On the festival of cheese, a vegetarian's perspective


By Jennifer Lipman
June 1, 2011
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I like you - but I don't want to eat you

I like you - but I don't want to eat you

This time next week, we will be celebrating the festival of Shavuot, the point in the Jewish calendar when we mark the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai.

Obviously, this is a time of spiritual significance, and the week before should be one of Jewish learning and examination.

But as a vegetarian, Shavuot isn't really about those things. For those of us who don't eat meat (yes, really, not every Jew enjoys chicken soup) this festival is like manna in heaven.

For once, the focus isn't salt beef, chopped liver, or Swedish Glace ice cream. This is the one festival which is not centred around "a wing or a leg", conversations about a good piece of tongue or an argument about which kosher butcher does the best bargains.

Instead, it's all about the dairy. Jews can take advantage of the enormous range of delights certified as kosher, from Ben and Jerry's ice cream to creamy Nutella, not to mention gouda, emmental and brie. And, of course, cheesecake – the Jewish dessert that will win gold at the pudding Olympics every year when they are finally established.

For the rest of the year, I sit at Friday night dinner with my Tival products, an outcast in a community so besotted with eating our four-legged friends (split hooves and cud chewers only).

I endure lengthy lectures from messianic meat lovers, listen to the same anodyne remarks about not knowing what I'm missing. I might enjoy my milky coffee after the meal, but in the eyes of many a Jew I am foolish for choosing that over a parve lemon tea.

When I choose a delicate and fresh cream-cheese bagel over an oozing schwarma as my late-night Golders Green treat, I am shunned, viewed suspiciously. You can't be a real member of the tribe, they suggest. Not if you don't eat chicken.

But not on Shavuot. On Shavuot, my religion rules the world.

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