Keren David

Goodbye to kosher butchers if we all go vegan

Going vegan is good for you and good for the planet - but what will it do for our Jewish identity, asks Keren David

January 24, 2019 17:53

It is a well-known fact that vegans are annoying, smug, fussy and liable to ruin your plans for your dinner party. 

And it is equally well known that vegan food tastes like cardboard, and gives you terrible wind. I have always treated any nudges in this direction from my nearest and dearest — riddled with allergies, intolerances and prejudices as they are — with horror and contempt. After all, I cook the food. All they have to do is eat it. And then wash up.

However, it is increasing clear that vegans have good reason to be smug, because essentially they are correct. Reducing the animal products that we eat is healthier for the individual and for the environment. The ‘planetary health diet’ unveiled by scientists this month could, they claim, prevent 11.6 million premature deaths, as well as slowing climate change and improving animal welfare. It’s tikkun olam — healing the world — on a plate. On our plates. No wonder 60 rabbis worldwide have signed a letter encouraging fellow Jews to “transition toward animal-free, plant-based diets.”

This month, all over the UK , people have signed up for ‘Veganuary’, giving up not just booze for a month, but meat, fish, eggs, cheese and dairy products as well. And — gently and cautiously, for two meals a week only —I have joined them. It’s been quite an experience. Mostly good. But why do I feel a niggling challenge to my Jewish identity?

First, the good news. Vegan food has changed. It used to be all about creating enchanted forests by sticking broccoli florets in bowls of rice. Now the recipes around are lighter and tastier, featuring interesting ingredients such as coconut yoghurt (delicious), black lentils (very nice with garlic) and jack fruit (intriguing).

Second — it’s cheaper. Much cheaper. We all know that kosher meat is expensive, but now fish is as well. And because of my fussy family’s needs (two don’t eat meat, one can’t have fish), we quite often buy both fish and meat for one meal. This was, to be honest, my main reason for trying out some vegan recipes. A handful of lentils goes a long way, and with a potential no-deal Brexit looming, getting used to eating more of them can only be a good idea.

Being vegan is a logical step on from keeping kosher in many ways. Kashrut, with its rules and restrictions, its eliminations and separations, helps us cut down our consumption of animal products. Veganism does away with it altogether. And in many ways the fussing about what is and isn’t vegan — Is honey alright? How about avocados? — reminds me of the nit-picking debates that rage over the kashrut of items like asparagus and raspberries. It’s tempting to see veganism as being super-kosher, a step ahead of the old rules, even more ethical, even more holy than what is asked of us.

What concerns me though is the changes that may come if in a decade or so, veganism becomes more and more the norm. Kosher meat — already being banned in some countries — stops being something that is available and affordable The people willing to advocate for shechita are even more isolated than they are today. Kosher butchers go out of business. For many that would mean eating meat is ruled out as a choice. Vegetarianism — even with added herring and gefilte fish — should be a choice, not imposed.

For people like me, brought up in a traditional Orthodox Jewish home, kashrut reminds us every day that we’re Jewish — from the way ourcutlery and crockery are stored, to the way we prepare our food. Brought up to separate milk and meat, can I countenance marinading my chicken with non-dairy coconut yoghurt? I’m sure it would be delicious, but in my kosher kitchen, would it feel wrong? My daughter, a fish-eating vegetarian from childhood, will never need to separate meat and milk in her kitchen. Has she lost a vital part of her heritage? If she has children, what will they learn about kashrut?

Right now, most of us are very privileged. We can eat what we want, when we want it. We can chose to keep kosher however we choose. But 30 years from now, the food we eat, the choices we have may be very different from today. And the challenge will be to make sure that our Jewishness doesn’t disappear along with the chicken soup and the chopped liver.

January 24, 2019 17:53

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive