I’m not implying that Orthodox Jews especially pre-eminently particularly typically classically are the prototype of people who eat too much meat. Rather, I am saying that admittedly, we need to use animal produce and even must eat some meat in the (near) future but not in the irrational amounts that are now considered normal in the Western diet. Also, especially Orthodox Jews should know better. How so?
First of all, the Torah warns us (Deuteronomy 21:18-21) about overconsumption of meat and wine, even by a child, and how this can lead to limitlessness and general waywardness. These are not innocent articles of consumption. Most Jews have always been moderate in alcohol and meat-consumption. Heed the tradition and warning!
The staple of human food is bread. A festive meal cannot be held without it and needs to start with it. Meat may be a decoration of a meal, bread is the definition of one. But the amount of meat-eating that is going on in the West endangers the production of wheat. So much ground is swallowed up (pun intended) for farming animal feed that still millions of people are starving deprived of minimal food intake.
Not only is animal feed pushing out produce for human nourishment; cows and sheep produce so much hothouse gas that a vegan is better for human survival than a recluse who would on no account travel by vehicle or plane, never uses anything transported to him (only uses what comes locally to him) and takes no electricity from the grid whatsoever.
On top of that, to produce an ounce of beef requires roughly 13 times more water than to produce an ounce of wheat. The world is running out of drinking water quickly. Smaller animals drink much less per kilo.
An Orthodox Jew needs to hear or read from a Torah scroll written on hide and Jewish males need to put on phylacteries. But these leathers can be harvested from naturally deceased animals.
A festive meal should have wine and meat but only for those who enjoy them and it says nowhere that there have to be six types of meat in near limitless amounts.
When the Temple stands again, may it be soon and in our days, Priests must eat meat in the Temple; but each only a classical olive-size amount only about three days a year. And then, all Jews must eat from the roasted Passover offering (one of the most important Commandments), but only a classical olive-size amount which is about the size of half a present-day chicken egg.
It is true that the number of Orthodox Jews is small and if we must eat meat, that religious requirement will not wipe out all human life on earth. But still, Jews are appointed to teach by example. We cannot do what is destructive generally claiming that it’s only small us. We are called upon to be a living example for all, a Kingdom of Priests (Exodus 19: 6) and we promised (Exodus 19: 8) to be that.
Moderation is a core teaching in Judaism. Less is more. Who gave us permission to go beyond our minimal meat requirements?
All the above comes still before things that are not intrinsic in meat production but are now part of them anyway. Animal cruelty has become part of animals’ lives raised for food. Even with the painless ritual slaughter. Jews have permission to animal produce but to contribute to animal unwelfare is a problem that some say is a Biblical Injunction.
And the way most people eat animal produce is patently unhealthy. Since these things have barely any taste, they are seared (burned like the addictive coffee bean) and heavenly salted and spiced in a desperate attempt to give them any taste. It’s not the produce that is unhealthy but the way we prepare it for consumption.
Last but not least, animal produce is very expensive and the statement that when poor, at least buy something good for one’s health, animal produce, is a lie that often robs struggling people of their last money. Living frugally is also a Jewish value.
So, in order to eat less meat, you don’t have to love animals, believe that killing animals for food is wrong or be a vegetarian or vegan. Above I wrote plenty of good reasons to tone down eating animal produce a bit.
* * *
Pesach is coming up. Let’s talk about it.
As an Ashkenazic Orthodox vegan, I don’t use legumes for Passover although many Orthodox rabbis now permit us to use beans “since they have nothing else to eat.” That is nice because we’ll miss our peanut butter, tofu, techina, (whole pasta, saitan, barley), whole rice, split peas, lentils and chickpeas. But it’s not true that we have nothing to eat.
First of all, we are allowed any produce from tree and ground (and cave) that is not grain and not bean. Avocados, bananas and olives are quite filling. All tree nuts are allowed and so are all mushrooms. (Peanuts are a kind of bean and are not for Ashkenazics on Passover.) The most Orthodox matzot are whole-wheat and fill too. I’ll give you a few ideas.
► Veggies soup. Ten types of veggies and five types of herbs with water. No salt, fried onions or garlic are needed; this is not meat, white rice or white pasta; this is stuff that has a taste of its own! Everyone will love it. Just don’t overcook any of them. Carrot you can’t overcook. Pumpkin needs 20 minutes. Sweet potato needs a few minutes only. Beet you grade and add last minute so that it doesn’t lose its taste or color. Cut them so big that they fit a spoon but must be chewed before swallowing. Parsley you should add after the cooking not to destroy its taste.
► Pancakes from matzo meal. Baked with a little nut or olive oil. Bind with a tiny bit of potato starch. (Too much tastes yucky.) For protein, you can add a little (kosher for Passover) coconut powder (it exists without the fat) or nut flour or crushed nuts. You may add grated apple or potato. To bake a huge pile takes a lot of time so start early.
► Roast or stir-fry peppers, carrots, eggplant, zucchini.
► Fruit mix. No alcohol, no sugar, please. Taste the rich flavors.
► Do you know how gloriously rich a fresh salad tastes? Add a little fruit or nuts if you wish. Leave out a dressing — no need!
► Whole-wheat matzo with nut spread or avocado should leave one satisfied. My kids love it with the spread made by putting stoneless olives and tomato puree in the mixer.
► Lightly-soaked whole-wheat matzo vegan lasagna. Use tomato paste or ketchup, basil leaves, olive rings, mushrooms, soaked nuts, lightly cooked cubes of peppers and pineapple.
► Potatoes can be prepared in so many ways. Cooked mixed with sweet potatoes and/or Jerusalem artichoke (keep the pieces large and don’t add salt. Baked. Roasted. Fried. Mashed.
Use your fantasy. I think that cooked pumpkin and potatoes with almond spread and some herbs should be a great dish. I’ll try to make some.
But in any case, don’t go frantic. It’s only for a week.
* * *
If Ashkenazic Orthodox vegans can survive well even without legumes, then all Jews can have a week of festive meals with less meat.
So, I repeat, Orthodox Jews should know better and eat less meat.