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.
Vegans might feel virtually invisible within the Jewish community as a whole.
But The Beet-Eating Heeb is here to deliver hope.
One of the most visible Jews in the Social Media World – and these days, what other world is there? – has become a vegan. Or, as BEH likes to say, this person has joined the Great Jewish Vegan Conspiracy (1).
If you’re one of the few people who is not following William @Daroff on Twitter, you must be Amish. But, regardless, The Beet-Eating Heeb is pleased to introduce you.
William Daroff has twice been named as one of the top five most influential Jewish Tweeters. In February 2012, the National Jewish Outreach Program named him one of the top ten Jewish influencers in social media.
Perhaps even more significantly, Daroff holds down one of the most important jobs in organized Judaism. He is the Vice President for Public Policy and Director of the Washington Office of The Jewish Federations of North America. Simply put, he is The Washington Lobbyist for the Jewish People.
On a recent business trip to Pittsburgh, William met The Beet-Eating Heeb for lunch at one of the city’s finest vegan-friendly restaurants, The Quiet Storm.
The Beet-Eating Heeb turned on his tape recorder and captured the following conversation. Particularly, ahem, interesting was his advice for vegan advocates in Washington. He didn’t give the answer we necessarily want to hear. But is he right?
Here’s the interview:
BEH: The Beet-Eating Heeb has known you for years. When and how did you become a vegan?
DAROFF: About two years ago, my wife (a longtime vegetarian) and I were at a bookstore looking at diet books and came upon a book that my internist had recommended for me about a year before but I hadn’t paid any attention to it. It’s called “The Engine 2 Diet.”
My wife got all excited about the book and I decided I would give it a shot. In the book, (author Rip Esselstyn) has a method where he suggests slowly becoming a vegan, but I went cold turkey and immediately eliminated (all animal products) from my diet. I don’t go out of my way to avoid honey, so technically I’m what’s called a beegan, which is one of my favorite terms. The only animal product I consume is honey. My wife became a vegan with me. So I’m now in a house with three vegans and a vegetarian. (They have two daughters, one a vegan, the other a vegetarian.)
What I’ve found is the medical community doesn’t even look at nutrition, especially vegan diets.
They (Rip Esselstyn and his father, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn) are behind this whole plant-strong diet that is looking at a plant-based diet as central for good health.
BEH: It’s been about 18 months now since you became a vegan? How’s it been going?
DAROFF: Right off the bat, I lost about 30 pounds and my numbers improved substantially, my cholesterol and whatnot. I sleep better, I’m much less congested. The sleep I have is much more peaceful. I feel like I don’t get colds as much as I used to. The bottom line is, I feel better.
The big factor I did not take account when I became a vegan is that egg is in everything. It’s unbelievable to me, whether it’s bread, mayonnaise, cake. That’s been an issue, trying to stay egg-free.
On the other hand, a vegan diet is very easy to meld with a kosher lifestyle. When you’re not dealing with meat, and you’re not dealing with dairy, what else is there? It makes my life much easier. I think being kosher and being vegan connect very well together.
BEH: Theologically, that isn’t a coincidence.
So you cited the book by Rip Esselstyn. Since becoming a vegan 18 months ago, have you looked into what Judaism has to say about eating meat versus plants and has that had any influence on your thinking?
DAROFF: I’ve looked at the Website of Jewish Vegetarians of North America. The part that speaks to me is the idea that, unfortunately, much of the way animals are treated by the agricultural industry, by the mass food industry, is arguably cruel. My Judaism is one that tries to treat all of God’s creatures in a way that’s compassionate. Even if the cows are not being killed cruelly, the fact that they are being killed seems to me to be not optimal. To me, even if the cow, even if the chicken, even if the pig is killed in a humane way, I still don’t think it’s good. I don’t think it’s an optimal way to treat fellow creatures.
BEH: What’s it like being a vegan in Washington?
DAROFF: Most of the time I have lunch in Washington at a restaurant it’s at the one kosher deli in Washington, which is called Eli’s. Eli’s has named a veggie burger after me, It’s called the William’s Burger, which is cute because it’s William for me, but it’s also Williamsburg, as in Brooklyn, where the Orthodox community is so strong.
I get a lot of strange looks, not just from Conservative Republicans but from liberal Democrats, too, who say, “Don’t you miss having a big chunky piece of steak?” The answer is, “Pretty much not.” I miss the ease of being able to order anything, anywhere, but to a great extent, being kosher, that wasn’t the case anyway.
Over the last year and a half, I’ve tried to dispel the idea that all vegans are hippies wearing Birkenstocks and protesting with PETA on the corner.
BEH: Not that there is anything wrong with protesting with PETA on the corner.
DAROFF: Not that there is anything wrong for the most part, depending on what PETA’s current campaign is.
BEH: Are they any vegetarians or vegans in Congress or in the upper echelons of the Administration?
DAROFF: The one who comes to mind who is a vegan is Dennis Kucinich. (Kucinich, a Democratic Congressman from Ohio, just lost his re-election bid in the Democrat primary). As far as the halls of power, nobody is immediately coming to mind.
BEH: I’ve been saving the most important question for last. As someone who is extremely effective at being an advocate in Washington, what advice would you have for the vegan and animal rights movement if they want to achieve more influence in Congress and the Administration. Right now, they certainly don’t have much.
DAROFF: That’s correct. I think it’s important to recognize that there are millions of Americans who are employed by the farming industry. To recognize that they have impact, for better or for worse, the person who is making $10-an-hour at some processing plant in Iowa would be unemployed but for that processing plant in Iowa. The political interests of that person have some validity, and that’s what a lot of the policy makers, a lot of the legislators are looking at when they’re considering USDA regulations or FDA regulations or farm supports or other policies that impact the industry.
Let me talk about PETA for a little bit. I think some of their methods of shock and awe are counterproductive and they help to further the image of the veg/vegan world of one of being crazy, Birkenstock- wearing radicals who are outside the norm.
I think to the extent that are more legitimate physicians and health professionals and people like President Clinton who are very much part of the dominant paradigm of society who are pushing the benefits of veganism and vegetarianism, that helps the movement seem more mainstream, which should help with having political power.
(1) Daroff came up with the phrase “Great Jewish Vegan Conspiracy” and gave The Beet-Eating Heeb permission to it. Thanks William!