Hungry for justice, students participate in weeklong fast

Students eat dinner in Dodd after fasting for climate justice.
Students eat dinner in Dodd after fasting for climate justice.

If you’ve ever missed a meal, you probably know that gnawing pain in your stomach as your body pleads for food. For five Ephs over the fast week, this feeling is all too familiar. The students, Jen Rowe ’11, Sasha Macko ’11, Sara Doresy ’11, Alex Ambros ’11 and Bridget Ngcobo ’12, decided to fast for an entire week, from 7 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 30 to this past Monday, Dec. 7, attempting to raise awareness about global climate change issues. The fast is part of a wider international movement, particularly driven by 10 participants who opted to complete a 42-day long fast from Nov. 6 to Dec. 18, the conclusion of the UN climate talks in Copenhagen.

Rowe, the main organizer of the fast, said she first learned about the fast this summer and decided to bring it from the international stage to the confines of the purple bubble. “The inspiration behind the fast came for me this past summer while I was in India,” she said. “I actually got to see how climate change was already affecting a lot of people there, particularly with the monsoon, which the people depended on for their crops. I thought the fast would be an important step to spreading awareness.”

Macko’s summer experiences were similarly enlightening about the true effects of climate change on the developing countries. “I worked for an organization called Avaaz that worked to represent small nations that often do not get a political say in issues pertaining to climate change,” she said. “And for me, this climate justice fast is about that – it’s not just about mitigating the effects of climate change but also views the issue as a justice issue aiming to aid those who are most adversely affected by climate change.”

For these students, the fast is particularly telling of the hardships suffered by those in the Third World while providing a visual representation of the ways in which everyone at the College contributes to the problem. “We’re all about being green, but people don’t realize that it takes lots of energy and material to make these hybrids and that they actually tend to drive more with their hybrid cars,” Ambros said. “It’s more productive to reduce what we consume. Fasting is just an extreme of that – we realize that we don’t need food so we don’t consume as much. It gives you the time to think and notice the value of what you have.”

In order to put the issue in perspective, the students even put up signs in Henze Lounge in Paresky to showcase the implications of climate change around the world. “We also put up a display so that people could learn about the issue,” Rowe said. “I think a lot of times people here can’t see the effects of climate change, that there are people suffering, so they don’t have any reason to change their lifestyle. That’s why it is so important to have stories up that show the effects of climate change and how important this movement really is.”

Though Rowe, Macko, Dorsey, Ambros and Ngcobo decided to fast for one week, their fast was part of a greater campaign at the College that called on students and faculty to each fast for one of the 42 days from Nov. 6 to Dec. 18. All in all, 47 people signed up to participate in the relay fast on campus, which later inspired five other rolling fasts around the country. These five women, however, wanted to take the fast a step further, truly challenging themselves by abstaining from food for a week.

“The five of us actually wanted to fast longer, and we decided that a week was a manageable time period,” Rowe said. “We really wanted to show our commitment to the movement and truly make a sacrifice. This way, we thought we would be able to get attention to be paid on the long-term fast and the climate change movement in general.”

Though the weeklong fast was manageable health-wise, it doesn’t mean the fasting Ephs had an easy time abstaining from food. “The first few days I was just really hungry, like the type of hunger you feel when you have missed a meal,” Rowe said. “It was pretty distracting. Later, hunger in the normal sense goes away and your body switches to ketosis in which your body no longer asks for food and just lives off the resources already in your body. That was more manageable.”

Macko agreed, saying that towards the end of her fast she didn’t even feel hunger anymore; she just missed tasting food. And despite the days of fasting with only water to soothe her hunger, Macko believes the experience was all worthwhile. “I think fasting has really shown me the resilience of the human body, which we tend not to realize,” she said. “This experience has shown me that our bodies can withstand a lot more and the privilege that I have with my access to food. I feel a lot more mentally awake now, especially since I’ve been avoiding all the crap I eat during finals time.”

For Ambros, the experience even has further benefits: “A lot of my day used to revolve around food, but this fast has meant that I’m no longer so distracted by food – well, except the occasional stomach growls. I’m actually now more focused and productive. And now when I get stressed, I think about it instead of eating a whole bowl of popcorn. For me, it’s a more fulfilling way of dealing with stress.”

It’s hard enough to survive the end of the semester, but these five Ephs proved they could go hungry for a week in the name of Mother Earth – and make it look easy, to boot.