One Foot in the Realm of Fantasy and One Foot in the Realm of Reality
Last year's peculiar J-blog sensation has turned into a blook, The Kosher Guide to Imaginary Animals! I just received an advance reader copy (the book won't be out until March), and I tried to approach it with both the critical eye I bring to real-world issues, like tsa'ar ba'alei chayim, and the absurdity I appreciate in imaginary matters, like air guitar.
Promotional materials set out lofty goals for the blook:
Once and for all burning questions passed down through the ages will be addressed, such as: Is a vegetable-lamb a vegetable or a lamb? Does licking the Pope make you trayf? What exactly is a Pollo Maligno?Not one of these questions was satisfactorily answered.
1. Is a vegetable-lamb a vegetable or a lamb?
The blook explains that the Vegetable Lamb of Tartary is "either a plant that grows an animal or an animal that grows from a seed in the ground" and that "no expert has yet ascribed any characteristics to the vegetable lamb other than that it is born, it lives, and it dies." Determining whether the vegetable lamb is a vegetable or a lamb is crucial for assessing whether a vegan blog can endorse its consumption. However, co-author Ann VanderMeer takes the easy way out by noting that the dish is "absolutely kosher" because both vegetables and lambs are kosher.
There is only one variety of plant-based non-animal included in the blook. Jotai are described as spirits that are "Japanese in origin" and are "created from a folding-screen cloth used to separate areas in a room." VanderMeer says that jotai are kosher "[s]o long as it's made from plant fibers, not a treyf animal." heebnvegan does not condone believing in jotai but issues no condemnation against eating them.
2. Does licking the Pope make you trayf?
This inquiry refers to the passage on the Pope Lick Monster, which allegedly hails from "Pope Lick Creek" in Kentucky. VanderMeer's co-author, "Evil Monkey" (her husband, Jeff), speculates that "it's a monster that licks the Pope, and then the Pope's magic kung fu banishes it to Pope Lick Creek." VanderMeer responds, "If it's licking the Pope, it's probably not kosher, that's for sure." Saying something is "probably" trayf "for sure" does not definitively render it trayf.
3. What exactly is a Pollo Maligno?
Much as the aitvaras is compared to a rooster, the pollo maligno is said to resemble a chicken. As such, heebnvegan recommends against consuming both. The commentary digs deeper, though, describing the pollo maligno as an "evil cannibalistic chicken" of "Col[o]mbian origins." VanderMeer questions whether the bird's cannibalistic tendencies refer to eating humans or other chickens. As the main portion of the book ends, this matter is left unresolved.
An epilogue features a dialogue between VanderMeer and Duff Goldman, the star of the Food Network's Ace of Cakes. Goldman enters the fray, perhaps too late, as a much-needed voice of reason who strives to "keep one foot in the realm of fantasy and one foot in the realm of reality." VanderMeer notes to Goldman that she doesn't know whether the pollo maligno eats people or chickens. Goldman says the pollo maligno is kosher by taking a stab at the conditions under which chickens raised for kosher (and nonkosher) meat are raised:
You ever seen an industrial chicken farm? ... If [chickens] can be butchered and served glatt kosher, hormone-injected, subjected to the worst kind of animal cruelty, then saying that a cannibalistic chicken wouldn't be kosher would be straight-up hypocrisy. So Pollo Maligno is definitely kosher.Goldman might not have a clear understanding of what "glatt" means with regard to chickens, but he makes an excellent point in suggesting that it's hypocritical that kosher meat can be sold despite conditions that cause animals unnecessary suffering. The blog Homegrown Evolution explains:
Cannibalism is common amongst chickens and there are a number of theories as to why it happens including dietary inadequacies, genetics and simple chicken boredom. The most plausible theory in our opinion is that cannibalism results from insufficient opportunity to forage. . . . Most commercial poultry farms take care of cannibalism by cutting off beaks when the chicks are around 4 to 6 weeks old.Don't let Goldman's hard-hitting point about the pollo maligno fool you, though. The Kosher Guide to Imaginary Animals is not exactly a treatise on practical approaches to kashrut vis-à-vis industrialized animal agriculture.