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The Cookbook of Revelations


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by Andy Lynes

<img align="right" src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1122484662/gallery_29805_1195_21231.jpg">You can often find Journalists rummaging through the dim parlour of human misery, searching for an everyday tragedy to hang a few thousand words on. As a food writer, I'm spared that indignity. I am free to concentrate on the celebration of my chosen subject, which doesn't mean I'm above ransacking my own sordid past for the sake of an idea or two. Why not dredge my childhood experiences as a Jehovah's Witness in order to examine the subject of religious dietary restrictions?

The Jehovah's Witnesses (JW) organization dates back to the late 19th century, when Charles Taze Russell set up a breakaway sect of the Christian Congregationalist church in Pennsylvania. It's an extremist religion, with "distinctive" beliefs and teachings. Although mostly harmless (there are no JW suicide bombers for example), the religion has many of the characteristics of a cult, and has been accused of brainwashing its followers.

I managed to avoid becoming a Christian automaton, but that didn't stop me from being the one thing every school child dreads: different. As the sole Witness in my school, I alone remained in my seat as everyone else filed out for the morning religious assembly which, conducted along Church of England lines, was akin to satanic ritual in the eyes of JWs.

My classmates were endlessly curious as to why I didn't celebrate Christmas, Easter or my birthday, but I found it was best to avoid getting into details about my beliefs. It was difficult to remain popular, or indeed healthy, and explain that I was going to live forever in an earthly paradise while the best they could hope for was a prolonged skinny dip in the lake of fire in Hades.

Looking back, eternal life in return for a enduring a few hours a week of sermonizing and hymn singing in the prefabricated gloom of the local Kingdom Hall seems like a pretty good deal. But in 1975, the year JW's had scheduled for God's Kingdom to come, I was only ten years old -- and not quite ready for such a major change in circumstance. Besides the sheer inconvenience that Armageddon was bound to cause, there was the small matter of being one David Carradine short of a complete set of "Kung Fu" bubblegum cards, and a new Led Zeppelin album to look forward to.

My mother's preparations for the impending apocalypse weren't much more advanced than my own. They consisted entirely of filling a cupboard in the living room with tinned York Ham and baked beans. The plan appeared to be that, while God was busy removing wickedness and suffering from the face of the planet, and humanity perished all around us, we would have and a nice supper of cold meat and Heinz’s finest to see us through.

Jehovah's Witnesses have many bizarre beliefs, but their most controversial teaching is that "taking blood into body through mouth or veins violates God's laws." For me, that simply meant that the meat I ate as a child had to be well done. No blood could ooze onto my plate for fear of incurring the wrath of the almighty and scotching my chances of entering the new Eden.

It also meant that it was not until my 20's that I first tasted black pudding. Hardly an enormous sacrifice, especially when compared to a less fortunate member of my local congregation. Her family's refusal to allow her a transfusion during the emergency surgery that followed a car accident had rather more dreadful consequences than a boudin noir-free diet, the most serious of which was death.

It was perhaps this incident above all that turned me off not only Jehovah's Witnesses, but the idea of organized religion itself. As I approached my mid-teens, the rules that governed my existence as a JW became intolerable. As much as I tried, I could make no sense of the restrictions placed upon me, and I simply rejected them all. I went from faithful to faithless overnight.

Don't steal, kill or shag your next door neighbour's wife I can live with (you should see my next door neighbours wife), in fact I'm broadly in agreement with Christian values as a moral code by which to live one’s life. But the restrictions on diet imposed by the world's religions are unfathomable to me. Is it really logical to imagine that an all-powerful being that regularly ignores genocide, famine and plague could care a stuff about what we put in our mouths? If history tells us anything, it's that if there is a deity up there, non-interventionism is its by-word.

If we accept that God created the world, and that he put all creatures on the earth for a purpose, it doesn't take a genius to work out what the majority of the animal kingdom is for. Giraffes I grant you are a bit of a puzzle, but a pig is an altogether more straightforward matter. Can you ride it, plough a field with it, put it your lap and stroke it? No, you can't. Can you ram a spit up its arse, out through its mouth and roast it over an open fire? Why, it appears to be just the right size!

Then there's cattle. Hmm, seems to be rather a lot of them doesn't there? We've put some of the stupid ugly brutes to work, but what can we possibly do with all the rest? Seems such a waste to have them just standing around. Well, we could try tanning their hides, I suppose, but then what would we do with all that left over flesh? I think I'll have a plate of chips and bearnaise sauce and think about it.

So what could possibly be the cause of this petty-mindedness in the omnipotent one? Revenge for nailing his only begotten son to a piece of wood, perhaps? Or maybe he derives some sort of twisted pleasure from watching humanity wrestle with the conflict between their appetites and their beliefs. After all, everyone needs a hobby, especially if you are a being without beginning or end stuck in eternity (which would explain why Ken Barlow is a druid in his spare time).

A more likely explanation for the existence of dietary restrictions is that they are purely a construct of religion, a simple way to help delineate one faith from another. Despite their apparent random nature, they enable followers to demonstrate their faith, in a practical way. on a daily basis, to advertise their devoutness to others and to reinforce it in themselves.

As an agnostic, I choose to worship at the church of gastronomy. As luck would have it, it has no restrictions on what I can consume. I celebrate the glory of creation by eating as much of it as I possibly can, in all its varied delights. My church is broad, as are its people. Despite that, there is room for everyone; all creeds, colours and cooking abilities. Our bible is the cookbook -- any cookbook (except of course those with the words "Ainsley Harriot" written across the front) -- and every recipe is a revelation. When we cook, we give praise to the Gods of nourishment, and when we eat, we commune with the eternal. Pass the bacon sarnies and let us pray.

(We're thrilled to see a new Mashed column from Andy. It was a mainstay of the old Daily Gullet. Be sure to check out previous entries here. -- the Editors)

<i>Andy Lynes is a freelance food writer based in Brighton, England. His work appears in Restaurant magazine, Caterer and Hotelkeeper, olive magazine, Square Meal Trade Brief and other publications. His first restaurant review for The Guardian newspaper will appear in August.

Andy sits on the committee of the UK's Guild of Food Writers and edits its newsletter. Andy was a founding affiliate of eGullet.org and is a former Dean of the eGCI. He is currently the UK forum host and sits on the editorial board of the </i>Daily Gullet<i>.

Andy lives in Brighton with his wife Gill, children George (12) and Alice (7) and Lulu the German Shorthaired Pointer.

</i>

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I should mention the "Food as Religion" thread I started recently. http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?showtopic=70704

I had an orthodox jewish upbringing. It was explained that the purpose of the Kashrut laws was to enforce the seperation of the community from the heathen. It was not explained why this was a good idea.

Edited by jackal10 (log)
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Andy, is there nothing you won't eat, e.g., other people? I mean, I would surely not have a problem with eating other people were I stranded on a mountain in the Andes with nothing else to eat, and it seems rather silly to me that enough people consider this enough of a moral conundrum to support books and movies about the decision. But I think in the normal course of events it feels wrong to eat one's mates.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Pass the bacon sarnies and let us pray.

Head bowed in prayer.

My town in Quebec was really old-style French Catholic, except for the odd Anglicans (us) and JWs. Ernie Kieff, the son of the local JW preacher was best buds with my brother Ian, rugby dude. I had no idea that Ernie's Mum, beloved by all, cooked meat to extinction.

Good stuff, Andy.

Margaret McArthur

"Take it easy, but take it."

Studs Terkel

1912-2008

A sensational tennis blog from freakyfrites

margaretmcarthur.com

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What a great piece of litterature. As a catholic raised kid, I never quite understood the need to eat only fish on Fridays and no candy during lent. Then I married a Jewish girl... My two cents is that religion once served a purpose! You couldn't eat meat during lent in Western Europe just because it had gone bad (without refrigeration) from the previous hunting period. Pork has long been fed garbage and bottom feeders from warm waters are actually very dangerous thus the need for Kosher laws.

I am an agnostic but I still think religion might have saved the human race from food poisoning. Gotta admit I don't know much about the Jehovah's but that my way of putting them off knocking at my door was to tell them I was a communist and actually ate human flesh.

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..  My two cents is that religion once served a purpose!  You couldn't eat meat during lent in Western Europe just because it had gone bad (without refrigeration) from the previous hunting period.  Pork has long been fed garbage and bottom feeders from warm waters are actually very dangerous thus the need for Kosher laws. 

I am an agnostic but I still think religion might have saved the human race from food poisoning.

I've heard the argument that various religious food taboos have their roots in health measures (i.e., not eating dangerous or diseased food), but I've never read anything that provides much convincing evidence for the theory.

The most plausible sociological reasoning I've read for such taboos comes from a book called How the Mind Works by Steven Pinker. He discusses food taboos as a mechanism for keeping a group together, by keeping younger members from forming alliances with "the enemy."

In any group, the younger, poorer, and disenfranchised members may be tempted to defect to other groups. The powerful, espicially parents, have an interest in keeping them in. People everywhere form alliances by eating together, from potlatches and feasts to business lunches and dates. If I can't eat with you, I can't become your friend. . . . [Laws prohibiting certain foods] are weapons to keep potential defectors in. First, they make the merest prelude to cooperation with outsiders -- breaking bread together -- an unmistakable act of defiance.

He goes on to note that not only are children taught not to eat certain foods, they actually grow up to think of them as disgusting. I think that's why, even when kids from religious families with food taboos want to rebel by breaking those taboos, it can be harder than they expect to get over the first impulse of disgust.

In my experience, having been raised Catholic, it seems to me that the Catholic dietary restrictions are somewhat different from other religions. That is, instead of forbidding some foods all the time, it simply required us to abstain from them some of the time. In other words, it wasn't that meat was bad, but that abstaining from it on certain days was a sacrifice that brought us closer to God. It was the same with the standard kid's Lenten practice of giving up candy. It wasn't that candy was a disgusting food (far from it!) but rather that it was so good that giving it up really meant something.

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I've heard the argument that various religious food taboos have their roots in health measures (i.e., not eating dangerous or diseased food), but I've never read anything that provides much convincing evidence for the theory.

Some say that one reason for the kashrut laws are to keep Jewish people from sharing food with non-Jews. If you can't share food, it's hard to form strong relationships. You then can't date people of a different faith so it will prevent intermarriage. Marrying somebody of a different religion could mean the loss of traditions and eventually, the religion will die out. If you keep to the Jewish laws concerning foods (I'm not going into non-food points here), that means you keep the religion going.

This is just one of the reasons behind religious dietary laws I studied in my 12-year Jewish school education. Another of course is the health issues already mentioned. And don't forget that one that goes "keep these laws because g-d said so" - no explaining necessary.

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Here and there I've seen some additional anthropological theories concerning the origin of certain tenets of Kashrut. For instance, apparently anthropologists have found a variety of taboos around blood in a number of tribal peoples -- blood being regarded as a powerful mythic life-containing substance that must be handled with care, that "care" expressing itself in a variety of ritual ways. Thus it's theorized that some similar taboo among the ancient Israelites got transformed over the centuries, eventually getting incorporated into and given new meaning in the more formalized Israelite faith.

I also recall reading a theory that the ancient Israelites spent some time among non-Israelite peoples who held the pig sacred to their gods as a sacrificial as well as food animal, and thus the Israelites religious leaders began to teach abstension from pork as it was so associated with proscribed idol worship. In other words, by this theory it was not only about differentiating the Israelite people from their neighbors, but their religion from the other people's religion.

By the way, I don't see any of these theories as mutually exclusive with any of the others--I think they all could have been mutually reinforcing.

As to what these practices mean now to their adherents, and those adherents' motivations in observing them, I get the impression that there's a component of this that Buddhist teachers might call "mindfulness" -- raising everday acts from the level of the rote mundane to that of spiritual practice. So preparing and eating food in a manner acceptable to one's religion imbues the whole act of cooking and eating with spiritual significance. I see an echo of this in Zen teachings in which the role of monastery cook, the tenzo, is seen as having deep spiritual significance, as in the thirteenth-century Zen text Instructions to the cook.

Certainly, though, specific religious food practices can lose their meaning for individuals for any number of reasons, which can leave said practices looking pretty arbitrary and uninspiring.

Edited by mizducky (log)
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...it can be harder than they expect to get over the first impulse of disgust...

That's absolutely correct... Just the other day, I ran across someone who did not keep kosher, but still couldn't get his old Rabbi's voice out of his head, telling him if he ate pork, God would cut off his soul. So he subbed duck for pork in a recipe, and it came out crap. That's depressing.

In some cases, these religious restrictions are downright counter-productive, such as Ramadan fasting turning into a sundown feast, rather than the intended spiritual reflection etc.

And many just serve no purpose at all, like the Yazidis forbidding (wait for it...) -- lettuce! (oh, and wearing blue clothes, and getting hitched in April).

Besides, it's just a matter of interpretation -- the texts that are the root of anti-pork traditions are considered holy by both Jews and Christians, yet the taboo does not exist in Christianity. Go figure.

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Andy, What a wonderful piece of writing! You've got us all thinking about religion and food, true, and there is a lot to think about, but i'm also thinking about two things:

1. wow, you grew up a Jehovah's Witness!

and

2. You are SUCH A GOOD WRITER!

x

marlena

Marlena the spieler

www.marlenaspieler.com

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I've heard the argument that various religious food taboos have their roots in health measures (i.e., not eating dangerous or diseased food), but I've never read anything that provides much convincing evidence for the theory.

Some say that one reason for the kashrut laws are to keep Jewish people from sharing food with non-Jews. If you can't share food, it's hard to form strong relationships. You then can't date people of a different faith so it will prevent intermarriage. Marrying somebody of a different religion could mean the loss of traditions and eventually, the religion will die out. If you keep to the Jewish laws concerning foods (I'm not going into non-food points here), that means you keep the religion going.

This is just one of the reasons behind religious dietary laws I studied in my 12-year Jewish school education. Another of course is the health issues already mentioned. And don't forget that one that goes "keep these laws because g-d said so" - no explaining necessary.

Pam-

Kashrut and Halal were not that different in North Africa and Moorish Spain as far as I know.

It never seemed that complicated to me with my North African Jewish friends. I just don't make a meat and dairy combo dish. I don't mean to oversimplify Kashrut, I'm just saying that in another part of the world I had different experiences.

I can be reached via email chefzadi AT gmail DOT com

Dean of Culinary Arts

Ecole de Cuisine: Culinary School Los Angeles

http://ecolecuisine.com

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Kashrut and Halal were not that different in North Africa and Moorish Spain as far as I know.

It never seemed that complicated to me with my North African Jewish friends. I just don't make a meat and dairy combo dish. I don't mean to oversimplify Kashrut, I'm just saying that in another part of the world I had different experiences.

..or served them shellfish :wink:

We're talking about hundreds of years ago. And it's just one theory we're taught. I don't know of a single Jewish person who wouldn't eat with a non-Jew (not to say there aren't some) - for some the food would have to be kosher. Lord knows I would have eaten a lot of meals on my own my three years living in Northern Minnesota had it been an issue for me.

Let me also add that outside of the very strictly orthodox communities, it hasn't been successful. Inter-marriage hasn't exactly been a non-event.

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.or served them shellfish

I usually forget about that because Setif is landlocked and when I'm cooking for real friends I making Setifienne. :smile:

Hundreds of years ago things were different in North Africa, not perfect (as if things are now :rolleyes: ), but there was a long period of relatively peaceful co-existence.

We can of course argue about "relative". :biggrin:

(I used the emoticons per gifted gourmet's instructions. :wink: )

I can be reached via email chefzadi AT gmail DOT com

Dean of Culinary Arts

Ecole de Cuisine: Culinary School Los Angeles

http://ecolecuisine.com

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by Andy Lynes

If we accept that God created the world, and that he put all creatures on the earth for a purpose, it doesn't take a genius to work out what the majority of the animal kingdom is for. Giraffes I grant you are a bit of a puzzle, but a pig is an altogether more straightforward matter. Can you ride it, plough a field with it, put it your lap and stroke it? No, you can't. Can you ram a spit up its arse, out through its mouth and roast it over an open fire? Why, it appears to be just the right size!

...snip

A more likely explanation for the existence of dietary restrictions is that they are purely a construct of religion, a simple way to help delineate one faith from another. Despite their apparent random nature, they enable followers to demonstrate their faith, in a practical way. on a daily basis, to advertise their devoutness to others and to reinforce it in themselves.

(We're thrilled to see a new Mashed column from Andy. It was a mainstay of the old Daily Gullet. Be sure to check out previous entries here. -- the Editors)

<i>Andy Lynes is a freelance food writer based in Brighton, England. His work appears in Restaurant magazine, Caterer and Hotelkeeper, olive magazine, Square Meal Trade Brief and other publications. His first restaurant review for The Guardian newspaper will appear in August.

Andy sits on the committee of the UK's Guild of Food Writers and edits its newsletter. Andy was a founding affiliate of eGullet.org and is a former Dean of the eGCI. He is currently the UK forum host and sits on the editorial board of the </i>Daily Gullet<i>.

Andy lives in Brighton with his wife Gill, children George (12) and Alice (7) and Lulu the German Shorthaired Pointer.

</i>

very enjoyable piece and an interesting perspective,

is it very western or judeo-christian to assume

that animals are created for he purpose of being

eaten by humans?

from a buddhist / jain perspective (and relatedly a hindu one)

humans and other animals may be created by a deity

(insert your favorite version here) for a purpose, but

why is that purpose to be eaten by humans, who have

alternatives?

jains probably have the most coherent ahimsa philosophy,

and animals are there to live their own lives and work out

their own karma. the principle mercy towards sentient beings

is enough to forbid animal-eating (including birds, water-dwellers,

insects, etc.).

why do you have to *do* anything with giraffes, pigs, whatever?

just leave them alone, and enjoy your 5 course veg thaali lunch....

just curious, i am not seeking any kind of religious debate.

it's so true that religious dietary restrictions are a form of

us-vs-them, and one upmanship (WE don't do that...) etc.

milagai

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I grew up in a family that paid NO attention to our own religious "dietary laws." They were simply a non-issue.

We lived in a predominantly Catholic neighborhood and I can remember while we ignored our own customs, we usuually had fish on Friday. :laugh: I suspect it was because mother could count on it being fresh.

"Half of cooking is thinking about cooking." ---Michael Roberts

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I grew up in a family that paid NO attention to our own religious "dietary laws." They were simply a non-issue.

We lived in a predominantly Catholic neighborhood and I can remember while we ignored our own customs, we usuually had fish on Friday. :laugh:  I suspect it was because mother could count on it being fresh.

The supermarket we typically shop at gets their fish in on Mondays and Fridays. Other supermarkets have fish counters, but this is the only one that gets fish delivered on Fridays.

I live in a town of 18,000 people with no fewer than 5 Catholic churches. During Lent, the line for fish snakes all the way through the produce, nearly to the customer service desk.

Fridays are a great day to buy fish at this store, especially during Lent, because you know it's going to be fresh.

MelissaH

MelissaH

Oswego, NY

Chemist, writer, hired gun

Say this five times fast: "A big blue bucket of blue blueberries."

foodblog1 | kitchen reno | foodblog2

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My mum is a devout catholic, so in the spirit of restraint that's supposed to imperate during Lent, she wouldn't cook meat on Fridays... until we heard from a nun friend of my aunt's that in a Bishop's meeting during the same period they were served lobster caneloni (lobster being remarkably expensive in Spain and not what you would consider exactly modest food)!

Ever since, I don't think my mother's ever bothered about the subject again, as that really made her angry.

Middlebrow Catalan gastronomy??????

http://baixagastronomia.blogspot.com/

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I'm glad I finally got over here to check out this piece, Andy; it's a fine piece of work. You've brought to mind my schoolmate, Verna, our resident JW. Like you, she suffered being different - the refusal to salute the flag or celebrate holidays or birthdays, the too-long skirts. (Oh, you didn't have to wear long skirts? :raz: ) I didn't realize she had dietary restrictions on top of the rest. We'd long since lost touch by 1975, so I was also unaware of that apocolyptic shedule. I've often wondered what happened to her.

What did your mother do with all those cans of ham and beans? :biggrin:

Nancy Smith, aka "Smithy"
HosteG Forumsnsmith@egstaff.org

"Every day should be filled with something delicious, because life is too short not to spoil yourself. " -- Ling (with permission)

"There comes a time in every project when you have to shoot the engineer and start production." -- author unknown

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