Rediscovering the Taste of Toast

This week I had the opportunity to abstain from food for a couple of days for medical reasons. This wasn’t my first experience with fasting. The couple of times I did when I was much younger, I didn’t enjoy it. I was more active, had more appetite, and less patience.

Older and wiser, I had a plan. I filled up on pasta the night before. I took it easy, drank fluids, mostly kept to my routine. This time, I didn’t expect it would be a big deal. I was in for a surprise, and it got me thinking.

What Is the Meaning of Fasting?

There seems to be more to fasting than just a break from food. The Proto-Germanic fastanan meant to make firm, to establish, to hold firm, or to pledge. This evolved to mean “having firm control of oneself” and even to “hold oneself to observance.” In one sense, we are pledging not to eat, to have firm control over our hunger and natural urges to eat.

Many religious traditions encourage or require abstaining from food from time to time. When we observe fasting as a rite, it’s often combined with silence, meditation or reflection. In that sense, we are holding firm to keeping our thoughts on God, perhaps cleansing ourselves by not eating. None of this was on my mind as I sipped tea.

Observing a Rite, Observing Oneself

While fasting, I made a point to notice whether I was more grumpy, impatient, or less able to concentrate. It was an opportunity to reflect on how much of my behavior or thoughts was due to who I was, and how much due to what I had or hadn’t eaten.

On the second day, I woke up feeling different. The best way I can describe it is “clear.” I wasn’t particularly hungry. While I wasn’t brimming with energy, I felt good, able to go about my day. What’s interesting is that as I eased back into eating, this feeling persisted for days. Perhaps my body needed this break from taking in and processing food. Perhaps it was a feeling of relief that I got through it. Or maybe I was looking forward to the Thanksgiving feast in the following week.

Whatever the reason, this is a feeling I would like to have again. Prior to “feeling clear,” I wasn’t even aware that I was foggy. But in hindsight, I can recognize the difference. Without this “before and after” comparison thanks to fasting, it was impossible to make the observation about myself. It gave me an appreciation for the rite of fasting, and the wisdom in it.

Operational Fasting

I couldn’t help but think of the similarity between how fasting seems to work on our bodies and minds, and the similar effects of the lean thinking practice doing less. In our busy lives we often taken on the next project, chore, task, or goal before we have completely digested the previous ones. We pride ourselves on multi-tasking, fulfilling multiple roles at home and work simultaneously, or keeping informed by constantly looking down at our beeping devices.

Much of what lean management involves could be called a sort of “operational fasting.” We figure out what the customer really needs, at a minimum, and make sure that flows. Even when fasting, we need air and water. We clear out all backlog, distractions, or added responsibilities. We digest, flush out. We create some calmness and capacity to observe how our systems are working. We rest, rebalance and restore our system to its normal capabilities. This is only possible when we stop pushing in, and allow a smooth flow and pull.

Rediscovering the Taste of Toast

Another unexpected benefit of fasting was that I rediscovered the taste of toast. I don’t know how many pieces of toast I’ve eaten in my life. Perhaps hundreds. But it was as though I’d never really tasted it. Before leaving for the hospital, there was the aroma in the kitchen of a family member making toast. This gave me a hankering. When I came home and broke my fast, I made a couple of pieces. The first bite was exquisite, even shocking. I could taste the butter, the grains, the goodness. It made me realize how easy it is to be mindless in our eating, be unappreciative or take the gift of food for granted.

I don’t know what the “operational fasting” analogy is to rediscovering the taste of toast. Perhaps it’s something to do with enjoying the results of our work. Continuous improvement is focused on taking out the delays, defects, and wasted steps involved our work. There is even a Toast Kaizen video to demonstrate this. There is always the next improvement, the next target, and perhaps this can make some of us lose sight of our small victories. It took two days without food to remind me that toast is delicious. Every now and then, we need to do whatever necessary to recalibrate our sense of appreciation in work and life.

2 Comments

  1. Jonathan Wiederecht

    November 29, 2021 - 10:31 am
    Reply

    Jon – as many times in the past, I enjoyed your blog. I don’t know the operational analogy to how well toast tasted after fasting. For me, the message was to live life with more gratitude. How easy it is for us to lose perspective. I hope you are fully recovered. Be and stay well, Jon

    • Jon Miller

      November 29, 2021 - 12:51 pm
      Reply

      Thanks Jonathan

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