The Orthodox Christian Meat-Eating Tradition in Greece

Since I started this blog I was pretty much taken aback by the almost fanatic style of those authors who are on the line of strict vegetarianism and veganism. It goes against the stroke of a passionate cook to be fanatic and exlusive-minded about food. All those fad diets today, it’s all one big appalling money-making machine and very little true culinary wisdom. That can only happen in a country like the USA that never had a valid culinary culture.

In Europe, especially around the Mediterranean, people have a wistful culinary tradition in place and they know when to eat and when to stop, they don’t snack, they don’t eat sugars of all kinds, and they do not stuff themselves with meat. The wisdom is to get it into balance, to treat meat and fish as the side dish and consider the salads, vegetables, beans, bread, seeds and nuts as the main dish.

There is a big difference between the indiscriminate consumption of industrially produced meat and traditionally grown meat; and this has several aspects. There is namely a ritual aspect and a consciousness aspect.

The ritual aspect can well be seen in Greece where it is custom to eat lamb meat on Sundays, and no other meat during the week. The ritual aspect here is related to Orthodox Christianity.

According to the age-old pagan ritual, eating lamb is a symbol for incorporating the spiritual body of the Christ, and drinking wine symbolizes drinking the blood of his body. Most Greeks may not be conscious of this tradition when they eat their lamb leg and drink red wine with it, but that’s the reason behind the fact that meat is only eaten on Sundays and only lamb meat, for that matter. And here the Greeks have upheld the purest of Christian traditions, while in other Western countries there is much less awareness and much more ‘American’ style meat-eating.

The consciousness aspect, so much stressed today, by the vegetarian and vegan movements, means to understand karma, the law of cause and effect. Kill, and you will be killed. Help life to survive and you will be helped to survive, etc. This is the reason that in Hinduism, meat-eating is not encouraged. 70% of all Hindus in India are vegetarians. However, here is where Christianity comes in that says ‘Love over Law.’

However, long before age-old tribal peoples’ traditions know that when you pray the moment of shooting a prey (see the interesting word play between ‘prey’ and ‘pray’ as they sound identical!), karma is very much attenuated.

The same is true when eating meat is ritualized as in Orthodoxy, and when as it is custom a thanksgiving prayer is uttered before ingesting the meat.

As a passionate cook I cannot get myself on the line of any of those ‘nutritionalists’ with all their anti-life dogmatic ideas. While I have reviewed the books of some of them, I do not stand behind their exclusive, and often also money-making philosophies ‘Made in USA.’ In fact, they destroy the true joy of life through their fanaticism and their one-sided thinking. We are not nutritional machines and eating and drinking is not only nourishing our bodies but also our minds — as the Christian meat-eating tradition clearly shows.

The contrary can clearly be seen here in Cambodia where all the monks are vegetarians and where Buddhism teaches non-killing while the populace indulges in all kinds of abuses, killing trees and selling the wood to Vietnam, killing rare species, killing birds, and eating virtually everything, for they have learnt that from the Chinese.

I believe we should stay true to our Christian tradition that gives us very valid guidance that is far from the extremes and that therefore avoids fanatic opinions about food.

And by the way, as every Muslim will confirm, Islam has a very similar attitude, where meat-eating is not looked down upon, but where meat is eaten sparingly, and mostly also on weekends only, most of it organically grown lamb meat. In France, in the Provence, I got the best-ever lamb meat from my neighbor, an Arabic butcher.