Tuesday, June 09, 2009


The Meat of the Matter

As a Seventh-day Adventist, I have always had to explain a lot of things to people. In high school, I had to clarify that I didn’t attend football games on Friday nights because that’s part of our Sabbath, in which we don’t buy, sell or participate in worldly entertainment, high school athletic contests included.

Truthfully, religious reasons are taken more kindly to than statements such as, “Whether or not the larger members of our student body are more adept at the strategic movement of an oval-shaped piece of leather than the larger members of a neighboring school’s student body does little to make me feel better about attending here.”

Whenever I get a new job, it’s pretty much a given that I’ll have to reveal that I don’t drink alcoholic beverages because of the holiness of God’s temple, by which I refer to the human body.

Of course, religious reasons are more readily accepted in this case than other statements, such as, “Office camaraderie is not worth spending $25 tonight on a drink that’ll cause me to come home at 5 a.m., not knowing how I got there.”

And then, of course, there’s meat. SDAs have a complicated relationship with foods that come from animals, and one not easily understood by non-SDAs. I identify with the more liberal strand of the faith that is okay with eating beef and has been known to vote Republican.

Those of us from this wing of the church generally avoid discussing such issues with the conservatives, who are morally opposed drinking skim milk and think Republican and Democrats are both part of a Satanic plot to form one-world government.

(Come to think of it, maybe I should identify myself as moderate, because there’s some real wisdom to that latter argument.)

One thing that we definitely see eye-to-eye on is pork, which practically none of us eat. This one thing that unites us, however, separates us from practically everyone else. Every time there’s a company function where pizza is ordered, the pie is guaranteed to have pepperoni or some other swine based product on it.

Every time I go to a restaurant, there’s at least one entrée I might enjoy, except I’d have to ask them to remove the bacon, and they’ll almost certainly forget to.

And these days, ever time I go out with those in my Korean workplace for dinner, I have to remind them that if I must feast on the flesh of lower life forms, I really must insist that it be of the bovine assortment. Fortunately, most people I’ve worked with have been accommodating of my dietary preferences, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want an explanation now and then.

Pork isn’t the only meat that we avoid, but others are easier to explain, including catfish (“Do you know what those things eat?”) and squid (“No thanks, I’m American.”).

There are practical reasons for not eating pork; I could cite its fat content, or the fact that I grew up next to a pig farm, where a shift in wind direction after feeding time can ruin one’s whole day. Then there are more theological reasons, such as its place in the Leviticus. Most people, especially those who aren’t churchgoers themselves, tend to take that as the end of the argument.

Every now and then, one runs into someone who isn’t a churchgoer, but has done quite a bit of reading. “Isn’t that the same part of the Bible that says people can be executed for blasphemy?” they sometimes ask rhetorically, terribly impressed with their own literacy.

“Yes, it is,” I may reply. “It’s also the part that says it’s wrong to defraud your neighbor or see your daughter-in-law in a state of undress, so it can’t all be wrong.”

Regardless of what we believe, most SDAs learn to live with and among those who believe differently than us. After all, it’s up to us to prove the merits of our beliefs, which is much more effect way of winning the contest of ideas than demanding that others follow along.

(Incidentally, U.S. News and World Report recently reported that the average American SDA has a life-expectancy of 89, 10 years longer than the national average.)

For me, the contest of ideas will be taking place on a much more personal stage; my wife attends church with me on Saturdays but is not yet a member. The dietary restrictions of SDAs are among the biggest barriers to her joining. After years of eating pork habitually, she doesn’t yet feel ready to stop. I can relate; if it were proven to me tomorrow that eating pork was, well, kosher, I doubt I’d be able to break my 30-year habit of hating it.

Soon we will have a son, and if trends continue he’ll have to choose which idea he prefers. On one side lies public acceptance, a wider range of restaurant entrees to choose from, and avoidance of the discomfort that comes with scrutiny into one’s personal views.

On the other lies a longer lifespan that one can use to better enjoy the endless pleasures of veggie-meat.

I hope he chooses wisely.

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