“Beef! It’s what’s for dinner.” This famous American slogan played out on TV for many years would do very well in Israel. If it were up to most Israelis, they’d eat beef for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Somehow, beef is all the rage.
Earlier this week, the State of Israel celebrated its 66th birthday. During this Independence Day, stores are closed. Banks are closed. Malls are closed. But mouths are open wide.
For Meat. Beef. Turkey. Chicken. Liver. Sausage.
It wasn’t always like this. When I was growing up, beef was a luxury, consumed in small portions, and on special occasions. On Independence Day, I watched the military parade on a black-and-white TV set, felt proud to hear the Israeli fighter jets streak overhead. At night we watched fireworks ignite the black sky. And then, using our precious allowance, my friends and I would splurge on a falafel. And if we really wanted to go to town, we ate corn on the husk, and washed it all down with raspberry soda. That’s as “independent” as we got during Independence Day.
The Israel I knew changed. A recent newspaper article showed Israel’s population as little as 4 million just 30 years ago. Today, it’s double that, at 8 million. The average annual salary then was $7,000. Today it’s $35,000.
And with money comes an appetite for meat.
Israel’s version of Master Chef on TV, along with other reality shows, are fanning the flames on the BBQ pit. Everyone can tell you about the latest roast beef recipe. Many know the parts of the cow much too intimately; professionals will tell you which is best for grilling, stewing, frying. “Medium rare, Medium, Well Done,” are words that get thrown around in English, not Hebrew.
Supermarkets and butchers stock up for the Independence Day rush. The grilling takes place on every available spot in this small land. Parks are overrun with crowds. Families sit on top of each other. Animals in Nature Reserves run for cover. Grilling smoke might make your eyes water, but, hey, you’ve got a piece of steak hanging from your mouth.
Supply can’t keep up with demand, even at high prices. So recently Israel is lowering the import tax on cattle. Calves under 400 pounds (200 kilo) will be imported tax-free. I’m sure the cows and bulls are not happy. I doubt they can complain. Thousands are put on ships in Australia, kept at sea for weeks at a time, and unloaded in Israel. Here, the cows are released on to pastures, fattened up, and slaughtered as adults. New Zealand, wanting to break away from Australia’s inhumane policy, does not export live cattle.
We’re invited to a friend’s house for Independence Day party. It’s early afternoon, and telling by everyone’s excitement, many had skipped breakfast. Beef steaks,chicken skewers, spiced-up kebab, and chorizo sausages are on the menu. A few vegetable skewers are on display for the weak-at-heart. Several come to the grill, as if to let the smoke soak their clothes, their faces, their nostrils.
“Where’s the salad?” I ask.
“Just kidding, really.”
Maurice Labi is an Israeli-American who lived in Los Angeles for many years. In 2011 He returned to Northern Israel (Galilee) with his wife and twin teenage daughters. He is of two lands, of two cultures and he blogs about his experiences in Israel, particularly from Galilee where Jews and Arabs dwelled for centuries.
He has also written three novels: “Jupiter’s Stone,” “Into the Night,” and “American Moth” — available at Amazon.com
or at BN.com