Thursday, November 19, 2009

What Kind of Creatures Have You Created Us, Adonai?

I warn you, I'm about to go a little religious on you. I won't be trying to convert you, though, so you can wade in without fear.

Two evenings ago I found myself preparing something akin to the delectable sweet-and-sour cabbage rolls my grandmother used to make. While draining the fat from my sauteed kosher hamburger, I prayed the prayer I always offer up when I eat meat. Actually, the prayer comes across more like one of those respectful grillings Tevya in "Fiddler on the Roof" puts God through, whenever he is puzzling out the latest challenge the Lord has handed his family. One of those "Just what is your purpose here, anyway?" kind of discussions. I always pray, "You have confused me, Adonai, by creating creatures who take life in order to live." I have puzzled over the possible reasons our Creator could have fashioned our world in this manner, but I will not bore you with that here. Instead, I want to report that each time I engage in this dialogue with God, it crosses my mind that I could choose to be a vegetarian. It crosses my mind in the same fuzzy way it crosses my mind that I could write children's books if I wanted to. I just haven't gotten around to it yet.

I should mention that I was, for two short years at the frontish end of my life, a vegetarian. I worked briefly during college at a vegetarian restaurant in Lawrence, Kansas, where I was more or less brainwashed into changing my eating habits. They made a nutrition monster out of me. Although I returned to a meat-eating lifestyle a couple of years later, meat no longer holds the place it held in my childhood - centerpiece of every meal - even if it was only a crowning meatball on top of a mountain of spaghetti. Don't sneeze. And the nutrition monster still resides deep in my heart.

So, every Thanksgiving, I hold a perfunctory and (so far) academic debate with myself. The me who knows I could choose to be a vegetarian engages in reflective dialogue with the me who thinks she understands what the Torah means when it says that God instructed the Israelites to bring sacrifices because they supply "a pleasing odor to Adonai" (Numbers 28:1–2). The me who finds irony in the fact that sentient lives are sacrificed so that we may celebrate our freedom. The me who is blown away by my recurring decision to choose the pleasing odor of roasting turkey (not to mention the sinfully delicious crisp turkey skin) over the chance to save a life. The me who has the chutzpah to even have this conversation in print, knowing full well that I am planning to cook a turkey for my daughter and her boyfriend. In fact, the bird is already in the freezer. What kind of creatures have you created us, Adonai, that you both wish us to aspire to holiness, and yet have created us nonchalant murderers?

Perhaps we were not always such nonchalant murderers. Perhaps when we were closer to the killing of the animals - when we raised the cow or knew the butcher or the butcher was us - we may not have been so nonchalant. It is something, but not much, of a comfort that these animals are kosher, slaughtered under the watchful guidance of trained rabbis in the sacred and (more) humane manner that makes each of them a sacrifice to the Lord of sorts. And maybe it's the fact that I've never encountered a turkey substitute that appealed to my taste buds, and after all Adonai surely created my tastebuds as part of the survival mechanism.

I know some of you are vegetarian. You are better people than I.

Maybe some of you, dear readers, are like me. Baffled but carnivorous.

But maybe some of you are betwixt and between myself and my vegetarian readers. Maybe, when you eat meat, you are more gutterally appalled by the trade-off of life for meat than as of yet I am. Maybe you are leaning in the direction of a new kill-free commitment.

Whichever you are, if you are willing, I would like to hear from you. I rarely ask that, but I am interested in the ethical, social and religious implications beyond my own thoughts. I hope you'll communicate with me here in the comments section - not on facebook, for those of you who come this way by that portal, but here.

And whichever way your palate leans, I have something for you. Three articles, two by Lou Bendrick, originally published in Grist. One from Amy's Gripping Commentary blog. The first Bendrick article is for those of you who either are already vegetarian, or are leaning that way. It's a report on a taste-test of vegetarian turkey substitutes. The tasters included vegetarians and meat-eaters, adults and kids (kids are the ultimate arbiters of what tastes good!).   A tasting of four meatless “turkeys” for the holiday table Grist.  To go with it, here is Amy, discussing her positive experience with a fake bird product.  The picture to the upper-left is Amy's fake bird, complete with real stuffing. The second Bendrick article is for carnivores, and published last year.  In it, he offers advice on greening up your turkey selection.

And if you happen to be Jewish and curious, or just curious, I've included a couple of websites that ponder God's reasons for requiring animal sacrifice, and why it is that the pleasing smell of the sacrifice is so important to God that it is mentioned multiple times in the Torah.  I hasten to say I have not adopted or rejected the views in these articles. I simply wander through them, Jew that I am, looking for answers.

There is much to be thankful for, so long as you are not a turkey.


  1. I've always had indigestion if I ate too much meat at a particular meal since I was a young girl. Whenever my mom served swiss steak I used to get in trouble because I would take a few bites of meat and a huge pile of vegetables, then push the rest of the meat around on my plate. Since I was a ballet dancer I started reading up seriously about nutrition and discovered that I found Eastern tradition of having just a little meat with mostly vegetables and rice extremely logical, easier for me to digest and I felt so much better physically and psychologically. I think all of the time about if just in this country people adopted a practice of having just a few bites of meat with vegetables and rice versus an entire steak with potatoes and no vegetables - how many lives of animals would be saved. From what I've read, we do not need 6 ounces or even 3 ounces of protein at a meal, and we can probably have a beneficial effect on scarce resources if we even go as far as to limit meat to once a day. I wish this country had fresh produce stands at every corner like they do in Europe that we could walk to. We could buy local harvest and garnish with a little meat - a pile of roasted fall vegetables with a tiny sliver of turkey and less need for alka seltzer, more room for pumpkin pie, and we could all buy smaller turkeys - maybe they would even not have to shoot the turkeys up with hormones to make them unnaturally large and suffer because they're so fattened up that they can't stand up... From what I hear, Kosher means that the animals have been treated with compassion - where are Kosher meat locations in Kansas City by the way...

  2. Thanks for your thoughts. This is not better than meeting you for lunch (veggie indian food - YEA!) but it's better than nothing. I buy my kosher meats at the hen house at Roe & 119th, or online from Kohn's Kosher in St. Louis.

  3. True, hard questions, but if it was so important, I think the Father would have made it specifically clear. I too spent some time as a vegetarian, and recall I seemed to feel much better and had more energy then, but returned to the meat for the teaste more than what it provided.

    I would not, and never have killed a warm-blooded animal, unless my survival required it. I was raised on meet-and-potatoes, and although the Father forbids the pig, I was raised with plenty of tasty bacon on my plate, but my own personal interpretation of such ordinances was that they were fashioned to aid the health of the race He created.

    In my opinion, they advise how to wash and properly cook meats, how not to take that of scavengers, and other such rules which if adhered to at the time, would have been extremely useful in reducing illnesses; prolonging the life of His people. So, I do not feel that it is such a big thing....

    I do not mean to offend anyone, and this is just my whimsical way of seeing it. If the Catholics can now embrace same-sex marriages, then Jews should feel free to enjoy a BLT, without the guilt of sin. I do try to avoid meat, and know that the less I consume, the better... but, it sure is tasty, and life is to be enjoyed.

    When it comes to my Thanksgivings, I have always been more thankful for my family, friends, and those with me at the table, than what was on it.