A Guilt-Free New Year

Instead of deprivation, let’s focus on abundance

Photography by Andrea Morales, Food & Drink by Farm & Fig

For some, the Western New Year is traditionally marked by staying out all night the night before, partying hard in your tightest, shortest LBD (little black dress, y’all), and drinking all the fermented grains, exquisite vintages, and all the adult libations in between. The spirit of debauchery and overindulgence remains real for the occasion. But given all the pain, loss, trauma, and isolation of the past nearly three years, I’m kind of here for it—and for what I’ve now dubbed “a night of much-needed merry-making, revelry, abandonment, and abundance.”

Still, for others, this most auspicious occasion is marked by a much more austere observance, Watch Night service—the Christian tradition, for African Americans in particular, of attending church service late New Year’s Eve night. This is often followed up New Year’s Day by an evening gander out to a closing day Kwanzaa service—for those of us who still pretend we actually celebrate the cultural holiday.

My own celebration, at this age and point in life, probably falls somewhere in between the two aforementioned. I now look forward to a low-key hang with friends, drinking a couple glasses of wine, and getting home early to soak in the tub and to bed well before midnight. Guilt-free. Because it’s the guilt that ultimately deprives you.

And that’s where I want to land and linger—the guilt. I have no empirical data to back this up. But I think it’s guilt that suddenly, around January 2 or 3, makes us look at and listen to all the ads, appeals, social media posts, and (yes) religious sermons, and get hemmed up with this New Year’s cult of dieting, fasting, glorified starvation, and straight-up misery.

I think it’s partially the guilt too that makes my mother and her church lady friends decide on January 1 that they’re going to complete a 21-day Daniel’s Fast. For a while, every doggone year they would all start the fast together, but by Day 21 only a few would be hanging on by a ragged and tattered prayer cloth. Honestly, I don’t disparage their efforts, because listening to them on a conference call trying to talk down a fellow faster from eating fried chicken and smoking a cigarette afterwards is the thing of pure, effortless, unadulterated comedy that I die yet live for. 

I can admit for certain that it’s definitely guilt that drove me for nearly a decade to get in on the raw foods, detox, juicing, and fasting resolutions at the start of a new year.

That was, until I started to notice a pattern. Every year, January through February, I would have back-to-back colds. For a long while, I thought it was just my body responding healthfully by detoxing and recalibrating in preparation for spring. That may have very well been so. But now that I’m on the other side of it, I realize that even then nothing about it felt right or healthful to me.

And then, one New Year’s Day several years ago, I did the simplest thing: I put a complete stop to fasting in January or any other time during the cold(er) winter months. I did not catch a cold that year. And I have not had a winter cold since—even during years of pandemic lockdown and restricted movement when our immune systems were likely compromised due to anxiety around thinking we were going to literally die every day. 

Making that decision was rooted primarily in my giving greater thought to why, out of all four seasons, we choose the coldest one with the shortest, darkest days to further deprive ourselves of warm foods, fuller nourishment, comfort, and abundance. It is the most wrong-headed thing. I thought, if we were to live in harmony with the seasons and natural rhythm of the Earth, then why don’t we look to spring or maybe even summer to modify our diets for lighter consumption?

But winter is the absolute, very last season and time of year I want to think about processing 345,278,001 out-of-season pieces of fruits and vegetables through a juicer to drink, further depriving my body of the natural functions, sensations, and simple joy of chewing, swallowing, and digesting just one piece of fruit. I mean, do I really need to consume that many fruits and vegetables in one sitting and yet still not feel wholly satiated or satisfied?

With that, I also thought:

But why do we do this? Why do we constantly look at marking the new year from a place of lack instead of abundance?

Why do we look to further deprive ourselves? And that’s where I landed on guilt. For, seriously, what are our cultural norms, religions, and social mores without that ever-present message that we are to pay penance and long-suffering as the price for overindulgence in the simple things that bring us pleasure and joy? Since sex is harder to police, I suppose we’ve landed on food! Hey, now!

But here’s what I propose:

Let’s be kind to our whole self and body.

After all, if you’re reading this, your body has literally kept you alive throughout a doggone pandemic.

All of this is not to say healthful nourishment, along with regular exercise for the body, should be shunned. But at the same time, anything that constantly keeps us in the mindset of deprivation or moving from a place of lack is just not right. 

We’ve already collectively suffered so much loss. Let’s not continue punishing ourselves with these deprivation hacks.

Let’s now focus more on abundance—stacked sandwiches, winter greens, hearty soups, whole foods, vibrant and colorful plates.

Let’s grow together and thrive from there.

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Tonya Meeks is a native Memphian and lifelong writer. Nonprofit leader and consultant by day, budding essayist by night, she spends entire weekends park-hopping for the best swings and slides with her fav little humans—Madeline and Olivia. @treetonya 

Andrea Morales is the visuals director at MLK50: Justice Through Journalism and a documentary photographer in Memphis. She is Peruvian-born and Miami-bred. Her work moves with the intent of celebrating the in-between moments. @_andrea_morales