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What To Serve A Goddess – Overture


Since 1981 I have been a strict, vegan vegetarian, which means I eat no meat, no milk, and no eggs. I eat a “green diet” of raw and cooked greens, sprouted and cooked grains, sprouted bread, fruit, nuts, flax, and wild-growing greens such as dandelion flowers and chickweed.

My first reason for adopting this strange diet was my health. I had been a distance runner in high school, a swimmer in college, and a duffer-and-hacker tennis player all along. But at age 29 in my third year of law school, I began feeling angina pains in my left pectoral, extending into the left side of my neck, and down into my left shoulder and arm. I had a blood pressure of 130/90. I was worried.

My father ate a standard diet. He started having heart attacks in his 40s and kept having them all his life. I did not want to end up like him. My mind opened to other dietary possibilities. I do not miss eating animal foods, and I genuinely enjoy my “green diet.”

This is a good place to say how much I like the climate here in the Northwest. Winters are mild. Hardy greens established in the Fall grow right through the winter. Spring begins in mid-February, and I start planting. In May and June, the weather is warm and rainy, and it feels like a tropical rainforest. From July until October, there is little rain. It is a summer you can enjoy, with temperatures that only get up into the 70s and low 80s.

Things were different where I grew up, near Promised Land, Arkansas, just a few miles from the bootheel of Missouri and a few miles from the Mississippi River. Promised Land was a general store, a gas station, a cotton gin, and several fundamentalist churches. People back there are friendly, but the physical environment is not: You bake in the summer and freeze in winter. The insects will eat you alive if you don’t keep moving. Watch out for the water moccasins.

Promised Land is a crossroad on Highway 61, the music road—from New Orleans to Memphis to St. Louis to Chicago. My dad, Jimmie Deal (1914-2000), played big band and Dixieland music up and down Highway 61 during the Depression. He was a drummer, singer, and songwriter. I always have a melody going through my head, and I thank Dad for that. Maybe the South is so rich in music because it is so rich in songbirds. Some sing all through the night. The mockingbird sings a dozen other species’ songs, one right after another.

I left the South in the 1970s. I lived in British Columbia and then settled in Washington. I love the mild, rainy winters and the temperate summers. Most homes here are not even air-conditioned.


My story begins on a perfect summer evening in 1994. There was a full moon. That was the pretext for inviting friends over for dinner. We ate on the back deck, under the grape arbor. We looked at the rising moon, low in the southeast, a few clouds slowly passing in front of it. “That is really a big moon!” we kept saying.

As host I raised my glass and gave a toast: “People talk about the good old days. Well, I’m here to tell you that this is the good old days right now.” There was applause.

I like to eat. I was a bachelor back then. So I learned how to cook. That night I cooked up my favorite recipes (see Chapter 21), and a lot of the food I served was food I grew in my garden (see Chapter 18). I had just bought a home with a big yard, and I was into gardening in a serious way.

At the time I was growing mustard, collard, kale, cabbage, onions, leeks, garlic, chives, mint, evening primrose, nasturtium, borage, asparagus, parsley, stinging nettle, bok choy, fava beans, peas, pole beans, new potatoes, and fennel. I was also growing fruit: raspberry, fig, prune plum, mulberry, apple, kiwi, peach, pear, and many grape varieties.

I get a lot of pleasure from my garden. I find it amazing that most people have nothing edible growing in their yards, and that most people think of food only as something that comes from a grocery store.

A tall, slim woman arrived. Deborah was her name. I gave her a bowl of my lentil soup. We fell into an intense conversation.

We talked about all the things that were getting worse: The sea level rising three feet in the next century. The population growing by a billion each decade. Weapons getting more computerized and deadly. War going on somewhere all the time. A third of all people go hungry and live without safe drinking water and good sewers. A third of all people are infected with TB. An economic system that enriches the few, works the middle-class overtime, and leaves the rest impoverished, with women and children suffering the most. Hundreds of nuclear power plants around the world create dangerous waste that will have to be guarded for hundreds of thousands of years.

We talked about how amazing it is that most people think this is normal.

“Why, the rich think it’s the best it’s ever been!” she exclaimed.

But we also talked about how things were getting better at the same time: The Cold War was over, so we might not blow ourselves up after all. Slavery is illegal everywhere. Racism repudiated. Women recovering their rights. More and more people organizing to make things better.

I fed her some of my stir fry with spicy peanut sauce. She was a vegan too. Vegans enjoy food more, in part because they can eat more. When meat eaters finish eating, they seem to lose all interest in food, even to be disgusted by the thought of eating more. Vegans can always eat a little more and still go out jogging.

We talked with our mouths full. I not only tolerate, I encourage people to talk with their mouths full—especially when it’s my food they are eating.

Deborah was dressed like Annie Hall, wearing baggy, men’s corduroy pants with pleats, and a vest over a plaid work shirt. She wore no makeup.

She made me think of the Australian pediatrician, Helen Caldicott, the founder of Physicians for Social Responsibility. Helen believes that the only thing keeping us from civilizing the world is our lack of faith in our ability to do so.

And we talked about how things were going to turn out. In my dream, Deborah said, “They have all the money, but we have all the good ideas. Of course, we are going to win.”

“But why is it taking so long?” I asked.

“It’s easy to get violence started but hard to get it stopped. We need a war every few years to use up the old weapons so we can build new ones.”

I asked her what I could do as one person. She taunted me and called me “Mr. Lawyer.” She said I should teach law and ethics to kids in grade schools, where the violence starts. “If adults did to adults what kids to do kids, they would be arrested. Teach kids that no one should be hitting anyone. No one should be saying hateful words. Teach kids that law applies to them too and that they should be little lawyers for each other. Teach them to complain and appeal to higher authority until the violence stops. Teach them to file suit.”

“Once I wanted to be a law professor in college. Instead, I could be a law professor in grade school.”

“You might do more good that way,” she said.

Somehow we got on the subject of original sin. “I’m a part-time theologian,” I told her. “I went halfway through divinity school. There’s a longstanding debate in Christianity: Does the sin of Adam adhere to us as an inevitable taint, or did Adam merely introduce a highly contagious sickness that pretty much everyone catches, but which is not necessarily impossible to cure. Tell me, do you believe in original sin?”

“We are a defective species,” was her answer. “We are not inherently evil. We’re just inherently gullible. We are conformists. We are willing to be led astray, especially when there is money in it for us. Capitalism likes growth. Once a cash flow gets going it’s hard to stop it, even if it is destructive.”

“Every four years I read the party platforms, Democan and Republicrat. When it comes to population explosion, there’s not a word in either one. But they each say ‘grow the economy’ over and over.”

And we talked about animals. She asked, “Have you heard there is an Eleventh Commandment?”

“You mean, after the Ten Commandments, there is an Eleventh Commandment?”

“Yes, well it’s a rumor I heard. Actually, I may have started it.” She smiled.

“Now wait. I’ve read the Bible cover to cover, repeatedly. But I never read anything about any Eleventh Commandment. What is the Eleventh Commandment?”

The Eleventh Commandment is: “Do unto other species as you would have them do unto your own.”

“We’re natural-born killers,” I said. “Like in the Oliver Stone movie. I hear Woody Harrelson is a vegetarian.”

“And you, Mr. Lawyer, could teach people that animals are conscious beings that should be treated with a certain level of dignity. As long as it is legal to be vicious to animals, our legal structure will be defective.”

She told me her theory of extraterrestrials. “They checked us out and decided we are morally twisted. So they left. They didn’t want to have anything to do with such a backward species. We might be a bad influence.

“All the animals here on earth are food to us. Maybe they are afraid we might eat them too.”

I asked her, “It seems like you are saying things are getting better and worse at the same time.”

“Yes. We have to civilize the world before we destroy it. It’s one or the other.”

“It’s like the song about white hat to the rescue.” I hummed the tune to her. (do-do-la-so-do-me) Dudley Do-Right is running to untie Pearl Pure Heart from the tracks before the train gets there and runs her over.”

“You really are a cornball!” she said. “Where are you from anyway?”

I explained my Southern roots.

“You don’t have much of a Southern accent,” she observed.

“It comes back after two beers.” I got a laugh out of her.

Dinner wound down. Friends helped me clean up and left. I went to bed with the window open, breathing the delicious air. I had a dream that night.

Dreams are sometimes just random brain activity. But sometimes they are revealing. Back then I kept a notepad by the bed. I would jot down a few words when I had an interesting dream so I would remember it in the morning. It is a good poetry-writing tool.

In my dream, Deborah sat with her legs crossed. She wore a karate gi and a black belt. I had been visited by a prophetess or an angel.

She looked like the goddess on the cover of this book. The different expressions you see on the face on the cover – sadness, challenge, confidence – are a collage of different expressions Deborah displayed at various times in my dream. Her face came from the watercolor of the Goddess, which I had bought from Patti Scherer, and which hung on my bedroom wall.

What would I serve a prophetess or an angel if she showed up for dinner? What would I serve Jesus or Moses or Mohammed or some other prophet or angel? Would I serve the cooked flesh of an animal that had been confined for life in a stinky cage and fed an unnatural diet and then killed in a terrifying way? As in the Cain and Abel story, would god or the goddess be pleased with my offering?

I slowly awoke. It had all been a dream, a dream within a dream. It was almost sunrise. The full moon was low in the west, shining into the bedroom. The twilight was full of bird songs. There was rustling in the backyard. I snuck out of bed and peeked over the window ledge. There was a big mother raccoon with her two kits, checking out the garden. “Nothing yet, Mrs. Raccoon,” I whispered. “The grapes are not ripe.” I returned to bed and sat with a comforter around me. I crossed my legs and meditated.

As a species, we have big brains but they are badly programmed. We are prone to violence. We need to earn and save, but we have not learned how to avoid greed. We need to eat, but we have not learned how to avoid gluttony. When it comes to animals, our defects combine. Mistreating animals is profitable, and their fried fat is tasty. We stuff them into small cages to cut down on land costs and heating bills. We spread out over the face of the planet to grow cheap corn and soy to feed them. We grow corn and soy with toxic Roundup to kill weeds. It’s not original sin so much as original ignorance. Whenever there is a buck to be made, we are blind to moral considerations. And most people don’t even see it as an issue. We go to church, temple, or mosque and pray for forgiveness for our sins – except for the ones that really matter.

I thought back on my calling as a teenager. It happened on a warm summer night at church camp. I was walking back to my cabin from the evening chapel.

I was born Catholic but my parents raised me in a protestant sect where we studied the Bible rigorously and believed every word of it to be “fully verbally inspired.” I can recite all the books of the Bible, Old, and New, in one breath, plus all twelve tribes and all twelve apostles. The fact that my parents changed religions several times opened my mind to the idea that truth was not necessarily as black and white as the preacher said. The teachings of my church conflicted with my academic studies. I took my religion seriously, but I also took my science seriously.

I was alone that night. As I walked across the ballfield I stopped and looked up at the stars. It was at a time when I was trying to decide what to believe and what profession to take up. I remember the moment very clearly. I uttered a prayer in my thoughts: “How can I know which way to go?”

In a split second, an answer came back to me in my mind: “Follow your truth, wherever it leads you. And do not fear the truth you may find. Truth is the one thing not to fear.”

I became physically dizzy and sat down in the dewy grass. I describe that special night as a peak experience or an epiphany.

Sitting in bed that morning, I thought back on my teenage calling. Most of us get caught up in making a living and forget our callings or ignore them. I decided, “This is a truth I will follow. I will focus on what’s really important. I will point out absurdities. Everyone dies, but before I do, I will say what’s on my mind. I will not go easily. One of the things I will say loudly is that we cannot stop the violence among humans and the violence against the environment if we fail to stop the violence against the animals.”

I turned on the light and started writing this book.