07/06/2015 12:22 EDT | Updated 07/06/2016 05:59 EDT

Ramadan Changes What Food Means to Me

Fasting itself does not help those less fortunate. However, the person fasting has a heightened awareness of how it feels to be hungry and therefore how those less fortunate feel being hungry every day. Knowing is one thing, but experiencing is completely different.

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Prophet Mohammad, the last of many Prophets in Islam, was reported to have said that the stomach should be "divided" into three parts, one third for food, one third for water and one third for air. In other words, Islamic etiquette is eating in moderation and not filling the stomach until it is full.

Iftaar is the meal that breaks the fast, which occurs at sunset. Traditionally the fast is broken with dates and this tradition takes place amongst Muslims from all different backgrounds. Thereafter, iftaar food varies among the different cultures. I am of South Asian descent and in my culture, it is tradition to have special traets at iftaar time such as, fried samosas, pastries, "sweet" rice, rice pudding, baklava, etc. Until I attended university, I did not realize that not all cultures participated in having such treats.

My parents were born in India, lived in the U.K. (where I was born) and then moved to Toronto (when I was two). They continued the treats tradition while I was growing up. Even outside of Ramadan, it was common to have some sort of appetizer and/or dessert with dinner. My husband's parents were born in Africa, but his grandparents were from India, and they too made treats in Ramadan when he was growing up, and they still do for the most part. I have broken this tradition for myself and even though my husband still indulges a few times a week, I have learned to say no thank-you more often than saying yes. This has been and is work in progress.

During my time both at York University and University of Ottawa, I attended the Muslim Students Associations' organized dinners for iftaar. They were all sponsored and it was such a great experience to break my fast with so many people. I also learned very quickly that rarely were treats served at these iftaars, it was straight to dinner. Some dinners were healthy and some were not, but either way, the lack of traditional home treats became the norm, at least during the weekdays.

Over time, as I battled losing a few pounds, I became health conscious and more aware that my body could no longer process the treats the way my body could in high school. I started educating myself about sugar, fat, carbohydrates, etc. I do not claim to be a healthy eater even now but I have carved out different eating patterns then my parents and my in-laws and what they grew up with and what I grew up with it.

When one is fasting long hours (during the summer months), it leaves me without a huge appetite and very little time after sunset to eat. So for me, I become focused on the foods that will give me the best nutrients for my body. In addition, without fail, I manage to get in eight glasses of water between 9 p.m. and 3 a.m. (the non-fasting hours in the summer). My body, given to me by God, is mine to take care of and I am not fulfilling that responsibility to myself by eating junk food or overeating. This applies all year round, but during Ramadan, it is especially important to eat well. So contrary to the comments posted on my previous blogs about fasting being unhealthy, for me, Ramadan is the month I eat the healthiest.

Good food or bad food, needless to say, wasting food is prohibited among many religions, including Islam, and definitely violates the essence of Ramadan. There is enough food in the world to feed every single person on this earth and yet majority of the people on this planet are hungry. We can thank commercialism for that. It makes me very upset and sad. So you can only imagine my reaction when I learnt that in the Middle East, grand lavish buffets are offered by restaurants for iftaar. There is only so much one can eat after fasting all day (especially during the long summer months), which means the majority of the food at these buffets go to waste, just like the billions of dollars worth of food thrown out annually by Canadians. There's also the aspect of money wasted paying for food that cannot be consumed. How does this make any sense? How does this fit in with what Ramadan stands for? I am not judging, I am asking.

Fasting itself does not help those less fortunate. However, the person fasting has a heightened awareness of how it feels to be hungry and therefore how those less fortunate feel being hungry every day. Knowing is one thing, but experiencing is completely different. As my stomach growls at 4 p.m. every day during Ramadan, I think to myself, "at least I will get to eat at 9 p.m., unlike the millions of adults and kids that starve everyday not knowing when they will get their next meal." Fasting encourages the faster through his or her tribulations to donate or volunteer part of a local charity. Every Ramadan, my loving husband will say to me, "So how much are we donating this year and where?" You can't help but want to donate to the best of your financial ability after feeling hunger for 17 hours a day, every day for a month. We do what we can and while it will not solve world hunger, it is better than doing nothing.

I recognize that this post has covered three very different aspects of food. I started with discussing eating healthy and not treating your body like a garbage bin. I then went on to discuss wastage of food, and lastly, what one can do to help those less fortunate. These topics are universal, regardless what religion one practices or lack of.


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