YOU have no doubt heard of Adam and Eve, the biblical first parents of humanity in the Garden of Eden. They ate a forbidden fruit and were expelled. Severe punishment for a delicious bite, but that fruit was just a metaphor.
Ever wondered why a fruit was depicted instead of a chicken drumstick? It was an obvious choice, as Adam and Eve were vegetarians — at least until the birth of their children. The vast garden they lived in covered the territory of Iraq, a land that the biblical Jews knew thoroughly because the entire community was living there in exile at the time the Adam and Eve story was written.
As stated in Genesis (the first book of the Jewish Torah), God told the married couple: “I’ve given you every sort of seed-bearing plant on Earth and every kind of fruit-bearing tree, given them to you for food” (Ch1 v29). Further, in Chapter 2, it is said: “God made all kinds of trees grow from the ground, trees beautiful to look at and to eat” (v8). Meat wasn’t on the plate, although there were animals and birds in the garden with cattle singled out for mention.
Meat appeared on the table only with the birth of Cain and Abel – stock characters representing the first major economic class division in human society. Cain was a farmer, and Abel was a herdsman. Both made an offering to God who accepted the choice cuts of meat from Abel but rejected Cain’s healthy farm produce. This led to Cain murdering his brother, a dramatisation of the farmer-herder conflict that plagued civilisational history up till the 20th century. Wheat growers and cattle breeders frequently waged murderous battles in rivalry over the use of prime land and water resources. Note that planter Cain, the elder sibling, felt bitter and murdered cowboy Abel.
In Chapter 9 it becomes subtly obvious that meat has edged out the veggie diet in popularity. As hinted in v4: “All living creatures are yours for food; just as I gave you the plants, now I give you everything else.” This dietary chronological order (veggie first, then meat) accords with the invention of crop farming around 10,000 BCE followed by the ascent of livestock rearing some two thousand years later, and a consequent preference for meat as depicted in the Cain-Abel drama.
Onwards to the time of Abraham (circa 2000 BCE) and we find the patriarch hosting three strangers to a meal comprising bread and a plump calf selected from his cattle pen. But sheep was to unseat cattle by the time of Jesus as the farm animal of choice and lamb as the prime supper dish.
Later, in the time of Moses (circa 1500 BCE), rules were laid down to restrict the types of meat and seafood that could be eaten. Among these is the injunction to avoid fat. “Don’t eat any fat of cattle or sheep or goats” (book of Leviticus ch7, v23) and “Don’t eat blood, whether of birds or animals” (v26). If you’re troubled over your blood cholesterol reading, do take note.
Despite meat’s ascendancy, the Torah is more inclined towards a veggie-dominant lifestyle. Oft-mentioned favourites include wholegrain bread with butter and cheese, onion, legumes, garlic, cucumber, leek, melon, coriander, lentils, honey, fresh fruits, vegetables, goat’s milk, yoghurt, eggs, bitter herbs, and olive oil for cooking.
The most renowned feast described in the Torah is the seven-day Festival of Unraised Bread. “You are to eat unraised bread for seven days” (book of Exodus 13:6). That’s flatbread made without yeast and sugar; in other words, chapati. The ingredients are whole grains, water, olive oil, and a dash of salt.
In the March 13 issue, we showed that the native religions of India and China advocate less meat, and in the case of Jainism there is complete abstinence. The Torah of West Asia similarly advocate healthy eating and many biblical personalities are said to have lived beyond age 100. Today we have an added reason to go vegetarian or flexitarian (low-meat diet): climate protection by reducing earth-heating gases produced by the meat industry.
The writer, a former journalist, champions interfaith harmony. Comments: email@example.com