Last week, everyone pulled out their 2011 Witches’ Datebook and started thumbing through it. In the process, some of you have noticed that Llewellyn included a recipe for “Ostara Rabbit and Baby Vegetables” by Elizabeth Barrette in March. We’ve gotten a few letters from people disgusted by this inclusion, so obviously this has pushed some buttons. We certainly didn’t mean to upset anyone with this recipe; that was not our intention. We apologize to those of you who took this as a personal affront. However, all Pagans have very different values when it comes to meat consumption, and we feel we can’t dictate what everyone should or should not avoid eating. Our role as a publisher is not to issue moral decrees, but to share all types of information. Like everything else in Paganism, it’s up to you to choose your own path from the varied possibilities.
In her defense, Elizabeth Barrette is hardly the first one to propose eating rabbit on Ostara, for the same reason that egg dishes are popular then – they take the symbol of the season and incorporate it into the festivities. Case in point, this quote from Edain McCoy’s book, Ostara: “A German woman who has no conscious knowledge that the hare was an animal sacred to the spring goddess of her ancestors still feels compelled to make a rabbit stew for her family’s equinox dinner, a tradition practiced by her grandmother.” (p. xii) Elizabeth herself tells me, “I researched traditional foods for the seasons/holidays, and that was one of them …. If people don’t like rabbit, they can substitute chicken or skip that recipe.”
I feel this actually provides a perfect opportunity to open a discussion with you, our readers. Do you eat rabbit or other game? Would you? Isn’t eating a wild creature, by hunting or trapping (which is quite common in the Midwest where Llewellyn is based) or raising and slaughtering it yourself closer to nature and the reality of that animal’s sacrifice than buying a plastic-wrapped irradiated filet of some animal in a grocery store? Wouldn’t it be better to eat a bunny, no matter how cute and loveable, than to eat a Big Mac? Many restaurants and consumers are now making the case for just that.
Obviously some people will say no way; especially those who rescue rabbits and other small critters, or keep them as pets. To them, the thought of eating a rabbit is akin to eating a dog or a cat, as rabbits are America’s 3rd most popular pet. They share our homes and should never be placed on a dinner plate. But why? Is it the cuteness factor? (They are pretty darn cute.) The fact that you know they’re intelligent? All animals that we currently eat are intelligent (to varying degrees, obviously) and sentient. I know many non-farmers back in Europe where I used to live who keep chickens and goats in their own backyards, care for them and live with them, and still eat them. This is what our Pagan ancestors used to do, after all.
But we now live in a more enlightened age. We have the freedom of a wide range of options open to us. Surely I would never eat a bunny if I could help it. But then again, I don’t eat pork, beef, chicken, turkey or goose either (in case you haven’t noticed, there is a goose recipe in the 2011 datebook as well). I am a vegetarian only partly based on Pagan principles – harm none, value and respect other forms of life – but that only goes so far, since I am still willing to eat plants which have their own devas, their own spiritual vibration and evolution, after all. I’m really vegetarian because of environmentalism; producing a pound of meat consumes many times more natural resources, and causes much more pollution and deforestation, than producing a pound of vegetables or grains. So from that point of view – putting a higher value on living lightly on the land– I would actually prefer people to trap, hunt or raise bunnies and eat them once in a while than to build mega-chicken factories where millions of birds live foul and miserable existences just so someone can buy a cheap chicken sandwich whenever they feel like it.
Meat used to be a valuable commodity, not something you’d eat every day. Industrialized society has found a way to industrialize and cheapen animals by abusing them rather than attempting to follow a more sustainable, humble diet. In my own personal opinion, I feel that most people could safely cut back their consumption of meat (although obviously people’s individual nutritional needs will differ) and when eating meat, could attempt to buy either USDA organic meats or those sold by local, humane producers.
All consumption of meat has a cost – an environmental cost, an emotional cost, a spiritual cost. For some people, the idea of eating a sacred rabbit costs them far too dearly and they will never do it. At the same time many Pagans accept the fact that humankind have been omnivores for millennia, and don’t have moral qualms about it. And you know what? Both positions are fine, because Pagans are simply not a homogenous group with strict religious taboos or scriptures.
Please join the conversation. What do you think? Are you upset that Llewellyn included a recipe for rabbit? Does Paganism inform your dietary choices? Are you interested in seeing the occasional game recipe in our annuals and books, or does it always turn you off? Please chime in, we really value your opinion, and this is a big one.