of gummy-worms and larger creatures

Michael Pollan has been eloquent in his appeal that we change our eating and growing habits. He sums it all up in seven syllables — not quite a koan, nor haiku either, but nevertheless giving off the impression of a wise and ancient teaching:

eat food
not too much
mostly plants

A modest proposal from a modest man.

So why does it sound so radical here in Amrika?

On the tzaddik’s yahrtzeit I stopped eating animals. It was a very long time coming. I can hear my friends on both sides of the aisle berating me over it. The veg-folk for having it take so long, and the meat-folk for having let go one of the great tasty pleasures of life. The fact is, I love the taste of meat. But I can’t stand the word anymore.

I think I became a vegetarian because of the word ‘meat’. I finally heard it. Just that, and nothing more.


It’s a word that bothered me very suddenly, listening to an interview on public radio with Jonathan Safran Foer. His new book is entitled Eating Animals. I had just shown Rouch’s award-winning film, Les Maitres Fous, to my night class, and more than any other part of the film, students react to the slaughter, boiling and eating of a sweet medium sized short-haired trusting dog. I’ve seen the film hundreds of times and it gets me every time. I can’t get used to it.

But they also sacrifice a chicken and a lamb or a goat as well. Why is it no one even mentions those? And they break raw eggs upon the Hauka altar of the ‘governor’s palace.’ How come that doesn’t bother anyone either? For that, too, is wasted life.

I think it’s because we think of chicken, lamb, and goat as meat. And meat is something that we eat.

But Foer’s book isn’t called Eating Meat — which would make almost any potential reader defensive and oppositional instantly. The title of Foer’s book is Eating Animals, and that’s something altogether different. When you put it that way, it’s something we really don’t want to do.

That’s the dog in the Rouch’s film — an animal, not meat — and why eating dog is so horrific and unwatchable. We just don’t think of a dog as meat.

It sounds like Foer is stating the obvious here. He doesn’t push the point. But I’d like to push it here. Language matters.

Pollan and Foer share this facility for hard-hitting simplicity in their writing. They’re both reasonable and not fanatics. They both are okay with folks who eat meat. Just not too much. Foer’s soft sell on the radio, I guess just got to me when combined with having just watched the dog sacrifice for the umpteenth time.

I had no problem eating meat.

I had a big problem eating animals.

So. Is this about morality, ethics or ecology? Arguments I’ve been reading since Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. Nope. It was just about the power of words.

Words, like music, can have this awful power over us that is not quite rational, not quite irrational. We are moved beyond reason. We use words to come up with a reason for our reason. And if we commit to them, we are transformed.

Sure, I do feel different. I’ve had a belly ache for a month, to tell the truth. I don’t think I was designed at all for not eating animals. Maybe I’m doing it all wrong. But I’m gonna hold the course and see how it goes. Not dogmatically (excuse the terrible pun here). No. If it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out. But for the first time, it feels right even if it feels awful.

Where do the gummy-worms fit in here. They do fit in, I’ll give you that, but yes, another time. For once again it’s later than I’d like, and my eyes are dry and closing. I’ve listened to Erin’s kaddish tonight and it took me to the Siberian steppe, with only a single tree on the horizon, an ironwood. And there were nomads there, with their sheep and goats. Beloved animals. But over the fire in the fire pit: nothing but meat.

And I hear nothing, nothing but the kaddish.

About mira

Mira Z. Amiras is Professor of Comparative Religious Studies and founder of the Middle East Studies Program at San Jose State University. She is past-president of the Society for the Anthropology of Consciousness, and has served on the Executive Council of the American Anthropological Association. She is co-founder, with Ovid Jacob, of Beit Malkhut, a study group in Jewish sacred text. She's most attached to the creatures of her body and her household — first and foremost, her kids, of course: Michael and Rayna — and then the other folks large and small of various species, including Roshi and Vlad, a whole lot of hummingbirds, the old parrot who lives next door, and a beautiful garden that does what it will.
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5 Responses to of gummy-worms and larger creatures

  1. Erin Vang says:

    Once again my comments outgrew this little box. http://erinvang.com/?p=442.

  2. mira amiras says:

    A small PS —

    The 'we' above that don't eat dog, is an ethnocentric slur emerging from my exhausted mind. Obviously, there are lots of folks who do eat dog, and have no problem with it. They simply have put dog in the 'meat' column rather than the 'animal' one.

  3. Erin Vang says:

    I have a rule when I'm traveling abroad: I will eat anything I'm served, period. Except kiwi (allergy). Thanks to this I ate live slugs in Korea and a number of other things that I regret, along with things I didn't expect to like but loved, such as horse sashimi and raw chicken in Japan.

    I live in dread of the day, though, that I am served dog. I don't know if I can do it. I think it would be easier for me to eat people than to eat cat or dog.

  4. mira amiras says:

    Well, as I've already surmised, you're more adventurous than I! I couldn't even handle the tea in rural Tunisia — and my 'family' there made me woosy-tea, about a hundredth times less potent. True, I have eaten some things I felt were wrong and dreadful, but which others felt were normative.

    However, when I watch Roshi swipe a bird right out of the sky, throw her head back and take the living being, whole, inside her — I do get a thrill of how nature devours nature. In that case, it all makes perfect sense, and I applaud the efficiency from maggot to mankind. There's nothing rational about vegetarianism, per se, except perhaps the 'meat'-lots of sickening animals (in both senses of the term), and wrapping little slices of living folk in Saran Wrap for marketing.

  5. Jamie says:

    Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. I love it!

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