Last week's Torah portion was Parshat Noach, the story of the flood. Chaviva points out that before Adam and Eve were expelled from the garden of Eden they were vegetarians (we think), but after the expulsion they began to eat meat. In celebration of this, and of Noach himself, at my college there was a yearly ritual: on the weekend when Parshat Noach was read, the boys would have a bassarfest,* or a meal where only meat was eaten. Get it, two of every animal? This is problematic for me for a number of reasons, primarily among them the exclusion of women (sometimes fiancees/wives were allowed, sometimes not), but it strikes at the heart of an issue which I find interesting. The relationship between Judaism and the consumption of meat.
Today's Washington Post ran an article about the rising trend of vegetarianism among teenagers. Let me preface my next comments with the fact that until a year or two ago I was a vegetarian, I hadn't eaten meat of any kind from the age of 9 onwards. Anyway, so the article suggests that eating less meat is healthy. Fine, for most Americans this may be the case, but for traditionally observant Jews, who have to make the choice between meat and dairy at every meal, I find that we already eat less meat than the average American home. In addition, I found that instead of gaining weight when I began to eat meat again, I lost it. Why? Because I was substituting lean meats (like chicken or fish) for the large amount of grains/beans/nuts/cheese in my diet. Lower in fat for the amount of protein, and FAR lower in carbohydrate. Instead of suggesting vegetarianism, we should be suggesting cutting out red meat (which the article does nod towards) in favor of leaner meats and more vegetables.
I tend to think that the idea that vegetarian living is healthier is a myth. If we were meant to eat only vegetables and grains, then our bodies would be unable to digest meat, which brings me to my next point: most people are lactose intolerant on some level. We are not meant to be drinking milk/eating cheese the way that we do. Additionally, not eating meat for ethical reasons becomes problematic in terms of Jewish ideology. Hashem permitted the eating of meat, yet you find it unethical. Are you more merciful than Hashem? Cause that is kind of what it sounds like.
This is not to say that I am not fully in support of organizations like Hazon, I am, I think that they do great work. I also support people who are vegetarian for whatever reason that they so choose, but I think that they need to realize that their values may be in conflict with Jewish values. If you do not like meat, or think that eating meat is wasteful, then your logic isn't really problematic. Same deal with people like Yael, who are vegetarian mostly because it is an easier way to keep kosher. However, there is a great deal of vegetarianism in the Jewish community, for instance Heeb'nVegan quotes Peter Singer in his tagline, saying: "I've noticed that quite a lot of people who are prominent in the animal liberation movement are Jews. Maybe we are simply not prepared to see the powerful hurting the weak." Yes, Judaism for sure puts an emphasis on killing the animals in a humane way (whatever that means), but it does not advocate vegetarianism.
Sorry Smel. I still love you.
*Bassarfest is a bastardization of the Hebrew word "bassar" or meat, and "fest" or festival.