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Bible-literate carnivores cling tenaciously to a slender verse in the Book of Genesis to justify their consumption of animal flesh.
Genesis 9:3 is the Biblical invitation to a Texas buffet. It plainly states, “Every creature that lives shall be yours to eat.”
The Beet-Eating Heeb cannot pretend that this verse doesn’t exist. In fact, faithful readers of his blog will tell you that he has never, ever stated that Judaism or Christianity prohibits meat eating.
But he is not afraid to address Genesis 9:3 head-on – and show that carnivores should take little comfort in its words.
Consider the context. In language, context matters.
For instance, if The Beet-Eating Heeb announces that he is “on fire,” it could mean that he either fell into a barbecue pit, or bowled five straight strikes.
Compare the contexts of Genesis 1:29, in which God prescribes a vegan diet, with Genesis 9:3.
Genesis 1:29 culminates the Creation story and takes place in the Garden of Eden. God describes his vegan menu as “very good.”
Fast forward to Genesis 9:3, which comes immediately after The Flood, in which God exterminated virtually all of humanity to put an end to its licentiousness. God was clearly not smiling when he granted Man permission to eat meat.
Indeed, it is a widespread view among rabbinic authorities that God granted this permission with profound reluctance, after sadly observing the flesh-eating ways of humans in the years before The Flood. If God were going to promise to refrain from wiping out humankind again, as he did in Genesis 9:11, He would have to lower his expectations and his standards.
In short, a carnivorous diet is clearly not God’s preference. It a God who is deeply disappointed in humankind’s behavior who authorizes meat eating.
The Beet-Eating Heeb isn’t finished dismantling Genesis 9:3.
This verse cannot be understood apart from Leviticus 11, in which the laws of kashrut are laid out. Those laws put meat-eating inside some narrow boundaries. Pork? No way. Shrimp? Not allowed. Cheeseburgers? Forget about it.
What is the overarching message of Leviticus 11? God wanted to make it difficult for us to eat meat, in hopes that we wouldn’t eat too much of it. You can only eat certain animals slaughtered under certain conditions.
But if God gave an inch, most of The Beet-Eating Heeb’s fellow Jews have taken a mile. So have a little meat once in a while, if you can’t live up to God’s highest ideals. But do you really think God wants you to be eating animals two or three times a day, seven days a week?
One last thing.
The Beet-Eating Heeb could not help but notice that life spans recorded in the Torah became dramatically shorter after God granted people permission to eat meat. Adam, for instance, didn’t check out until after his 930th birthday, long after he had drained his 401(k). Abraham, in contrast, passed away at the tender age of 175.
Whether or not you interpret these life spans literally, the message is clear, and verified by modern scientific research: Vegetarians and vegans live longer. And The Beet-Eating Heeb would say that’s God’s will, and His clearly expressed preference.
The Beet-Eating Heeb is a voracious eater of veggies, fruits, and nuts (especially after a tough workout) and a voracious reader of blogs, newspapers, magazines and books (especially about food issues).
Recently, two things The Beet-Eating Heeb read – one in The New York Times, one in a book called “The Pathfinder” – intersected in his mind and compelled him to think hard about the excuses people offer for rejecting veganism.
New York Times health blogger Tara Parker-Pope captured BEH’s attention with an April 16 post titled “The Challenge of Going Vegan.” Parker-Pope examines – some might say exaggerates – several challenges, which The Beet-Eating Heeb dissects below.
Meanwhile, “Pathfinder,” written by acclaimed career counselor Nicholas Lore, clawed its way to the top of The Beet-Eating Heeb’s book pile. BEH found himself stroking his maroon chin again and again while reading a chapter about “Yeahbuts.”
“Yeahbuts” is the term Lore uses to describe the voice in our heads that is constantly offering us reasons to avoid change. (Example: Yeah, it’s crazy for a human to be consuming secretions from a cow’s udder, but I love cheese.)
If this incessant excuse-maker were just a voice, it would be bad enough. But as Lore points out, it is actually a powerful biological force, what scientists call homeostasis. Our bodies want to maintain their equilibrium, or the status quo.
The problem is, if you constantly succumb to that primal force, and if you constantly obey that voice in your head, you will remain forever mired in bad habits and self-destructive behavior.
Fortunately, God endowed human beings with souls, with consciousness, so that you can overcome the “Yeahbuts.” Once you become conscious of that excuse-maker in your head, it begins to lose its power over you.
So what happens when you confront “The Challenge of Going Vegan” with an awareness that there is a self-defeating voice chattering away in your head?
Let’s take a look at Parker-Pope’s Yeahbuts.
P-P Yeahbut No. 1: “The struggle to give up favorite foods like cheese and butter can be made all the harder by harsh words and eye-rolling from unsympathetic friends and family members.”
THE BEET-EATING HEEB: If your friends and family members are mocking your efforts to improve your health and live more ethically, then shame on them. But this does not give you an excuse to lower your personal standards and sink to the lowest common denominator.
Internally, fortify your backbone and stand by your convictions. Externally, patiently and calmly explain the basis for abstaining from animal products. It helps to educate yourself about the health, environmental and animal-welfare benefits of veganism.
One more thing: When friends and family members roll their eyes, refrain from giving them the finger, if you can resist the temptation to do so.
P-P Yeahbut No. 2: “Substitutes like almond milk and rice milk can shock the taste buds.”
THE BEET-EATING HEEB: Can something as relatively bland as almond milk “shock the taste beds?” BEH is rolling his eyes. (Somewhere, Tara Parker-Pope is sitting in front of her computer, tempted to give him the finger.)
In fairness, Parker-Pope expressed herself better elsewhere in her essay when she wrote, “it’s hard to give up favorite foods and adjust to the taste of substitutes for butter and dairy products.”
You don’t need to tell that to The Beet-Eating Heeb, who would have told you five years ago that nothing beats a carne asada burrito.
However, BEH is here to tell you that if you just stick to a vegan diet for a few months, the sound of The Yeahbuts will grow fainter in your head and your desire to consume animal products will diminish, if not disappear altogether.
P-P Yeahbut No. 3: “She has to drive 20 miles to find stores with vegan specialty foods for cooking.”
THE BEET-EATING HEEB: It is true. Not everyone lives within walking distance of a store that sells nutritional yeast. Cue the violins.
What Parker-Pope doesn’t tell you is that it is exponentially easier today than it was as recently as 10 years ago to find vegan specialty foods. Rather than whine, today’s vegans should feel grateful and should bow in deep respect whenever they meet anyone who was a vegan in the 1990s or before. (So no need to bow in deep respect to The Beet-Eating Heeb.)
P-P Yeahbut No. 4: “Vegan ingredients and cooking techniques can be overwhelming for beginners, even if the changes are relatively small.”
THE BEET-EATING HEEB: Parker-Pope’s Yeahbuts must be taking steroids. Again, to be fair, it is not unusual for Yeahbuts to take performance-enhancing drugs. Just listen to the Yeahbuts in your own head.
But c’mon, Tara. It’s not like switching to a vegan diet entails abandoning everything you consumed as a carnivore. Surely, you indulged in the occasional fruit or vegetable, or maybe even wolfed down some peanuts.
Sure, it behooves new vegans to look up some recipes online or maybe even buy some vegan cookbooks. Does that sound so stressful?
And if you have an exceptionally bad case of the Yeahbuts, allow yourself to gradually convert to veganism in stages. Or just try a vegan diet for a month and see how you feel.
Truthfully, The Beet-Eating Heeb has only found two lingering challenges to maintaining a vegan diet.
One is carrying around the weight of the realization that 99 percent of the population is misguided, if not downright savage, for continuing to consume animal products.
The other is the challenge of eating purely vegan outside the home, especially at the dinner tables of friends or relatives.
Other than that, you can be pretty sure that the voice in your head telling you it’s too hard to be a vegan is nothing but a nasty ol’ Yeahbut.
Blogs devoted to vegan and vegetarian Judaism have all but vanished.
Heeb ‘n’ Vegan, once a thriving place in cyberspace, hung an “out-of-business” sign on its door in 2010.
Shalom Veg, another favorite of meat-abstaining Jews, recently went three months without posting new content.
The last thing the world needs is another blog. Except in this case.
As interest in all things vegan and vegetarian continues to grow, the Beet-Eating Heeb (BEH for short) has plenty of information to share, issues to discuss, and people to interview.
BEH has ambitious plans for this site. In fact, he originally named this blog “The Ambitious Beet-Eating Heeb.” But Wife of BEH astutely noted that “Beet-Eating Heeb” is hard enough to say.
So what is so ambitious about this blog? Here is some of what you can expect to find here in the weeks and months ahead:
- A serious examination of what the Torah has to say about food. The laws of kashrut matter, but there is much more.
- A curating and analysis of news about relevant food issues. The Beet-Eating Heeb spent 18 years in journalism, so he knows how to spot a good story, presumably.
- Interviews with rabbis, food experts, activists, vegans, vegetarians, flexitarians, pescatarians and carnivores. But BEH draws the line at freegans. (Google it. You’ll understand.)
- A dose of humor. While the consequences of industrial food production are rather sobering, The Beet-Eating Heeb still enjoys a chuckle as much as the next beet-eating guy.
- Most importantly, a sense of community. At least that’s what the Beet-Eating Heeb hopes to create. He sees this as a site where people can find fellow travelers on our shared road to spiritual and physical health, environmental conservation, and animal welfare.
BEH is a busy guy, what with a day job, a family, and even a grad-school class. But there is so much to talk about, so much to digest (pun intended), and so much at stake, he is committed to posting at least once every two weeks.
He hopes to see you then.