Jews are picky about their food. And it’s not because we don’t like food, but because the Torah instructs us regarding what foods we can and cannot eat, and with which other foods. As a by-product, it makes it difficult for Jews who observe dietary laws to socialize with non-Jews, and makes traveling to exotic locales more complicated.
The Crunch girls are even more picky about their food. As kids, they tend to prefer foods they can easily identify, and avoid foods that are combined. (The main exception to this is any food with ketchup on it.) Two out of three will try new foods without a fight, and one will usually like what she tries. (Baby Bill likes most foods, God love him.) Lately, in an effort to decrease the power struggle that often ensues between parents and children in our house over food, I’ve been making less meat of a Shabbat. We’ve had at least one dairy meal for Shabbat for the past few months, and sometimes two. The girls ask where the chicken is when we host for lunch and I’ve made dairy or parve, but I don’t get the feeling they miss it much. It also allows us greater creativity where dessert is concerned. Butter, with its superior taste and lack of trans-fats can replace margarine, and milk and cream can replace soy milk or Rich’s whip. In many respects, Shabbat is made more special by the absence of meat.
But still, for me, total commitment to vegetarianism is a stretch. I know slaughter isn’t pretty, even when it’s done in a kosher manner. I know the animal has, in most cases, not led a free-range existence, feeding upon grass or seed, running through a barnyard, bedding down in a deep pile of straw in its own stall at night. I am aware that stock have antibiotics and hormones coursing through their veins (and, by extension, muscles), and fish—both fresh and salt water—live in waters polluted by heavy metals. I blogged once about MOOSHY, the practice of confining meat consumption to Shabbat and holidays. For the most part, my family stands by that. The occasional bowl of chicken soup, the spicy chicken kebabs at our kids’ favorite restaurant, the burger every month or two are satisfying in a way I haven’t yet found with dairy or parve foods. These meat dishes are sometimes fattening, but no more so than the rich dairy dishes made with starches, cheese or cream.
I’ve been thinking about this again since friends of ours recently became vegans. (“Gee, I thought they were still Church of England…”) It seems they read a book that convinced them that animal products were unnecessary for good health, and that plant foods provide all a human needs for a healthy diet and balanced nutrition. I’ve little doubt this is true, especially in a time when consumption of animal foods is complicated by ethical issues (for stock and workers), pollution, overmedication, and consumer health issues. And the sanctimoniousness of certain ethical vegetarians (who by definition still consume dairy and eggs) doesn’t hold up to scrutiny when the poor conditions in which the cows and chickens live are exposed.
Vegetables and fruits, of course, have their own problems with pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides used to excess by large-scale farming operations. Many is the time I’ve brought home healthy-looking vegetables (especially sweet peppers, for some reason) and had to throw them out after one bite when all we could taste was chemicals—not even the pepper itself.
I’m no closer to locking in on a firm diet than I was before I began to think and wonder about all these issues. Carnivores say that the protein in meat and fish is more bio-available than plant proteins; vegetarians say it’s not. Carnivores say it’s healthier for children to eat meat while they’re young; vegetarians say it’s not. Lately, the Cap’n and I have been discussing the discrepancies between what medical science tells us and what messages are put out by the public health industry. In the end, I’m never sure what to think.
So for now, I think the Crunch table will still see the occasional meat meal. And because some of the produce we’ve been getting in the stores and at the shuk is so riddled with chemicals, we’ll be looking into organic produce, which seems more popular and readily available in Israel than ever before.
I welcome others’ thoughts on this issue. I’m already so confused, let’s just make my head spin, shall we?