This article originally appeared on VICE Italy.
I'm a regular guy, meaning I eat like crap all the time. Recently, a co-worker pointed out I could learn a lot from Jesus – specifically his "healthy diet, free from processed foods" – so I decided to give it a go, and eat like the son of God for a week. To make sure I wasn't offending anybody, I asked some Catholic friends what they thought about my experiment. They said it might do me some good.
Like many Italians, I was born into a Catholic family. My mum is a Sunday school teacher, my dad sings in the choir. At Sunday school, we learned a load of stories from the Bible, spanning slavery, fratricide, polygamy – all the fun stuff. I also learned that Jesus was a revolutionary, especially at the dining table.
The Gospel often talks about the relationship between Jesus and food. For instance, Mark's gospel says Jesus "declared all foods 'clean'". Basically, he made it OK to eat the stuff banned by the Old Testament, like pork, shellfish and rabbit. We also know from the New Testament that Jesus was a rebel who loved lunching with tax collectors, sinners and sex workers. He could also apparently feed thousands with just two fish and five loaves of bread, which is pretty impressive.
To prepare for the challenge, I grabbed a copy of an Italian recipe book filled with dishes either "thoroughly described" or simply "cited" in the Holy Book. Once I'd bought the ingredients, I realised this was the healthiest shop I'd ever done.
For my week on the Jesus Diet, I ate the same breakfast every day and leftovers from lunch for dinner every night. And in case you're wondering, I – like Jesus – did not use cutlery.
Breakfast: Milk or yoghurt, dried figs or grapes, pomegranate juice and honey.
On the first day I had breakfast on my balcony, basking in the light of the Father. I felt like my meal was being blessed from above.
Mind you, the longer I sat there staring at my dried fruit, the more I started to feel like any run-of-the-mill wellness disciple. I took a sip of the pomegranate juice, described by the scriptures as a "symbol of fertility and abundance". To me, it tasted sugar-free and joyless.
Lunch: Grilled fish (preferably from a lake).
Jesus really liked multiplying things, including fish. After his resurrection, he asked his disciples for something to eat. They were scared because they thought he was a ghost, but "they gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence".
I really enjoy fresh fish, but it's expensive and stinks up your whole place if you live in a shoebox, like I do. I usually just have canned tuna, but for Jesus I went above and beyond:
Even though I don't cook a lot, shoving some lemon slices into a pre-cleaned sea bass, seasoning it and putting it on the grill didn't present too much of a challenge. The fishbones, however, were a risk to my mortal body.
The Second Day
Veal stew with wine, leek, pumpkin and flatbread.
According to the book "The Food and Feasts of Jesus", the "daily bread" was a fundamental part of the Middle Eastern diet in the 1st century – in many places it still is. For Christians, the bread became a metaphor for spiritual nourishment – and for me, a replacement for cutlery.
Here's me breaking the bread, like Jesus:
The veal stew, cooked to perfection by my colleague Camilla, brings us to a more delicate issue. Some say Jesus was vegetarian and thought killing animals was repulsive. "Jesus lived in a cultural context where vegetarianism didn't exist, [but] in the Kingdom of God, everyone will be following a vegetarian diet," wrote Old Testament expert Gianfranco Nicora in an article for the Italian Bioethics Institute at the University of Genoa.
The only certainty at the moment is that Camilla's stew tasted great.
The Third Day
The third day had me worried. It was time for bitter herbs, a dish consumed during the Last Supper and Passover. The recipe book said to add capers, olives and pistachio to blanched chicory. The final result was actually quite visually appealing – almost Instagrammable:
The problem was, this cutlery-free experiment was slowly but surely turning my colleagues against me. I had lunch all alone.
The Fourth Day
Goat ricotta cheese and baked onions.
For this recipe, we went back to the Old Testament, to a time when the Jews were trudging through the desert after escaping Egypt. A journey that would have undoubtedly made them very hungry.
I started crying while preparing these onions, not because of a physical reaction or because I was empathising with their plight – I was just sad I had to eat this.
The Fifth Day
The recipe book call this a reinterpretation of "roasted wheat", an "ancient popcorn obtained by cooking grains on scorching-hot stones". My version contained boiled bulgur with olives, toasted almonds and cheese.
I'd like to tell you I didn't eat it all, but it was the first decent meal I'd had in while and I was in for a challenge for the next day. So yes, I did eat it.
The Sixth Day
If Jesus fasted for 40 days and 40 nights, I told myself I could do it for one. But I work in a newsroom full of food journalists, and temptation was rife. About to cave in, I decided to call my favourite Sunday school teacher: my mum.
She launched into a monologue about how the Devil tried to convince Jesus to transform some rocks into bread to make him fail in his spiritual detox. It was both distressing and encouraging.
The Seventh Day
Where I'm from, to "give up something for a plate of lentil soup" means you've been fooled. The story comes from the Old Testament, as the recipe book notes, when Jacob duped his brother Esau by convincing him to exchange his first-born inheritance for a hot plate of lentils. Then Jacob had to run for it because his brother wanted to kill him.
Long story short, I really didn't want to eat these lentils.
The results of my experiment: I lost 2.6 kilos in one week, I prayed more often (to ask God if this was a good idea) and accidentally got drunk by myself two or three times with one too many glasses of wine. I also had more energy and less gas.
Thank you, Jesus. Now I know why you sometimes look so ripped in paintings.