The Irish Elk reprints what I consider to be perhaps the best letter to the editor I’ve ever seen published anywhere: Fr. George Rutler’s letter in the August 2003 issue of Crisis in which he responds to some inanity from a group calling itself the Catholic Vegetarian Society. I’ve blogged it before, but it’s so good, why not bring it up again?
I was delighted to read the Manichaean ramblings of Danel Paden, director of the Catholic Vegetarian Society (“Letters,” June 2003). It confirmed my theory that fanaticism in Western society alternates between nudism and vegetarianism, both of which contradict the order of grace.
As an optimist, I happily trust that Paden confines his extreme commitments to vegetarianism.
Taste is one thing; it is another thing to condemn meat eating as “evil” and permissible only “in rare and unfortunate circumstances.” Paden disagrees with no less an authority than God, Who forbids us to call any edible unworthy (Mark 7: 18-19), and Who enjoins St Peter to eat pork chops and lobster in one of my favorite revelations (Acts 10: 9-16). Does the Catholic Vegetarian Society think that our Lord was wrong to have served up fish to the 5,000, or should He have refrained from eating the Passover Lamb? When He rose from the dead and appeared in the Upper Room, He did not ask for a bowl of Cheerios, nor did He whip up a meatless omelette on the shore of Galilee.
Man was made to eat flesh (Genesis 1: 26-31; 9: 1-6), with the exception of human flesh. I stand on record against cannibalism, whether it be inflicted upon the Mbuti Pygmies by the Congolese Army or on larger people by a maniac in Milwaukee. But I am also grateful that the benevolent father in the parable did not welcome his prodigal son home with a bowl of radishes.
Vegetarians assume an unedifying posture of detachment from the sufferings of vegetables that are mashed, stewed, diced, and shredded. In expensive restaurants, cherries are publicly burned in brandy to the applause of diners. It is not uncommon for people to submerge olives in iced gin and twist the peels of lemons. Be indignant, vegetarian, but not so selectively indignant that the bleat of the lamb and the plaintive moo of the cow drown out the whine of our brother the bean and the quiet sigh of the cauliflower.
Vegetables have reactive impulses. Were we to confine our diet to creatures that lacked sense and do not even respond to light, we could only eat liturgists and liberal Democrats.
The Rev. George W. Rutler
New York City