The Man Who Drank Only Beer, Part 2: Interview with a Part-Time Monk
J. Wilson from Diary of a Part-Time Monk
In the first part of our interview with J. Wilson, the Iowa man who's drinking nothing but beer for Lent, and chronicling it on his blog, Diary of a Part-Time Monk, Wilson talked about why someone who's not Catholic would take on the very Catholic tradition of fasting for Lent, the history of Doppelbock, the spiritual underpinnings of his journey and how he got to live out a home-brewer's fantasy. Today, Wilson tackles the psalms, weight loss, how he managed to work on his cookbook while fasting and what it means to be a monk in the modern-day world.
Squid Ink: How much weight have you lost?
J. Wilson: About 22 pounds so far. Normally, I'm about 140 pounds. I'm a fairly scrawny guy and knowing I would be running at a deficit, I made a point to kick my eating into overdrive [beforehand] and put on 20 pounds. So I weighed in at 160 pounds at the start, and now I'm back to normal.
SI: You consume 4-5 beers a typical day. At what intervals and do you vary the timing?
JW: For the most part, I've been drinking four 12-ounce beers a day because I want to be alert and clear-headed. It's 288 calories per 12 oz serving. On weekends, I drink five beers per day. I started out with four six-barrel kegs. I thought that would be able to suffice, but I got a fifth keg. I'm in the home stretch. Since I knew I was going to have plenty of beer and for the sake of extra calories, probably [in the middle of last week] I started drinking five beers per day. I couldn't do this without the blessings of my bosses, and they didn't hesitate to allow me to drink beer at work.
Day 24: While most of the Bible is God's word to the people, the Psalms differ in that they are outcries from the people to God. Honestly, when picking up a Bible, I'd rather read what God has to say. But there are some good tidbits to be gleaned. And comfort, I suppose. I liken them to the Blues. It's comforting to know that someone else has gone through the same crap and has cried out for a little mercy. The Blues are the Blues, but they lift my spirits through the brotherhood of pain.
SI: Tell us about your devotional schedule. You're trying to read psalms everyday.
JW: One of the big elements of the monks' daily life is that they attend six services every day. Some are short. One is 10 minutes long. Another one is 30 minutes. Another is 45 minutes. There's one that's maybe an hour. Psalms are a big part of monastic life, so I am trying to read about four per day to read all 150 during the duration.
SI: You mentioned on your blog that you've felt very little hunger since Day 3. Are you surprised? You even managed to spend a day cooking for your wife's yoga studio without licking your fingers? How is that possible after 32 days of no food?
JW: Your body adjusts. I think we're pretty spoiled. When you get that little hunger pang, you shove that Dorito in your mouth. That's' the American way. I don't think people fully understand what they're capable of giving up. It took me a couple days to decide whether or not I was hungry. At the tail end of it, I feel hungry but it's nothing I can't handle. It doesn't get worse. It's something you can navigate. Your body just adjusts. It kicks into a different mode.
SI: And you're not tipsy all the time?
JW: No. I've got [my beers] spread out pretty well. 8 a.m., noon, 3 p.m., 7 p.m. The only time I find myself mildly tipsy is navigating the appointments of my daily life. Maybe I need to drive to get to an appt at 2 p.m., so I have two beers in the morning so I can drive safely later. There have been a couple times where I have been mildly woozy, but not where I can't function.
SI: What was your most severe food temptation?
JW: Interestingly enough. I have a big sweet tooth. I love chocolate, ice cream, but nothing I've craved has been up that alley at all. The day before, my wife Michelle said, "What can I do to support you?" I said, "Don't make fudge." I thought that would be really difficult. But that wasn't difficult. I was hungry for a couple days, but then I haven't really been hungry.
The first week the smell of food would be really bothersome, even some things that didn't smell good to me before. The smell of a grease pit from a fast food restaurant would normally be repulsive to me, but near where I work is a grease pit for a local diner and, boy, did that smell good. Olives sounded really good. Hummus, tapenade, Mexican food, pulled pork, BBQ. My body is telling me I don't need sugar. I'm sure from this point forward, I will probably lay off a lot of the sugar.
Day 1: I'm not sure which is better during this time: to be busy to keep my mind off bacon, or to be under-scheduled so I can really take time for contemplation but risk a mind that wanders toward pulled pork? Somewhere in the middle is the proper domain for a part-time monk, and I'll find it.
SI: What are the other physical effects?
JW: The only thing that's been of remote concern... Well, everybody would guess my liver enzymes were up. [Early on] my back really hurt. [My doctor] found my kidneys were working really heard, and they were building up creatanine and that was at a high level, so I came back the next day to do a urine analysis.
The first thing you can attempt to do is to drink a lot of water for the next 24 hours. The first thing your body consumes is fat. Then it goes to your own proteins. Then, dead muscles and cell tissue. I drink a lot of water anyway. I have been drinking a lot of water to keep myself feeling full. That flushed it out really well, and the urine analysis was fine. I listened to and observed my body and used that as a tool to navigate the next couple weeks. I did have a thorough physical at beginning, I had a few in between and I will have one afterward.
SI: When is the last day of your beer fast? And what do you plan to do to celebrate the end?
JW: I will finish next Saturday. I will probably just spend a quiet day at home with my family. It takes time to ease back in after an extended fast, so if I sat down to turkey and mashed potatoes and some big spread, I'd get sick and really uncomfortable. It's going to be a few days before I'm eating normal meals again. But I am going to figure out a way to make a bacon smoothie.
SI: Also, you've been working on your cookbook. Has anyone ever written a cookbook while fasting?
JW: I bet you not. I've had this cookbook idea in my mind for a long time and have always kept a file of recipes. It will be autobiographical, some of the special things I have accumulated, my grandma's recipe, things I developed or were inspired by something I ate. I'm not too sure what the final form will take.
Day 11: I, for one, am more of a reverse-racist, requiring 50-something white guys wearing ties to prove themselves before getting my stamp of cautious approval. And I should start today in making a little more effort in including those suspicious types in my circle of communion.
SI: We understand that you started this with another book in mind. What kind of book do you want to write? Do you already have a publisher?
JW: It will be written in a couple parts. There will be a lot of background of the history of the beer and some in-depth information about fasting in different religions and cultures.
Beer and/or alcohol kind of has kind of a bad name in religious circles, and there's this neo-prohibitionist movement that, to me, is crazy. They kind of use the Bible to write about some things I don't think they're grasping 100%. This will analyze beer and the Christian church. Then a big portion of it will be the experience of the fast and the details of it day-in, day-out. I have had some interest expressed. I haven't signed a deal or anything, but I have some irons in the fire.
SI: On Day 34, you wrote: "Those who call themselves Christians simply should strive to be a monk in the world." What does that mean for you?
JW: I guess that's what I'm trying to figure out, how to live with the same commitment to your faith as a monk who is cloistered in an abbey. Is it possible to live with this same commitment to God, to function in normal society and not be obnoxious but to be as compassionate and caring and prayerful as a monk is, day-in and day-out? It's just really trying to be the best Christian you can be -- or whatever your faith is -- in this crazy world.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Los Angeles dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.