Catchy Jewish Songs With Meat References
In Golem’s take on “Rumenye,” singer Aaron Diskin pines for pastramele and karnatsele not only in Yiddish but in English as well. Who wouldn’t be tempted to burst out, “Oh, I’m going crazy for a bite of a pastrami!” upon listening? The Fiddler on the Roof staple “If I Were a Rich Man” features onomatopoeic animal squawking—as Tevye fantasizes about filling his yard with various farmed animals—that I can’t help echoing every time I listen. "That’s Yiddisha Love," which appeared on last year’s Jewface album, offers the following advice for finding an NJG: “See that she can cook and make gefilte fish and noodles.” That last song is so catchy that I was planning to sing it at a local “Jewish American Pop Star” competition that was eventually canceled!
I’ve been vegetarian for eight years and vegan for half that time. One of my chief aims with this blog and in life is to show just how well Judaism and animal protection concerns are compatible with each other. I’ve organized numerous all-vegan holiday celebrations, including a “Vegan Jewish-Foods Mega-Potluck” on Rosh Hashanah that included round challah, apples and agave nectar, kugel, matzoh brie, potato latkes, karpas with saltwater, carrot tzimmes, and mock gefilte fish. As I wrote in a Jewish Journal of Los Angeles letter to the editor in December, “Not only is it easy to be vegetarian, it's easy to be vegetarian and eat Jewish foods.” We can have Jewish celebrations without pastramele and gefilte fish! But does that mean I shouldn’t sing Jewish songs with meat references?
The songs are all catchy and highly sing-able, so perhaps it’s not important what their lyrics say. While it's, of course, commonplace to object to songs with offensive lyrics, these songs don’t offend me. Part of me enjoys singing the meat lyrics because I find it humorous and ironic that I would repeat something I disagree with so much.
The meat references in these songs don’t talk about meat as animals who were raised in abhorrent conditions, slaughtered inhumanely, and miserable and suffering every step of the way. Referring to cows as “pastrami" (or "pastramele") and pikes as "gefilte fish" employs what The Sexual Politics of Meat author Carol Adams has called the “absent referent”:
Animals are made absent through language that renames dead bodies before consumers participate in eating them. Our culture further mystifies the term “meat” with gastronomic language, so we do not conjure dead, butchered animals, but cuisine. … One does not eat meat without the death of an animal. Lives are thus the absent referents in the concept of meat. . . . We fail to accord this absent referent its own existence.My struggle as a vegetarian advocate is to make people realize that the pastrami on their plate was once a cow who was presumably factory-farmed, dehorned and branded without painkillers, and slaughtered, i.e., to make the absent realized in people’s minds.
I have a new plan: I will keep singing these songs to myself in my apartment and in my car, because no harm is done. I will try not to sing or air guitar songs with lyrics that promote meat without referring to animals’ suffering at public performances, because I shouldn’t use public forums to worsen how animals are viewed—or forgotten—by people. And I will organize a second annual Jewish Vegan-Foods Mega-Potluck on Rosh Hashanah, because it was yummy.