Posted originally on for Huffington Post
Meatless Monday: Inspired By Literature — Bloomsday Turns 90
“Don’t eat a beefsteak. If you do the eyes of that cow will pursue you through all eternity.” This isn’t me talking or even PETA‘s latest ad campaign. The line comes from James Joyce’s 1922 classic, “Ulysses.”
“Ulysses” takes place in the course of one day, June 16, 1904, when Leopold Bloom, Joyce’s hapless hero walks around Dublin, overhears people on the street like the vegetarian quoted above, meets Stephan Dedalus, gets good, drunk and obstreperous, then comes home to his lusty wife, Molly. And you’re thinking, what does this have to do with me?
Wednesday, June 16, is the 90th anniversary of Bloomsday, celebrated all over Dublin and even on this side of the pond literature lovers and fans of all things Irish. Bloomsday features marathon readings of Ulysses and, being Irish in origin, involves a fair amount of beer. That’s okay. Beer’s vegetarian. Corned beef and cabbage is not. Nor is it Irish or Joycean. Leopold Bloom himself would have no part of it. He ventures into The Burton, a Duke Street pub for lunch, smells “pungent meatjuice,” sees someone “chump chop from the grill. Bolting to get it over,” hears a man order “One corned and cabbage,” and leaves. “Couldn’t eat a morsel here.”
Joyce wasn’t a vegetarian. Neither is Leopold Bloom. As we learn at the beginning, “Mr. Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed foast heart, liver slices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencod’s roes. Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine.”
But after witnessing the meatfest in The Burton, Bloom has a change of heart. He heads to Davy Byrne’s on Grafton Street, a very real establishment in business to this day. He orders a Gorgonzola sandwich, “a nice salad” and a glass of burgundy. “Mr. Bloom ate his strips of sandwich, fresh clean bread. . . pungeant mustard, the feety savour of green cheese. Sips of his wine soothed his palate.” Thus restored, Bloom decides, “After all there’s a lot in that vegetarian fine flavour of things from the earth. They say its healthier.”
Great literature can inspire. Let Ulysses inspire you to go meatless. Celebrate Bloomsday with beer, by all means, but also with “weggebobbles and fruit,” as Bloom puts it. “It’s healthier.” As his wife Molly puts it at the novel’s orgasmic conclusion, yes.