I quit chocolate.
It was like ending a beautiful relationship, or cutting off an arm. There were times of yearning, times of craving for the past, times of strength, and times of sorrow. Like most dietitians, I would never recommend banning a particular food, especially one that evokes such positive emotions, unless of course it was medically damaging (such as pasta to a coeliac). Food is suppose to be enjoyed, celebrated, and embraced, of course, in moderation. Books like I Quit Sugar and Toxic Oil do nothing but leave us confused, deprived, guilt-ridden and stuck on the dieting merry-go-round (have you ever noticed you get off and get on a merry-go-round at exactly the same points?).
So why did I quit chocolate?
In short, religious guilt. Lent; the 40 day period before Easter. A season of penance, reflection, and fasting where Catholics are encouraged to go without or take something up for the good of themselves or others. So I chose chocolate, mostly as a personal challenge to prove that one does not need to eat it every day, and that self control is an important aspect of a balanced diet. It’s not about deprivation, but it’s also about knowing that pulling it out every afternoon for that little boost is not the healthiest way to get through those struggle-hours.
Unfortunately, Easter has been made all about chocolate. Eggs mean more when teamed with the word Cadbury, than with the religious significance of new life. Personally, I’m OK with that as we live in a beautifully culturally diverse country, but respecting religious diversity does not mean ignoring the significance of religious festivals that have become engrained in all our lives. So, a brief history on how the egg moved from a religious symbol to the key player in backyard hunts on Easter Sunday.
Shrove (Pancake) Tuesday marks the beginning of Lent, and the reason we eat pancakes then (though really, who needs an excuse to eat pancakes?) is that it used up all the eggs in the house, as historically eggs were forbidden during Lent. Instead, they were hard boiled to preserve those being laid during Lent, dyed red to symbolise the blood of Jesus, then eaten to celebrate Easter, when Lent ended. By the 17th and 18th centuries egg-shaped toys were given to children at Easter and this naturally lead to the birth of chocolate Easter eggs in Europe in the early 19th century. Given the popularity of chocolate and how well the Europeans make it (despite the fact the ‘crocodile’ finish on eggs was originally invented by Germans to hide any imperfections in the chocolate), the tradition grew. And we are definitely not complaining about that.
Given the Roman Catholic’s popularity in Europe, it is no surprise that European countries have devoted many desserts to Easter. In Spain, La Mona de Pascua is a traditional Easter cake which celebrates that Lent is over, predominantly by topping the cake with the forbidden boiled eggs. These days, eggs aren’t as sexy as 19th century Europeans found them, so you could imagine my delight in learning that the more modern versions of La Mona de Pascua also include a chocolate glaze, plus apricot jam.
Every year, my dear nanna makes her own Abruzzese (from the town of Abruzzo, Italy) Hot Cross Buns, also known as Soffione di Ricotta. As a child I used to long for the fruit versions, toasted and smothered in butter, but I have come to love her version just as much. A hybrid of sweet and savoury, a sweetened salty ricotta-pecorino filling with a semi-sweet pastry, and not to forget the cross on top to symbolise Jesus’ suffering (she wouldn’t be a good Abruzzese without acknowledging this).
So whether or not you are making sensible health choices/are as brave/stupid as me and are limiting your chocolate over this Easter period, I highly recommend putting some chocolate eggs back in the cupboard and trying some alternative delicious Easter treats.