My mother often cooked pork chops for dinner, often with sauerkraut (which I refused to eat and still do). She broiled the pork in the bottom of the oven, and when it was white all the way through, and the juices ran clear, she would serve it. While we ate our beef medium rare, pork was cooked well done, and all dishes that came into contact with the raw pork were washed immediately and thoroughly.
I'm not entirely sure what my mother said about undercooked pork, but my impression was that the parasite trichinosis was some kind of worm that ate out your brain from the inside, and that if you ate pork that was even a little bit pink, a live trichinosis parasitic worm creature would take up residence and eventually come out your eyeball. Trichinosis could cause you to die within a matter of days.
Once when I was an adult and married, the whole family went to eat at a fancy restaurant by the sea. The waiter came to tell us the specials, and one of them was a pork dish cooked medium rare. My entire family gasped in horror and whispered of trichinosis while my husband looked on with some amusement. The waiter, I am sure, thought we were very strange.
When I was a child my mother had aspirin in the house, but we were prohibited from taking it. We could have ibuprofen (Advil & what have you) or acetaminophen (Tylenol), but not aspirin. When my mother was a child she knew a girl who took aspirin while she had a high fever, and she developed Reye's Syndrome. According to my mother, the girl was a smart child before she got sick, and when she returned to school she was unable to perform simple classwork. My mother was assigned to be her tutor.
This is an old family story that has mythic characteristics. I no longer remember the girl's name, although I bet my mother could still tell me. The truth of the story is difficult to verify since it was information gathered by an eight year old girl nearly 60 years ago and then passed on to another eight year old girl about 30 years ago. And the story was told, not as a memory, but to inscribe upon my memory that aspirin can cause brain damage or death.
I have never, not once, given my own children aspirin.
But tonight my body is very sore from swinging an axe on Sunday for an hour, and in the place I stay for school the only thing in the medicine cabinet is a bottle of aspirin. Truthfully I don't even know the proper dosage for aspirin since I almost never take it. And logically I know that I will not develop Reye's Syndrome from taking aspirin for some sore muscles. But I hesitated a while before opening that bottle, because inscribed into my body and soul is the memory that aspirin can cause brain damage or death.
As an adult I do not serve pork chops in my house. I don't even keep aspirin in the house, and I hide the Pepto Bismol (which has aspirin in it). If you tried to give my children undercooked pork or aspirin, I would snatch them up and stare at you in horror. I would lecture you ad nauseum about the dangers of what you had done. This is not a logical response, but it is a visceral response to the cultic-mythic understanding of food and medicine instilled in me from childhood.
This is the lens through which I consider most of the prohibitions found in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures. I present to you some verses from Deuteronomy 22-25.
You shall not sow your vineyard with a second kind of seed, or the whole yield will have to be forfeited, both the crop that you have sown and the yield of the vineyard itself.
You shall not plough with an ox and a donkey yoked together.
You shall not wear clothes made of wool and linen woven together.
You shall make tassels on the four corners of the cloak with which you cover yourself.
Those born of an illicit union shall not be admitted to the assembly of the Lord. Even to the tenth generation, none of their descendants shall be admitted to the assembly of the Lord.
If one of you becomes unclean because of a nocturnal emission, then he shall go outside the camp; he must not come within the camp. When evening comes, he shall wash himself with water, and when the sun has set, he may come back into the camp.
If you go into your neighbour’s vineyard, you may eat your fill of grapes, as many as you wish, but you shall not put any in a container.Leviticus and Deuteronomy are full of prohibitions (including shrimp), and threats of horrible death for those who violate those prohibitions. These prohibitions serve a protective function much like my fear of men does--rooted in truth and experience. But there is a need to re-examine the old myths. Not to invalidate them or dishonor their roots, but to determine whether the prohibition and fear needs to remain in place. We are not, after all, static.
If men get into a fight with one another, and the wife of one intervenes to rescue her husband from the grip of his opponent by reaching out and seizing his genitals, you shall cut off her hand; show no pity.