Data shows you're done with giving up 'bad' food for Lent.
By
Bron Maxabella

24 Feb 2020 - 2:16 PM  UPDATED 4 Mar 2020 - 11:40 AM

On Wednesday, many denominations of Christianity across the world will enter the six-week season of renunciation: Lent. It's a period to observe rituals, traditions and prayer that focus on penitence, abstinence and reflection.

Each year, Open Bible's Historical Twitter Lent Tracker is there to figure out what's on people's minds the most during the 40 days of Lent. After all, we all know that the moment you say you can't have something, that's all you want, all the time.

The cake that cures everything

Do not click on this recipe.

What's Lent anyway?

A little background: "Giving up something for Lent" is common practice, symbolising the suffering of Jesus Christ during the 40 days he spent in the Judean desert fasting and praying. Jesus went into the desert after his baptism, in preparation for his ministry. During this time, he avoided being tempted by the devil three times- with his first trial being tempted to break his fast by turning a stone to bread.

Lenten biscuits (kwarezimal)

This recipe was popular in Malta during the strict days of fasting during Lent. Nowadays, it's also popular as an Easter sweet. Although similar to an Italian sweet, these biscuits have an oblong shape.

Of course, there's more to it than simply giving up something you like during the six-week period. For example, Catholics observe fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, eating only one full meal and snacks on these days. Abstinence from meat (fish is okay) on Fridays is also practised by some Catholics during Lent.

"Lent is like a long "retreat" in which to re-enter oneself and listen to God's voice in order to overcome the temptations of the Evil One and to find the truth of our existence," Pope Benedict said in 2010 during Angeles at St Peter's Square.

Enter Twitter

Lent seems pretty far removed from the banter of Twitter, however, the Historical Twitter Lent Tracker has its finger on the pulse of what's really happening during Lent.

Since 2009, creator Stephen Smith has used Twitter's API (Application Programming Interface) to analyse what people say they will be abstaining from. The results are a fascinating insight into social trends, gathered through tens of thousands of personal statements.

It's probably no surprise that food has been the number one category that people want to give up since Smith started the charts. Last year people were twice as likely to give up some kind of food than they were technology or habits. As we've seen, abstaining from food and general fasting is very closely linked to the sacrifice of Lent.

Last year people were twice as likely to give up some kind of food than they were technology or habits.

Goodbye chocolate and chips

However, the type of food people want to give up has been changing over the past few years.

For example, chocolate was historically number one on the abstinence list for years - no surprise there - but it started hurtling down the chart around 2018 and was solidly at number four by 2019. This year, it's barely rating a mention. 

Other 'traditional' foods to give up for Lent aren't getting a look-in this year either. Potato chips started plummeting in 2017 and at the time of writing, literally no one was giving up chips for Lent in 2020. Nor is anyone interested in cutting back their soft drink intake or fast food habit, and even lollies are on a sharp downward trend.

Hello coffee and alcohol

Is this a sign of the times? Could it be that so many have already sacrificed the chocolate, chips, lollies and fast food in the name of health that when Lent rolls around, they are left with few options?

Can we tempt you with the recipe?

This might explain the upwards trend in giving up coffee. Despite mounting evidence to suggest the morning pick-me-up is perfectly okay, Twitter has always been a world unto itself. Coffee is on a sharp increase on the abstinence front.

Dr Karl: Drinking coffee can be good for you
Coffee isn't the health culprit it's made out to be. According to Australia's most loved science communicator, Dr Karl Kruszelnicki, drinking a few cups of coffee every day may be good for you.

There's also been an increase in the number of people giving up alcohol for the six-week period. Numbers giving up it up have heavily increased since last year, despite it being reasonably steady as a choice in the nine years previous. 

This year, Lent is looking a little like parched March.

This follows the recent rise in popularity of events like Dry January, febfast, Ocsober and Dry July. This year, Lent is looking a little like parched March.

Be warned, though. Giving up alcohol cold-turkey might be harder than you think. "It’s important to note that giving up alcohol after drinking it for a long time can be challenging," says Alcohol and Drug Foundation Chief Executive Officer, Dr Erin Lalor AM.  "If a person who is dependent on alcohol stops drinking alcohol, they may be at risk of seizures or fits. Medical assistance may be required to help the person get through withdrawal safely."

So it's best to check in with your healthcare professional if you're planning on ditching alcohol for Lent.

Plant-based diets are in

Mirroring the social and environmental trend towards more plant-based eating, giving up meat for Lent has been trending up for the past few years. It hit number six on the chart in 2019 and looks to break the top five in 2020.

Find the recipe for spinach manicotti here.

"Plant-based recipes" was the number one food Google search term in 2019, and the trend towards "part-time vegetarianism" is growing.

16 OMG meals for the part-time vegetarian
We've harvested our most impressive meat-free meals in the hopes that your dalliance with veg is an ongoing one beyond #MeatFreeWeek.

Movements like Australia's Meat Free Week in September (an initiative of charity Bowel Cancer Australia) and the global World Meat Free Week in June are seeing a higher number of participants with every passing year. Given that meat is traditionally not eaten on Fridays during Lent, going meat-free seems like a natural match for the full six weeks.

It seems fitting that people would announce on Twitter that they are giving up Twitter. 

Alcohol vs Twitter

The Historical Twitter Lent Tracker gathers data until well into Lent, so it's still early days to call a 2020 winner. That said, alcohol looks set to knock social media off the top perch.

Yes, ironically, giving up social networking was top spot last year, with Twitter being singled out separately at number three on the list. It seems fitting that people would announce on Twitter that they are giving up Twitter. Of course, how successful they are remains to be seen. Watch this space.

Meat-free Fridays
Grilled miso eggplant and haloumi burgers

"So tasty and good, the combination of these flavours makes for stunning vegetarian burgers. Get into pickling vegetables, because they’re not only good for you, they also add a wonderful tang." Peter Kuruvita, Peter Kuruvita's Coastal Kitchen

Green garlic and farro salad with marinated zucchini

There is certain produce that, once it comes into season, I cook and eat compulsively until it disappears from the market. Green garlic – the immature garlic bulb that isn’t yet papery on the outside – is one example. I use a mandoline to thinly slice the whole bulb, and then sauté as I would minced garlic. Zucchini is another and this year I’ve discovered the fresh joy of it raw: just ribbons with salt, lemon juice and good olive oil. Here, both treatments get elevated. I love grain-and-vegetable salads: they’re happy in the fridge for many days, they serve a crowd and they’re great for picnics/cook-outs/travel.

Moroccan quinoa cakes

Quinoa is nature’s superfood and a great addition to salads, stir-fries or even as porridge. It can be used in a multitude of ways and making these delicious little cakes is a great way to use any leftovers that you may have in your fridge.

Masoor dal

One staple ingredient that tends to have a place in my pantry is masoor dal, otherwise known as the red lentil.

Lemongrass tofu and chilli kangkong

“Of all the wonderful food we ate on a recent holiday in Vietnam, the best food was still made by my mother-in-law during the few days we spent in my husband’s family village about four hours south of Ho Chi Minh. Of my favourites of hers is lemongrass tofu. It's beyond simple to prepare, even though I can still never get mine quite as tasty as hers and is basically just two ingredients – tofu and lemongrass. Eaten alongside bowls of steamed rice, chilli greens and a dipping sauce, it makes the perfect light summer meal. Even my meat-loving husband comes back for seconds.”

Eggplant meatballs (polpettine di melanzana)

The Milanese poet Giovanni Raiberti called Milano "the capital of meatballs". Anything left over from a previous meal can go into a polpetta or polpettina. It’s a good way to avoid wasting food.

Egyptian carrot salad with pita, almonds and olives

A beautiful salad to share with friends.