Food was a seductive pleasure of celibate monks.
At 10:00 P.M. the Monks’ Refectory walk-in pantry and refrigerator was locked. The fruits, nuts, and groceries were only to be consumed according to a strict daily quota for each monk: 2 bananas, 2 apples, 2 tablespoons of yogurt, 1 glass of milk, and so forth. Seasonality impacted quotas: peaches, plums, and watermelons, in the late Summer, and when bananas or other foods were going to spoil the quota was increased or posted as “OS”, meaning “open season” or all you could eat. This was a community of ascetics obsessed with food.
No wonder–with the many rules and restrictions around diet–that highly coveted food stuffs were hoarded. Occasionally, the monks were allowed to go to the market and bring home “personal” items.
Last thing to go: food
In the refectory’s over-stuffed “personal” items refrigerator were rich and sweet perishable foods, such as Jiffy, crunchy peanut butter; organic, raw cream; Smuckers jams, clotted creams and jellies. When a monk opened the “personal” freezer door out fell tubs of ice creams, flavors of chocolate, vanilla, rocky road, mocha chip, Cherry Garcia, or Chunky Monkey.
Seeing initials marked in black Sharpie pen on-top of a food container was supposed to warn a hungry monk, “Don’t touch my grub. This food is mine!”.
We often joked: Somebody could leave a $20 bill on the kitchen table, every monk would pass by, and nobody would touch it. But, leave an unmanned package of chocolate chip cookies on the counter top, and within minutes the sweet morsels would disappear, and all that would be left was empty torn wrapper. Monastics were efficient at rationalizing contradictions. “Borrowing” another monk’s personal food was… well… it just happened, quite often and uncontrollably.
Virtually everything a normal, healthy guy (or gal) craved was “renounced” when he took monastic vows. Food, particularly sweets, provided monks with an outlet after days and years of deprivation, meditation, and prayer.
Excerpt from Give My Thy Heart: An Introduction to the Monastic Order of Self-Realization Fellowship–
Diet: The diet in the ashrams is simple but ample. Renunciants eat no meat, fish, or fowl; nor are they permitted to smoke or drink alcoholic or stimulating beverages. (Use of drugs in any form, except for medication temporarily prescribed by a doctor, is of course strictly forbidden). Balanced meals are prepared according to general rules for good nutrition, but the subject of diet is not given undue importance. Three meals are served daily at regular hours–except on Sundays, which is a day of partial fasting.
1 Self-Realization Fellowship requires monastics, and recommends to it’s followers, lacto-ovo-vegetarianism.
2 Indian Chai Tea, made with black tea, was a particular favorite among the monastics. Chai, made with black tea, was served at most special events such as Monastic vow ceremonies, commemoration ceremonies honoring one of their gurus or saints, and anytime the monks could whip up a cup or pot of the deliciously sweet, spicy brew. Coffee was seldom served or seen in the monastery. I heard of senior monks who brewed coffee in their bedrooms using personal coffee makers. These monks were considered rogue, but apparently senior enough monks were beyond reprimand of the rules.
3 The “subject” of diet may not be given undue importance. But food and eating it was certainly the most discussed topic in the monastery, aside from the emphasis on spiritual/religious concepts and activities.
4 Sundays in the ashram/monastery had another set of rules around diet, and lack thereof. I plan to write a separate post about Sundays in the ashram, that will include descriptions of the fasting and austerities.