The idea of becoming a vegetarian is usually even further from my mind than signing up for Bikram Yoga
I will admit frankly that, fond as I am of Rachel Talshir, I read her columns in Haaretz in the same spirit in which I used to read Magda Poldash's bridge column in At, the women's magazine my mother used to buy. I knew no more about bridge then than I do now, but terms such as "right to declare" sounded mysterious and exuded an air of charisma, not to say nobility. Reading the column, I conjured up a Lewis Carroll-type world in which, amid a tea party at the court of the Queen of Hearts, a game was played in which the cards were people, or vice versa, and implausible terminology denoted the illogical rules of the game.
For similar reasons I can read, without even trying to solve, cryptic crossword puzzles, which in themselves look like some sort of invention based on sadomasochistic relations between author and players. I am even capable of perusing descriptions of chess games, in the absence of other reading material.
Obviously, then, I am a regular reader of Talshir's columns, whether she's writing about food or environmental awareness. Reading her columns is, if you like, the exotic height of my weekly newspaper consumption. Talshir writes very well, and because I know her personally I also know that the eating method she has chosen produces welcome aesthetic results. Still, it has never actually crossed my mind to take the trouble to make pureed mixed herbs with fruit, eaten cold, or to look up the address of the nearest organic farm. The truth is I have never even visited the farmer's market that is within walking distance of my home. My attitude toward organic produce is reinforced by what my friend Manuela quoted to me from her late mother, an acclaimed cook who in the 1960s published in Padua, her hometown, an Italian cookbook that was a big success. "My mother used to say," Manuela recalled, "that if a fruit or vegetable got a little battered, it would be sold as organic."
The truth is that, like any aging creature, I myself remember how delicious the strawberries were that my aunt grew in the backyard of her kibbutz home, in a bed of sand - far tastier than the hormone-bloated things sold in stores these days; and how much sweeter the loquats, packed in brown paper bags while still on the tree, that we snatched from Mr. Ben-Yesha's tree in the municipal employees' apartment buildings - and not only because they were stolen. And how can I forget the paeans that my parents sang to the baladi fruits and vegetables that their friend the sheikh sent them with his chauffeur, straight from his fields, somewhere near the Shfaram area? Once or twice I complied with the request of friends who had just received a shipment from their favorite organic market and tried the shriveled apple or misshapen cucumber they offered me as an appetizer - before the beef stew or the steak, of course - but they did not evoke anything resembling what I remember from childhood.
In general, the idea of adopting the recommendations of Talshir or of Aviv Lavie (a journalist for whom I have high regard ) to become vegetarian, not to say vegan, is generally even further from my mind than the notion of enrolling in a Bikram Yoga course, where even in the middle of the horrible Tel Aviv summer the room is heated to 38 degrees Celsius. True, I am not a major carnivore; I will always opt for baked goods, refined carbohydrates, diet sodas, coffee, fruit, cow's milk and other dairy products over low-fat sources of protein or fresh green vegetables that go snap, crackle and pop when chewed as part of the eternal diet I have imposed on myself. Lean meat, chicken breast, fish and vegetables are as far as I go in terms of self-imposed decrees to replace croissants, fried foods or simply a thick slab of bread slathered with butter.
For years I have had my set speeches about ideological vegetarians who are, according to my psychological logic, natural-born sadists out to wreak atonement on themselves and to conceal from others their highly developed murderous instincts. In other words, those who are not cruel toward cows, pigs or chickens will eventually be cruel toward human beings.
That logic falters when I note that we are not talking about the balance of forces in nature or about recreating the fight for survival in which man had no choice but to hunt his prey, but about unfair and immoral exploitative relations in which man raises animals solely for the purpose of eating them, turning them into consumer products, objects. I didn't know how true that was until I saw the film "Food, Inc." at this year's documentary film festival in Tel Aviv.
What I saw there was cows wallowing in their own excrement, just centimeters from one another, and cleansed with ammonia before being sent for slaughter to one of the 13 slaughterhouses still left in the entire United States, all of which serve vast corporations for whose needs the cows are raised in appalling conditions, are injected with hormones and antibiotics and endure genetic modification until finally, in the slaughterhouses, their body parts are mixed unrecognizably with those of hundreds of other cows. I saw chicks carried on a conveyor belt into funnels through which they are spilled into crowded, lightless cages. I saw plenty of other dreadful sights, too, which sharpened my sense that the practical difference between the farmers - actually industrialists - who raise the animals and me, a collaborator in the enterprise, is that I consume the finished product in the form, say, of the marvelous steak that my friend Miri made for me the other day. It was only after I'd finished it off, without leaving a trace on the plate, that I remembered again that I had forgotten to be a vegetarian.
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