The Mannavore’s Dilemma

Zachary Martin questions the dietary habits of the Jewish community, now that the Exodus is over.

What should we eat?

For Israelites under the age of forty, the answer to this question is simple enough: manna and doves. After all, it’s the only meal they’ve ever known and it’s what the rest of us have been exclusively eating since the Exodus. Manna from heaven in the morning, wander the desert all day, doves from heaven in the evening. Except for the wandering — the incessant, circuitous wandering — I’ll admit that this arrangement has been convenient, but I wonder if it’s been the healthiest situation for the Hebrew people.

As evidence of the potentially deleterious effects of our diet, take note of the following lineages from the Torah:

Thus all the days of Kenan were nine hundred and ten years…Thus all the days of Mahalalel were eight hundred ninety-five years…Thus all the days of Jared were nine hundred sixty-two years.

I don’t think I need to give the full list; they’re your grandparents too. What were they eating to provide such longevity? We may never know, but I doubt it was only birds and bread. Just look at our prophet, Moses, who turns one hundred and twenty years old next month. Dining on nothing but manna and doves has given him the health of a man who should have entered the Kingdom of Yahweh decades ago! Certainly we’re doing something wrong.

Gathering manna from the hillsides has caused us to lose touch with the natural cycles of our people: planting, cultivation, ethnic slaughter at the hands of the Pharaoh, and harvest. When we escaped our shackles in Egypt, we also left behind a very important part of our gastronomic identity. I’m not saying I miss the oppression, but I am saying that I could really go for a big plate of olives and Baba Ghanoush right about now.

Furthermore, the ease with which we obtain manna has led to significant lifestyle changes for our young people. I can still remember when I had to get up at daybreak to make sure the lambs were fatted, just so we would have blood to smear on the doorway when the Angel of Death made its rounds. Nowadays, kids wake up when they feel like it and collect as much manna as they want, leading to slothful behavior and carbohydrate-rich meals that have caused perhaps the only simultaneous cases of morbid obesity and rickets in the entire Nile River Valley. That we’ve allowed them to ride camels while we elders carry the tents isn’t helping matters either.

For further proof of the paucity of our diet, look no further than the table of contents from Jacob of Simeon’s seminal scroll, Cooking for Israelites:

Chapter 1: Manna
Chapter 2: Dove
Chapter 3: Manna with Dove
Chapter 4: Dove with Manna
Chapter 5: Quail (Just Another Word for Dove, But Your Family Doesn’t Have To Know That)

More recent works — most notably Rabbi Atkins’ Sahara Desert Diet — have only exacerbated the problem. To wit, adding sand and small rocks to meals does not represent an expanded nutritional profile.

The solution to our problem isn’t going to occur overnight, and it isn’t going to come down from on high. After all, divine intervention is what’s given us a forty-year case of the runs in the first place. We need to stop looking for burning bushes and start looking for blackberry bushes, with their sweet, antioxidant-rich fruit. Also, it would probably improve our overall health if we stopped setting up the latrines so close to the sleeping tents. I really think Moses only came up with that rule because of his enlarged prostate.

Long term, even if we wanted to return to Egypt for goat kebabs, I doubt the shortcut through the Red Sea is still open. But maybe we could find a nice plot of land on the Mediterranean where we could add fish to our diet. Perhaps, Yahweh willing, some shellfish too. I mean, how much longer is he going to keep that restriction in place?

Zachary Martin is a graduate of the University of Chicago and the Creative Writing Program at Florida State University. His fiction, non-fiction, and humor have appeared in Fourth Genre, The Louisville Review, Washington Square, The Southeast Review, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and elsewhere. He is a PhD candidate in Fiction at the University of Houston's Creative Writing Program and an instructor at the Gotham Writers' Workshops.