Monday, 28 December 2009

Every Single Day I am Reminded That I am OLD!

I figured that I couldn't allow my birthday to go by without some kind of recognition. We have been continually inundated over the last few weeks with lists of the best and worst of the decade of zero and of 2009 specifically, so I thought it only appropriate to offer up a quick hit list of my own that will bring into better focus how I know that I am closer to fifty than forty. Happy f@#$ing Birthday to me!

  1. I know that I am old because I do not for the life of me understand the allure of American/Canadian Idol. When did it become okay to accept canned shit for music entertainment? From what I have been able to garner from the brief snippets that cross my screen as I am waiting for Bones or House to start, is that very few of these poor deluded souls can actually sing and that the image that they are trying to project is nothing short of hideous. Where is the real musical talent for the new millennium going to come from if we the viewing and listening public keep relying on Simon Cowell to spew it? I pine for real musicians-you all know who they are!
  2. I know that I am old because body art is lost on me. I realize that I covered this in a previous post so I will not rant for too long, but honestly? I saw a guy the other day in Miami with sleeves tattooed on his arms! In glorious technicolour! My boys tell me it is the age of self-expression. I think it is the age of stupidity.
  3. I know that I am closer to 50 than 40 because I have yet to recognize the obsolescence of the land-line telephone. Both of my boys have forgone the old telecommunications model, and rely solely on their cells. They are not unusual amongst their generation. I still cannot get past the idea that a blackout will one day soon re-affect the entire eastern seaboard and the only way of getting a message through to loved ones will be on the old analogue plug-in that The Husband and I keep locked away safely in the front hall closet. In the words of the Boy Scouts "Be Prepared"!
  4. I realize that I am old because I spend most of my time at B'nai Mitzvah parties in the foyer or the hall avoiding the ear-splitting thump of the horrid dance music that emanates from the gadgets of the already hearing-impaired DJs, who seem to forget who pays the bills and blithely ignore our pleas for level decibels. To all of you who are coming up on parties for your new teens: I highly recommend a kid's-only bash. Us old farts can't handle the noise.
  5. I know that I am old because I would rather see a good movie with great acting and a wonderful story than be wowed by special effects. I have been told by many people, including Older Son that Avatar is an unbelievable movie-going experience that will change film-making forever, but that the story is merely adequate. Call me crazy, but I would rather watch Meryl Streep act her ass off, than have her upstaged by computer generated effects.
  6. I get it! I am old! I know this because Lady Gaga is a poor woman's Madonna to me, I am wholly uninterested in the Kardashians, (who the hell are these people?) and I have absolutely no interest whatsoever in the lives of any real housewives from any city in the lower 48.
  7. I know that I am old because I have already come to the unmistakable conclusion that no matter how much I cut back on carbs, sugar, calories, taste, or food in general, and no matter how many hours I spend sweating and toning in the gym, I will NEVER EVER EVER look like any cover girl on any magazine on any stand in the Western Hemisphere. Why? Because I know (age will do this to you!) that all of these images are unattainable as a result of photo-shopping, plastic surgery and botox. Even the 60 year olds are touched and retouched, so I can't even look at the "mature" women's rags without puking. Love yourself is my motto, and f@*& what is unreachable.
  8. I know that I am old because I hate the term "cougar" and any other such moniker that demeans women of my age. What is wrong with women enjoying and dating younger men? Old guys with young hotties on their arms have been the norm for decades. Nobody called these dirty old bastards something as offensive as cougar. I am open for suggestions. Anybody got an equally ugly moniker for an old fart who needs several Viagra in order to get it on with his cradle-snatched mate?
  9. I know that I am closer to 50 than 40 because I still like to receive snail mail. Don't get me wrong, I am an avid user of e-mail and I like to text, but there is still something really special about receiving a letter, card or thank you note in the mailbox. And while I am on the subject, thank you notes should always be handwritten, personalized and sent out within weeks of the occasion. (YUP! I am old!!!) On the other hand, junk mail is worse when delivered because it is truly a colossal waste of paper.
  10. Finally, I realize that I am old because every meal is an adventure in some new stomach issue. I used to have a cast-iron stomach, but that all changed as I entered middle-age. Dairy, heavy sauces, some raw vegetables, certain ethnic dishes and legumes will undoubtedly increase the likelihood that I will spend copious amounts of my time in the lavatory. What a wonderful way to approach my next decade.

It should be noted that my birthday is only my 47th and that I still have a few years to go before I hit the golden age, but I have noticed lately that 50 seems much closer in the windshield than 40 does in the rearview. While I hope to embrace tomorrow and every birthday which I am blessed with with verve and excitement, there is a strange sense of foreboding that comes over me when I realize that I am now in a new age range on the surveys, that I am close to being able to get into a movie in Miami as a senior, that I am fearful of driving at night because of the strange halos that I see around street lights, and that I am the same age tomorrow that my mother was when she first became a grandmother! (Not that I want to be a grandmother, gentlemen!!) 47 is starting to sound pretty good. Happy Birthday to me!!

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

A Gecko Named Gordon

There are many things about The Husband worthy of admiration. He is truly brilliant, yet he has a wonderful way of explaining a situation to you without making you feel stupid. He is a real out-of-the-box thinker that sees problems from angles that most us could never even imagine, yet he is perfectly happy to walk away from ownership of these solutions and allow others to assume credit. He is incredibly handy, especially considering he is a Jew, and he is usually willing to try new things, mostly because his intellect causes him to bore easily and the new and untried provide challenges. Yes, there is much about The Husband to admire. His interactive skills when it comes to the smallest of nature's creatures, however are not usually worthy of praise. My man has a genuine phobia of the creepy crawlies!

It usually is quite manageable. He screams "spider" or "wasp" and I come running with tissue, vacuum hose, or can of Raid at the ready. Squeamish I am not, so it has become understood in our relationship that I kill the bugs. (An aside to my dear friend Twin Son's Better Half-Yes, I kill them!! You are the only one with enough karmic energy to save the little buggers from a hellish and devious death!) We have a good division of marital labour that works. He does the banking and I annihilate the critters. It has served us fairly well over the years. Ok! There was that one time when he almost drove us into a tree because a large, green preying mantis found her way onto the inside of the driver's side window, but those incidents are rare. And then-there was our stop today in Costa Rica.

The six of us decided to charter a private tour to show us a good chunk of the country. We were all set for a wonderful day roaming through the local markets, a banana plantation and a river tour of the rain forest. Our friends at Okey Dokey Tours (swear to God! I couldn't have made that name up if I tried for a year!) provided is with a great driver, a sterling guide named Harrison, and most importantly, an air conditioned 8 seater van. As we piled into the vehicle, The Husband chose to park himself beside one of the windows. As I slid in next to him, I noticed a small gecko had made himself comfortable on the window ledge inches from The Husband's arm. The poor little guy was just taking in some sun. Keenly aware of his history, I quietly asked my man if his little seat companion was coming along for the tour. Well, that was clearly the wrong approach. The man jumped five feet and wedged me between himself and the door of the van. He kept pushing against me (not in a good way!) all while I kept attempting to calm him down so that I could corral the scared creature and free him from a car-full of panicked Canadians. Gordon (I named him for Michael Douglas' character in Wall Street) was not about to sit still for the commotion and made his way to the rear of the van, where my equally terrified friend was sitting. She was none to happy with Gordon's flight and she moved into a similar pattern as The Husband's. By the time that Gordon had fled and order had been restored, his legend had already grown to ridiculous proportions. According to The Husband, he had hair and long fangs. He had huge eyes and a longing to suck all of the life juices from his body. The bloody thing was the size of my thumb and wouldn't hurt an ant, but such was the terror in The Husband's mind.

Our friend the social butterfly was so amused by the events of the day, that he bought The Husband a t-shirt sporting Gordon's image for him to wear all around the ship as penance. Being the great sport that he is, The Husband complied gracefully. As they say in Costa Rica, "Pura Vida"-It's all good!

Cruise Impressions

A few cruise thoughts.

  1. Eating is a spectator sport on any cruise. It constantly amazes me how many people I only spy at the buffets. And of course, one full plate of the taste of the day is never enough. We have seen many a food addict with several plates piled high with enough calories to choke an elephant. With our new eating routine has come a much stronger awareness of what we are putting into our bodies. I believe wholeheartedly that obesity is the scourge of the 21st century. No wonder The Biggest Loser is such a popular show.
  2. Speaking of our veggie lifestyle, we have found it incredibly easy aboard ship. Now it is true that the staff is eager to cater to our needs, but both The Husband and I have discovered new ways to eat, and both of us are enjoying it immensely. There hasn't yet been a meal where either of us has walked away hungry or unsatisfied. Now, last evening's meals of teriyaki tofu steak was not high on our taste hit parade, but it was artfully prepared and filling. We much preferred the stuffed poblano peppers and the Indian meal. Vegetarian does not equal boring.
  3. The Husband and I are certainly feeling quite young on this particular cruise. The average age seems to be hovering around 70, and it is not unusual to encounter near collisions with a variety of motorized scooters, wheelchairs, walkers, or just an over-anxious senior with a cane. Yesterday we met up with several lively characters. First, there was Joe from Delray Beach via Brooklyn. Joe simply decided that he had had enough of his lunchtime company and parked himself at our table to give us a lesson in origami. Two cranes, a box and a boat later, he was cajoled by he wife to lave the "younguns" to their business. Our friend the social butterfly later ran into Joe in the elevator and in the time it took to travel 5 floors, found all about his pension, his monthly income, and how many cruises he takes yearly. Later in the evening, we had the distinct pleasure of meeting Betty and her partner Lou. They were waiting for late seating dinner and were alone because all of their travelling companions were too old. Point of order!! Lou is 94 and Betty is 84! They have been together for 19 years and she said that the secret to their longevity is to NOT get married! "Who needs it?" "It only complicates things!" They travel a lot and have only recently been slowed by Lou's required use of a walker. He seems to hate it, but accepts it for what it is.
  4. Were you aware that the earth spins? And were you also aware that it moves continually around the sun? Apparently these really smart guys named Copernicus, Galileo, and Newton canonized these ideas centuries ago. There also exist the many laws of motion. One cannot get from point A to point B without using some form of transportation, be it by foot, wheel, rail, air or sea. So given all of this necessary movement, and the basic laws of physics, why is it that I cannot go anywhere without becoming violently ill in the process? Our second sea day was a nightmare! We were on the outer edge of a tropical storm and the ship pitched miserably for about 18 hours. By 3 o'clock in the afternoon, my equilibrium was shot and the only thing left in my stomach was air. Even water was coming back. Dinner was a write-off and I knew it was bad when The Husband joined me in a fetal position on the bed. The next day when natural order had been restored, we learned that a good 50% of the ship's passengers had forsaken dinner, and that walkers and wheelchairs were hurled about the deck like toothpicks. Several near death experiences were luckily averted.
  5. I realize that I am no longer counted amongst the youth of society, and that this question might sound a tad old-fartish, but can somebody explain body art to me? A small tattoo on the ankle or shoulder in the shape of something cute like a rose or a dolphin is perfectly understandable to me, but what is up with the garish colourful crap adorning huge percentages of body canvas. This shit would make even Picasso or Dali mutter "HUH?" We have seen it all. There is a woman aboard who has the entire Lord's Prayer scrawled on the side of her torso in Aramaic! We know this because my friend actually had the cajones to ask her. And what about all of the jokers with Asian or East Indian characters inked on? I am certain that they believe that they say something spiritual and comforting like "hope" or "strength". My guess is that it really says Kung Pao shrimp with a side of rice. Why would anybody permanently etch something on their body that they wouldn't be caught dead hanging on their walls? I know! I'm old!

I love cruising but sometimes I cannot understand those who cruise. It is truly a microcosm of our North American society.

Don't Eat That Chicken of the Sea


We are finally on vacation! I honestly never thought that I could be so tired. Every fiber of my being is screaming for quiet and every cell in my soul is calling out R&R. I sit here typing this from my extended balcony cabin aboard Carnival Cruise Line's "Miracle", gazing out onto the beautiful Atlantic. I tell you all this fact not to invite envy nor to incite jealousy, (although I am quite certain that many of you would like to be here with me) but rather to count my own blessings. Believe me when I say that sometimes life really doesn't suck.

The Husband and I are quite determined to make a real go of our new veggie lifestyle and this cruise will provide a true test. As we boarded this afternoon, I swore I saw panic in my man's eyes and I could almost hear the faint whine emitting from his lips that cried "I'm going to starve, aren't I?" I keep reminding him that he is not tied to anything and the decisions that he makes are entirely his own. He, on the other hand, keeps reminding me that he knows who is the boss and he in no way feels "whipped"!

Following a lunch meal that was filled with meatless options, he relaxed a bit and in all seriousness wanted me to know that he is actually enjoying the new way of eating. He is sated on much smaller portion sizes, has tried foods that he would have previously dismissed, feels less weighed down and less stomach heavy, and likes the new-found consciousness and awareness he his absorbing with his meals. The cruise will still provide a few challenges, though. We will have to discuss joining our friends at the gourmet steakhouse on board, as the options seem a bit limited. (Editor's note: We did go to the restaurant and it was exceptional. The chef bent over backwards to accommodate us for both my dairy problems and cook us a gourmet vegetarian feast.) We may grow weary of seeing the same food day after day, but hopefully that won't happen. Believe me. This vacation is about way more than food for me. It is about getting my bearings back and about relocating my joy. The veggie lifestyle has surprisingly become less taxing and more organic than I ever thought possible. It is becoming part of who I am.

A quick little cruise tidbit. We headed down to one of the lounges to mark the fourth night of Chanukkah with "those who share the Jewish faith." Aside from the New York Zaidy who thought he was the only maven capable of leading the masses, it was lovely. Zaidy did a commendable job with the lighting, but his renditions of Chanukkah song classics sent me in search of a Hari Kari sword. The misery was that severe. The latkas were great and the Maneschewitz was flowing like milk and honey. My friend the social butterfly implored me to take over the music, but I would need a lot more of the red stuff for that to occur. All in all, a great first day.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

We Interrupt This Blog For.....

I have been so extraordinarily wrapped up in my little food project of late, that I almost allowed my seasonal rant to fall by the wayside. Yes, people. It is that time of year again when all of us non-Christians living in the northern hemisphere desperately search for ways to survive the month of December without going bat shit crazy. The malls have been tinseled since Hallowe'en, the neighbours have "Griswolded" their homes to such an extent that bright light streams through our bedroom window all night, and many of my favourite radio stations have adopted all-Christmas playlists until after the new year. I ask you in all honesty. How many different interpretations of Frosty The Snowman does the world really require? Today I heard a ridiculous tune from Brad Paisley entitled Penguin, James Penguin about a little flightless bird that acts as Santa's secret spy. I almost drove off the road.

It is difficult enough for all of us non-Christmas observers to muddle our way through this overwhelming time of year, without the added demand of having to defend ourselves from those within our own ranks who clearly have a lack of understanding about our own observances. Such was my impression from the article that appeared across my screen yesterday from Tablet Magazine. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), a practicing Mormon, has written a brand-spanking new Channukah song and has recorded it just in time for the start of the festival. While I applaud the senator for his ecumenical leanings and his attempts to breach the religious chasm, I personally found the song he composed incredibly infantile and trite, and took great exception with author Jeffrey Goldberg's comments that he "always felt that the song canon for Hanukkah, a particularly interesting historical holiday, is sparse and uninspiring, in part because Jewish songwriters spend so much time writing Christmas music." While it is true that many beloved Christmas songs were composed by Jews, it should in no way diminish the incredible roll of Jewish artists that have and continue to compose outstanding musical representations of the festival. (BTW! Check out the lyrics for such modern Christmas standards as White Christmas or The Christmas Song, written by Tribe members Irving Berlin and Mel Torme, and you will find references to trees, mistletoe, gifts and winter, but no mention of Jesus or religion! They are actually acute examples of how Christmas has be inappropriately absorbed as a non-religious experience by so many outside of the Christian faith. Not exactly in the same vein as Adeste Fideles.)

Believe me, Mr. Goldberg, Channukah music ceased being simply about that Little Dreydl long ago, and it speaks to your ignorance on the subject when you fail to do your homework. The list of Jewish artists who have recorded some outstanding and truly rocking tunes for the holiday is too long to list in one post, but I will direct your attention to so that you might better understand the Jewish music culture that exists today and that seems to be sorely lacking in your education.

As a musician, who on more than one occasion has been asked to provide the token Channukah song in the "Holiday Program", I beg Mr. Goldberg and all those in the media like him who haven't kept up with the cultural and religious music from his own people, to take a closer look. We in the business certainly know the true meaning of this holiday and we kind of resent the ignorance being spewed by those who should know better. Mr. Hatch? Thanks for the present, but I think that I will be sharing the music of Beth Schafer, Julie Silver, Craig Taubman et al as my personal musical gifts for the season.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

How We Doing So Far?

We are a week into the Great Vegetarian Experiment, and I thought it fitting to offer up a few observations on how things are progressing. Of course, it isn't possible to accurately gauge anything from a week, but there are a few things that I have found rather telling. Here we go in no particular order.

  • It is much easier to adopt a vegetarian lifestyle today than it was 25 years ago. The choices that are available, especially in a big city like Canada's largest, have exploded. There are several organic and specialty stores within a couple of kilometres of my home, and they carry anything and everything that the budding carrot eater might require. I must admit that preparatory research is essential in planning the menus and changing the eating paradigm. Textured Vegetable Protein isn't necessarily on the average carnivore shopping list, but can be a staple in this new diet. Interesting and varied vegetables and fruits, once firmly ensconced on the exotic register, are easily obtainable in most produce sections and can liven up boring meals.
  • While we have been able to procure almost everything that we have so far required, the costs can be ridiculous. There is no doubt that eating in this new way has inflated our grocery bill. Fresh produce is not cheap, and buying fresh produce in Toronto in December can be a source of stomach churning anxiety for even the most hardened of food shoppers. We have always purchased fresh fruits and vegetables even when winter drives up the prices, but because we are consuming them in greater quantities we have seen our bills reach for the heavens. There is no doubt in my mind that one of the primary reasons that obesity and health issues are so much more prevalent in lower income household is the high cost of healthy eating. Let's face it-it is much cheaper to feed a family a steady diet of Mickey Ds than it is fresh food. If we ever hope to instill smarter eating choices as bedrock foundation for our ever-growing population, than the economic realities of healthy eating must be addressed.
  • We are not hungry! Neither one of us. Isn't that stunning? We aren't searching for snacks, we aren't complaining about not being sated, and we aren't miserable. In fact, just the opposite is true. I have noticed a fullness after meals as a result of much smaller portions. I am certain that one of the reasons attributing to this phenomenon, is the addition of more fiber to our diets in the form of beans and seeds. I have supplemented my eating with a few extra vitamin enhancements such as B12 and Omega 3 and I suppose that this has also helped, but all in all I am a bit shocked. I have tried every conceivable fad diet know to Western civilization, and this is the first time that I am not feeling hungry or deprived. Can it be that my body is actually getting everything it requires and thus isn't speaking to me in those surreptitious gaseous noises that I attempt to hide from the rest of the world?
  • I feel lighter in spite of my fullness. I have dropped 3 pounds this week and it certainly isn't a direct result of my workout schedule, which has become slightly dormant due to increasing apathy. (This is not an unusual occurrence for me at this time of year as I attempt to navigate the early stages of winter and SAD in the Great White North, and I prepare for my annual pilgrimage to the Southern Home.) There is no doubt that my exercise regime will resume when I find myself once again in the land of sunshine and colour, but in the meantime the weight loss is a bonus.
  • I find that we are constantly having to explain and justify why we have embarked on this project. It is an interesting byproduct of the journey. I don't think I ever once had to justify why I ate meat, yet people are fascinated with the reasons why I have chosen to forgo it. There is no doubt that vegetarians still reside in a huge minority vacuum, but I do find it fascinating that we are still so far out of the societal norm that people require we provide reasoning for the choice.
  • I have become far more aware of cow farts than I ever thought possible. This will be the subject of a blog post later this week, but I thought that I would tease it here. Google cow farts and methane gas emissions and you will be stunned by the results. With the environmental summit opening this week in Copenhagen, we should all become more aware of the world in which we live. Rabbi Eric Yoffie stated it quite succinctly in his Biennial sermon.
    The meat industry today generates nearly one-fifth of the man-made greenhouse gas emissions that are accelerating climate change throughout the world. According to a U.N. report, animal agriculture is responsible for more greenhouse gas than all transportation sources combined. And the preparation of beef meals requires about fifteen times the amount of fossil fuel energy than meat-free meals.
    And this is an area where we can make a difference. Our carbon footprint is largely determined by the energy that we use to heat our houses, get us to work, and produce the food that we eat. There is only so much that we can do to reduce our heating bills and shorten our commutes, but we can eat in a different way. Professor Gidon Eshel of the Bard Center has suggested that the effect of reducing our collective meat consumption by twenty percent would be comparable to every American driving a Prius instead of a standard sedan.

    • The Husband and I are really enjoying the time spent together preparing meals. Throughout the early years of our marriage, there was no doubt as to who the chief cook and bottle washer was in this house. Over the years, as we have both become more attuned to the food entering our bodies, we have prepared our meals as a team and it has become one of the great times of our day. I will say that he was more than a little bit skeptical about this venture, but he has been tremendously open-minded and willing to taste and try new things. The food paradigm is shifting in more ways than just choices.
    • I can unequivocally state without hesitation that The Husband has not grown any girl parts, nor has he become a weeping mass of hormones. As to his feelings on the project as a whole, I will reserve judgement for a bit.

There is no question that some of the more challenging aspects of our new lifestyle lay ahead of us. The Husband is tremendously concerned about our cruise next week, and seems to have developed an unnatural aversion to the idea of eggplant parmesan. He thinks that this dish will be his only viable option to meat meals. (I have no problem with his squeamishness, as I too loathe eggplant!) Restaurants have not been a huge issue yet and will undoubtedly become more of a concern when our boys join us for a week in the Southern Home. Younger Son loves to eat out (especially when Mom and Dad are buying!) and most likely has compiled a list of favourites that he will want to visit. We will cross those bridges soon enough. In the meantime, week one has been successful and has raced by surprisingly quickly. Keep you posted.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Comfort Food

I once asked my mother, who suffers from more food induced stomach ailments than this space reasonably has time to describe, if she could eat one food without fear of it making her sick, which delicacy would she choose? Given the fact that it has been decades since she has been able to digest entire food groups, I expected her to chime in with dairy laden dishes like rich chocolate ice cream or four cheese pizza. But, instead my mother's comfort food was a hot plate of french fries and a peanut butter and marshmallow fluff sandwich. I shouldn't have been shocked by her answer. My mother, like so many of us, has always resorted to food from her childhood when searching for that which will soothe from within. Food plays a much greater role in our lives than the simple nourishment of our bodies. What we eat also nourishes our souls.

My paternal grandmother fancied herself a wonderful cook. She really wasn't, but nobody in the family ever had the guts to set her straight. She was a formidable woman who, as an adult immigrant from Poland in the late 1920s, was already a young married running her own household when she stepped off of the boat and made Canada her home. Her culinary style was one that is still familiar to most Ashkenazi Jews. She served up a diet that was heavily laden with starches, schmaltz, and whatever kosher meat was available at the best price from the local butcher. The fattier the meat, the better it was!! Colourful vegetables were a rarity on my grandmother's table, (unless one counts dill pickles as a vegetable!) and heavily boiled or stewed carrots were about the only produce served in a semi-natural state. My father has often joked that he never knew that vegetables were green until after he got married. Everything was thrown into the same pressure cooker and emerged with the same hue-a sort of off-colour taupe. It tasted taupe too! Salads, unless marinated, were non-existent. Ancient recipes handed down for generations were staples, and often inedible. Honestly, who really can stomach ptcha? (For lack of a more appetizing description, this gelatinous mess is a hybrid of jello, garlic and cow's feet. My Bubby used to add hard-boiled eggs to it in order to give it a lift. I am gagging at the very thought of it, and it has been more than 30 years since I have seen or sniffed it.) The crazy thing about my grandmother's cooking and as unappealing as I still find it to this day, is that my dad considers it some of it the finest food he ever ate. Why? Because it was his comfort food. It brings him back to memories of his mother and his childhood. It is extremely difficult to separate the food from the reminiscence.

None of us are any different from my parents. Holiday images are all tied up with memories of Bubby's Passover brisket or Grandma's Christmas ham. We cannot even vaguely envision family gatherings without the baked chicken from this cookbook or the roast lamb from that one. To alter the model, alters our consciousness and our sensory memory. Changing one's diet radically to include a vegetarian lifestyle, changes our history, our culture and dismisses some of what came before, and in all honestly, makes me a little bit uncomfortable. If we enter into a paradigm shift on eating and we move the dialogue forward to the point whereby our families can accept the choice, can we develop new dietary traditions that will work within our cultural heritages?

Jews are all about the food. There cannot be a gathering of Jews without noshing. Having a meeting? Who is providing the snacks? A rehearsal? Where are the cookies? Holidays are more than simple family gatherings. They are about commemoration through cuisine. Observance through eating. It's Rosh Hashana? Break out the honey cake recipe. Channukah? The latkes. Shavuot? I want my blintzes!! It is impossible to separate our Jewishness from our Jewish food, and there is an element of that eating that is tied up with meat consumption. We have come close to hand to hand combat in my family over the additions or deletions of certain Passover recipes at the seder table. It is a true demonstration of the passion that our food can engender. Could my family envision a wholly vegetarian seder? I honestly think that many of them would rather return to slavery in Egypt. The reconciliation of my history with a new norm is part of the struggle that I am having.

I have always maintained that eating is more than about calories. Nora Ephron has a wonderful passage in her book I Feel Bad About My Neck. She writes:
"Here are some of the questions I am constantly noodling over: Do you splurge or do you hoard?....Do you work as hard as you can, or do you slow down and smell the roses? And where do carbohydrates fit into all this? Are we really going to spend our last years avoiding bread, especially now that bread in America is so unbelievably delicious?"

She has a point. We cannot effectively separate ourselves from the emotion that our food decisions conjure within us, nor should we attempt to. My efforts to make ethical eating choices need to blend seamlessly with my emotional requisites, my likes and dislikes, and especially my history and heritage. I don't want to always think about what I am eating. Every so often I really want to join my mom in a steaming plate of french fries. Dad can keep his ptcha all for himself!

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Does Being Vegetarian Make One a "Girly-Man"?

There are a great many issues that interest me about vegetarianism. The effect of the meat industry on the environment, the health effects of a heavily meat-oriented diet on our bodies, the health effects of a mostly vegetarian diet on our bodies, the cost factor in maintaining this way of life, the social stigma involved in the transition, the Jewish response to all of these questions, and of course the obvious moral and ethical dilemmas, are only some of the questions that I hope to answer for myself throughout this month. I must confess that I was heavily into my research on factory farming and noxious pollutants when The Husband expressed his greatest fear about my project. I was fully prepared for an extended whine concerning his suffering from malnutrition or his ambivalence toward tofu. I never saw this reality coming. My man was concerned that becoming a vegetarian would affect his masculinity in the eyes of his friends. He stated it bluntly.

"I don't want to be seen as a "vagiterian"!

I nearly fell off my chair laughing. The pun was priceless and extraordinarily clever, but it was a perfect elucidation of his point. Does adopting a vegetarian diet make a man feel less like a man?

Now, please understand. I have occupied the estrogen space in this house alone for the last twenty-five years. Being the only woman in a house full of men has taught me a great deal. No matter how enlightened they are, and no matter how feminist-conscious I have attempted to make them, they still are men and certain behaviours are in-bred. Toilet seats will always get left raised in a full salute. The Sports Illustrated swim suit edition will always be the only issue that is physically fought over. My boys loved stuffed animals when they were children, but they naturally gravitated toward video games. They both love to read, but while my idea of a classic is anything by Jane Austen, theirs is anything by Hunter S. Thompson. They like Borat and Judd Apatow and hate romantic comedies with Sandra Bullock. They love the theatre, and I have even managed to instill within them an appreciation for musicals, but they both gravitated towards Rent and Spring Awakening and loathed Hairspray. I get it. They are men, and men have a different way of viewing things then do women. So, when The Husband stressed over becoming a "vagiterian" I may have laughed, but I took the concern seriously.

There is a perception that has been fostered of man eating meat. A prehistoric male hunting and gathering and hauling the kill back for a meal. Fred Flintstone and his brontosaurus burgers and pterodactyl wings. Think of King Henry VIII holding a turkey leg or middle-ages knights dining on hindquarters of mutton. King Henry holding a tofurky drumstick doesn't quite fit the image, does it? Roman orgies wouldn't have the same cache if they only served stir-fries and couscous.

Men like meat. It is built into the DNA. They revel in the masculinity of finishing a 20 oz steak at the finest restaurant in the city, and bragging about the "meat sweats" in the aftermath. They discuss grilling and barbecues as lovingly as they discuss cars. They drool at the thought of chicken wings and ribs at their Super Bowl parties, and they mock those who eat said food with utensils. Real men gnaw on the bones. (Insert grunts and barks here!) The Husband was worried that he was going to be ridiculed for giving up that which he considered a vital part of his virility. In short, he was concerned about peer pressure and getting beaten up on the playground. And he would not be all that far off in his assessment.

In the vegetarian population, women outnumber men by almost 2 to 1. According to a 1992 Yankelovich study commissioned by Vegetarian Times, of the 12.4 million people who call themselves vegetarian, 68 percent are female while only 32 percent are male. There are some reasons behind this discrepancy, but the most obvious is health. The number one reason that most vegetarians forgo meat is to improve their overall health. Figures show that women tend to play a more proactive role in their overall preventative health care. Because women tend to pay more attention to health matters, they are more likely to change their diets in response to a health concern. Animal rights is another reason that people turn from eating meat. Men are certainly involved with animal rights organizations, especially in the upper echelon of these groups, but almost 80% of the membership of these groups are women.

There are recent concerns about what eating a meat-free diet and what excessive amounts of soy-based products specifically, will do to a man's testosterone levels. Anytime a report messes with manhood, there is a reflexive spasm that seems to occur in all men to grab their crotches. While all of the evidence certainly isn't in yet, the mere mention of raised estrogen levels is enough to scare off even the most enlightened man. There are other sources of protein that can replace soy in a vegetarian diet, and hopefully these will be enough to quell The Husband's fears, but the social stigma still remains. Holding up famous vegetarian figures like Jim Carrey, Albert Einstein or Paul McCartney does nothing to help the image that vegetarianism is girly. A few high profile pro athletes stepping forward, or an action star or two would certainly help the cause. How do we convince men that healthy and ethical eating is not effeminate? How do we turn "vagiterianism" into vegetarianism? Real men want to know.