Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Combination Fasting

Yesterday I returned to Manna's restaurant. It was Tuesday after all, and I needed my teff fix.
I told Manna I wanted to learn how to order food in Amharic and I ended up learning about religion, economics, and trade in the process. It turns out there is no concept of vegetarianism in Ethiopia. The Ethiopian and Eritrean Orthodox Churches decree Wednesdays, Fridays, and the period of Lent to be days of fasting, meaning no meat should be eaten. Thus, when I am ordering a vegetarian combination platter, I am saying Beyaynatu Yetsom, or "combination fasting." Manna considers going without meat a kind of suffering, so the "sacrifice" is consistent with Christian practices around the world.

However, eating injera NEVER feels like fasting. In fact, since the temperature in San Francisco hovered in the 80s all afternoon yesterday, I was afraid the injera would feel too heavy in the heat. It was so warm in the evening that we took two beyaynatu yetsom to Baker Beach just so we could remain outside as long as possible. Suzanne, Anemo, and I arranged to meet a friend who actually IS fasting. He's cut out about everything he can from his diet, including gluten, to figure out the source of his mysterious allergies. When I asked Manna whether New Eritrea's injera was gluten free, he confessed that his restaurant uses about 80% teff flour along with 20% wheat flour to keep prices down. Teff is becoming so popular internationally that Ethiopian farmers refuse to sell their grain locally; they get a much higher price in the global marketplace. Manna explained that there is a ban on exporting teff from Ethiopia, but exporters get around that ban by trucking the grain to Kenya and shipping it internationally from there. Because of soaring prices, the teff content of injera in the Horn of Africa can be as low as 50%. Meat prices have also risen dramatically in the region, so people in Ethiopia and Eritrea are "fasting" more often than just on days prescribed by the Church. Maybe the need will soon arise to invent a word for "vegetarianism" in Amharic!

Manna also explained that most Ethiopians and Eritreans cook their own food at home, but they prefer to purchase their injera from a restaurant because of how time consuming it is to prepare the fermented bread. To make it easier for families to buy injera, a local network has been set up in some Oakland neighborhoods to distribute injera from corner liquor stores. I use the passive tense there because I don't know who is making the injera and getting it to the corner stores. But it seems like an outstanding entrepreneurial model for a microloan...ideal perhaps for women caring for children at home. One business in Washington DC that Manna knew about is even importing injera from Ethiopia already prepared. The company, which has a social mission, is called EthioGreen. Turns out that exporting teff grain or flour is illegal, but exporting the by-product is not.

So there was my lesson in religion, economics, and trade, from local to global. All because I wanted to order my food in Amharic.
Panorama of Baker Beach last night where we enjoyed our "fast."


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