It All Began With a Doormat! is a children’s book with great wisdom for adults. It’s about how, when we tweak one thing (in this case, buying a new doormat), we suddenly become aware of other, related things that also need our attention.
In my case, it all began with a movie. Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead is a very provocative title for a documentary. I saw it on Netflix, but the 2011 film can also be watched for free on Hulu. Here’s the first paragraph of the film’s synopsis:
100 pounds overweight, loaded up on steroids and suffering from a debilitating autoimmune disease, Joe Cross is at the end of his rope and the end of his hope. In the mirror he saw a 310lb man whose gut was bigger than a beach ball and a path laid out before him that wouldn’t end well— with one foot already in the grave, the other wasn’t far behind. FAT, SICK & NEARLY DEAD is an inspiring film that chronicles Joe’s personal mission to regain his health.
Joe Cross convinced me to go buy a juicer and to start eating more fruits and vegetables. And Netflix recommended a number of other documentaries on similar themes. Food Matters,Vegucated, Forks over Knives (implying that eating a plant-strong diet can keep one from needing surgery), and others.
Not only did I become hyper-aware of the health dangers of eating animal-based foods, I also learned about the incredibly gruesome cruelty to animals that takes place in factory farming. During certain scenes of factory farming that appeared in my personal documentary extravaganza, I had to avert my eyes, so cruel was the treatment and maiming of animals used for food. How could I not have known this? I think of the vegans I know and wonder why they are not trying to educate everyone.
Then I remembered that kind of advocacy rarely works if the other party is not open.
My eyes were also opened to the sadistic manipulation of the health of the American population through beef, poultry and dairy industry advertising, lobbies and government policies.
But mostly, I saw the incredible health benefits of eating a plant-based diet. I understood that the body wants to heal. And though I am not yet a victim of the major diseases of the Western diet (i.e., high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, stroke, etc.), I know I’m at risk.
So I have the chance to repair the physical damage of a poor diet, reduce the demand for animal flesh food and thus save the animals I am not going to eat from this point on, laugh in the face of nutritionally inaccurate and harmful marketing of beef and dairy products and possibly even lose some weight. And gain enormous health benefits.
On top of all THAT, a friend gave me a book, written by her father, about the intersection of Judaism and Vegetarianism. I sat down to read it and was immediately overwhelmed with the awareness that the Torah actually instructs us that a plant-based diet is the preferred way to go. Permission to eat meat was a concession granted in the time of Noach, in part because the spiritual level of people had fallen so low and in part because the vegetation had been temporarily wiped out by the mabul (flood). Note that in the generations before Noach, people routinely lived 800-900 years. After permission to eat meat was granted, lifespans were reduced by many hundreds of years. By the time we get to Avraham (Abraham), his lifespan was 175 years. And Moshe (Moses), of course, lived 120 years.
Here are a few other Torah-based facts that blew me away:
- The bracha (blessing) for meat, fish, eggs and dairy is she’hakol – the lowest, least differentiated of the brachot (blessings) for food. In contrast, fruits and vegetables have their own distinctive brachot.
- At the time of the wondering in the desert, Hashem (God) provided the Israelites with mun (manna), a perfect, non-animal based food. In rebellion, they demanded flesh to eat (Bamidbar 11:4). This displeased Hashem and, in His anger, He brought a gluttonous overabundance of quail. While the quail was being consumed, He brought a plague. According to Dr. Schwartz:
The place where this incident occurred was named “The Graves of Lust” to indicate that the strong desire for flesh led to the many deaths (Numbers 11:34). While manna, their staple food in the desert, kept the Israelites in good health for forty years, many deaths occurred when they deviated from this simple diet. – Judaism and Vegetarianism, p. 7
- 16th century Kli Yakar: It is far more appropriate for man not to eat meat; only if he has a strong desire for meat does the Torah permit it, and even this only after the trouble and inconvenience necessary to satisfy his desire.
There is much, much more in the book and in related sources.
So there’s the health angle – to repair the damage already inflicted by the way I have been eating and to prevent further damage.
There’s the consumerism angle – to take back my autonomous decision-making and not behave like a Stepford Wife in the face of massive profit-centered manipulations and outright lies by the food industry.
There’s the tsa’ar ba’alei chayim angle – we are commanded by traditional Jewish teachings not to inflict pain on animals.
There’s the general Torah angle – that God actually prefers that we adopt a plant-based diet, as was the case In The Beginning.
It all comes together in a fairly neat package.
That all began with a movie.