and peanut butter
“You can’t just get one,” Eric said.
“Yeah, no, just a piece of cake and coffee. It’s perfect.”
We playfully argued back and forth, and when I explained the situation to the guy behind the counter, he laughed and immediately advocated for Eric’s sugar binge over my plan for moderation.
The problem is that it is very hard to forbid someone working in a food establishment to sell food to someone who has asked for it and is willing to pay. I never had a chance, which is how we ended up walking away with a generous slice of the cake I asked for, a cup of Oreo mousse and a dozen chocolate covered strawberries
Overkill. Evil, delicious overkill.
Three desserts. Eric did help me eat all three, and since he doesn’t really like sweet stuff, his plan ended up also being his punishment. But, he argued, isn’t this in keeping with the spirit of Mardi Gras? The idea of indulgence and excess before a long period of withdrawal? Going out with a bang (and a bit of a sugar hangover the next day?)
We pushed through, but the chocolate covered strawberries, which we saved for last, were literally hard to swallow. The last one sat between us for ten minutes as we chatted and sipped our coffee.
“You know that one’s yours,” he said.
“I know…” I whined. After a deep breath, I ate it quickly. My brain had already started a low buzz, and by the time he drove me home, I had already started the quick descent into a sugar coma. My brain was foggy, but I did have a moment of clarity where I told Eric that he wasn’t allowed to have ideas for a while.
I had worried that the binge would make things worse. That the next day, my body would be craving sugar more than ever because of the great infusion of it the day before. But, surprisingly, the aversion therapy has been successful. Just thinking about the chocolate coating on the strawberries—which under different circumstances would have been delicious—curbs any craving for sweets that I might normally have after a long day at school.
But I also vowed that next year, I’ll have to come up with a fake Lenten sacrifice to tell Eric about. Like, telling him I’m giving up reading books or giving up running so that if we do indulge again, it’ll be less likely to make me sick.