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Judaism, Vegetarianism, and Feeding the Hungry

This posting is chapter 4 from the 3rd edition of my book, “Judaism and Vegetarianism.”

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If one takes seriously the moral, spiritual, and humanitarian values of biblical, prophetic, and rabbinic Judaism, the inescapable issue of conscience that must be faced is: How can anyone justify not becoming involved in trying to help save the lives of starving millions of human beings throughout the world—whose plight constitutes the most agonizing moral and humanitarian problem in the latter half of the 20th century? (Rabbi Marc H. Tannenbaum, former National Interreligious Affairs Director of the American Jewish Committee)1

ON YOM KIPPUR, THE HOLIEST DAY OF THE JEWISH YEAR, while fasting and praying for a good year, Jews hear the words of the Prophet Isaiah that fasting and prayers are not sufficient; they must work to end oppression and provide food for needy people:

Is not this the fast that I have chosen? To loose the chains of wickedness, to undo the bonds of oppression, and to let the oppressed go free….Is it not to share your bread with the hungry? (Isaiah 58:6–7)

Helping the hungry is fundamental in Judaism. The Talmud states: “Providing charity for poor and hungry people weighs as heavily as all the other commandments of the Torah combined.”2

A midrash teaches:

God says to Israel, “My children, whenever you give sustenance to the poor, I impute it to you as though you gave sustenance to Me….” Does then God eat and drink? No, but whenever you give food to the poor, God accounts it to you as if you gave food to Him.3

On Passover we are reminded not to forget the poor. Besides providing ma’ot chittim (charity for purchasing holiday necessities) for the needy before Passover, we specifically reach out to them at the seder:

This is the bread of affliction which our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt. Let all who are hungry come and eat. Let all who are in need come and celebrate the Passover.4

We are even admonished to feed our enemies, if they are in need:

If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat. If your enemy is thirsty, give him water to drink. (Proverbs 25:21)

This is consistent with the Jewish teaching that the greatest hero is a person who converts an enemy into a friend (Avot de Rabbi Nathan, Ch. 23).

It is a basic Jewish belief that God provides enough for all. In the traditional daily prayers, it is said “He opens His hand and provides sustenance to all living things” (Psalms 145:16). Jews are obligated to give thanks to God for providing enough food for us and for all of humanity. In the Birkat Hamazon (grace after meals), Jews thank God “who feeds the whole world with goodness, grace, loving kindness, and mercy.”

The blessing is correct. God has provided enough for all. The bounties of nature, if properly distributed and properly consumed, would sustain all people. Millions of people are hungry today, not because of insufficient agricultural capacity, but because of unjust social systems and wasteful methods of food production, especially the feeding of tremendous amounts of grains to animals to fatten them for slaughter to feed meat-eaters.

World Hunger Today

World hunger statistics are staggering. Nearly a billion people, roughly one out of five people in the developing (poorer) countries, are chronically hungry.5 The UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) estimates that twenty-one percent of India’s population is chronically undernourished, but the situation may be far worse, since recent on-the- ground surveys indicate that forty-nine percent of adults and fifty-three percent of children in India are underweight—a proxy measurement for hunger.6 Hunger is found in the industrial world as well: the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated that in 1998 some ten percent of U.S. households were hungry, on the edge of being hungry, or concerned about being hungry.7

Malnutrition particularly victimizes children. Worldwide, over twelve million children under the age of five (about 34,000 per day) die annually from diseases caused or complicated by malnutrition.8 Almost eight million children die annually before their first birthday, largely due to malnutrition.9 Malnourishment also brings listlessness and reduced capacity for learning and other activities, which perpetuates the legacy of poverty.

Jeremy Rifkin summarizes well the anomaly of rich people dieting while poor people are starving:

While millions of Americans anguish over excess pounds, spending time, money, and emotional energy on slimming down, children in other lands are wasting away, their physical growth irreversibly stunted, their bodies racked by parasitic and opportunistic diseases, their brain growth diminished by lack of nutrients in their meager diets.10

The extensive hunger and malnutrition make rebellion and violence more likely in many parts of the world. Professor Georg Borgstrom, internationally known expert on food science, fears that “the rich world is on a direct collision course with the poor of the world….We cannot survive behind our Maginot line of missiles and bombs.”11 Hence the outlook for global stability is very poor, unless the problem of global hunger is solved soon. Professor Robert Heilbroner, a noted economist, has predicted that, in times of severe famine, some countries may be be sorely tempted to resort to nuclear blackmail.12

One important reason why many are starving today is that tremendous quantities of grain are used to fatten animals for slaughter, grain that could be feeding hungry people. Animal-centered diets are very wasteful of grain, land, water, fuel, and fertilizer. Half of U.S. farm acreage is used to produce feed crops for livestock. An animal-centered diet requires about seventeen times the land area per person than would be required for a purely vegetarian diet. Animal agriculture also requires huge inputs of chemical fertilizer and pesticides, irrigation water, and fuel—commodities becoming scarce worldwide.13

Research at the Institute for Food and Development in California shows that the world produces enough grain alone to provide every person with sufficient protein and about 3,000 calories a day, about the average American’s caloric intake.14 The 3,000-calorie estimate does not include fruits, vegetables, nuts, root crops, and non-grain-fed meat produced by the world’s people. Grains are increasingly being fed to livestock in the developing world as well, although the majority of people there can’t afford to eat meat. Much of the best land in poorer countries is used to graze livestock, mostly for export. In Central America, two-thirds of the agriculturally productive land is used for livestock production, for the wealthy or for export.15

Prospects for the reduction of hunger are not good. In his book, Tough Choices: Facing the Challenge of Food Scarcity (New York: W. W. Norton, 1996), Lester R. Brown, President of the Worldwatch Institute, argues that a combination of rapidly increasing world population and affluence, environmental strains, climate changes, and significant decreases in clean water, arable land, fish catches, and land productivity threaten the world’s food security.

The Worldwatch Institute believes that providing enough food for the world’s rapidly increasing population will be a critical issue facing the world for many decades. Among the significant points that Lester Brown and the Worldwatch Institute make about threats to the world’s future food security are the following (updated, based on the year 2000 World Population Sheet of the Population Reference Bureau):

1. Rapid Population Growth

The world’s population is currently increasing by almost eighty million people per year. At this rate the world’s population increases by approximately the United States every three years. While most of the children are born in less developed countries, this rapid growth in population has major impacts on land, water, pollution, and other factors related to the food supply. Another indication of the potential severity of the problem is that, while it took all of the world’s history to reach the 1999 population of about six billion people, this number is projected to double in about fifty years, with major implications for increased consumption of food and other resources.

2. Increasing Affluence

There has been a sharp increase in affluence in many countries, especially in Asia, and this has increased the demand for animal products and thus for grain to feed livestock. China is a significant example: it was a net exporter of eight million tons of grain in 1994, but became a net importer of sixteen million tons of grain in 1995, due to the increased affluence of many of China’s 1.3 billion people. While China, with over twenty-one percent of the world’s people, was basically self-sufficient with regard to grain in 1990, it is estimated that it will need to import 215 million tons of grain by 2030, an amount greater than all grain exported by all countries today. Yet, on December 22, 1999, the World Bank approved a $93.5 million loan to build 130 feedlots and five meat processing centers to help China greatly expand its meat production.16

3. Water Scarcity

Depletion of aquifers due to increased demand for water and diversion of irrigation waters to expanding cities are decreasing the water available for irrigation in many countries. Water tables are falling in key food- producing areas, including the southern Great Plains of the United States, much of northern China, and several states in India.

4. Decreasing Arable Land

The world’s grainland per person has been decreasing more rapidly due to the combined effects of rapid population growth and the loss of agricultural land to meet the growing needs of industry and transportation.

5. Climate Changes

There is increasing concern about the effects of global warming, especially of increasingly severe heat waves on agriculture. The droughts and severe storms that are increasingly accompanying global warming are another great threat to future food security.

6. Decreasing Fish Catches

While the seafood catch per person doubled from 1950 to 1989, it has decreased seven percent from 1989 to 1995, and is projected to continue decreasing as rapid population growth continues. The U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) indicated that all fifteen oceanic fisheries are being fished at or beyond their capacities, and thirteen of them are in a state of decline.

7. Decreasing Land Productivity

As farmers are forced to use less productive land, and as the agricultural benefits of increased fertilization and irrigation decrease, the productivity of cropland is decreasing. While grain yield per hectare more than doubled from 1950 to 1990, it has increased far more slowly since 1990, in spite of increasing agricultural inputs.

The net result of these interacting factors, according to the Worldwatch Institute, is that, while the past was dominated by food surpluses, with competition among exporters for access to markets, the future probably will be dominated by food scarcity, with increasing competition among importers for access to markets.

Jewish Responses to Hunger
1. Involvement
Judaism teaches involvement and concern with the plight of fellow human beings. Every life is sacred, and we are obligated to do what we can to help others. The Torah states, “You shall not stand idly by the blood of your brother” (Leviticus 19:16). We speak out justifiably against the silence of the world when six million Jews and five million other people were murdered in the Holocaust. Can we be silent when millions die agonizing deaths because of lack of food? Can we acquiesce to the apathy of the world at the fate of starving people?

Elie Wiesel has pointed out that there can be no analogies to the Holocaust, but that it can be used as a reference. In that context, we can consider the over seven million infants who die each year due to malnutrition. Victims of hunger are not being singled out because of their religion, race, or nationality, as were the Nazis’ victims, but they too die while the world goes about its business, grumbling about “high” taxes and personal inconveniences, indifferent to the plight of starving millions.

The Hebrew prophets berated those who were content and comfortable while others were in great distress:

Tremble you women who are at ease,
Shudder you complacent ones;
Strip and make yourselves bare,
Gird sackcloth upon your loins. (Isaiah 32:11)

Woe to those who are at ease in Zion…
Woe to those who lie upon beds of ivory
And stretch themselves upon their couches…
Who drink wine from bowls
And anoint themselves with the finest oils
But are not grieved at the ruin of Joseph. (Amos 6:1,4,6)

Like other people, Jews have frequently experienced hunger. Because of famines, Abraham was forced to go to Egypt (Genesis 12:10), Isaac went to the land of Abimelech, king of the Philistines, in Gerar (Genesis 26:1), the children of Jacob went to Egypt to buy grain (Genesis 42:1–3), and Naomi and her family fled Israel and went to Moab (Ruth 1:1–2). There were also famines in the reigns of King David (2 Samuel 21:1) and King Ahab (1 Kings 18:1–2). Jews know the sorrow of great hunger. The Prophet Jeremiah describes the time of Jerusalem’s destruction: “Happier were the victims of the sword than the victims of hunger, who pined away, stricken by want of the yield of the field” (Lamentations 4:9).

Based on Jewish values and Jewish history, we must identify with the starving people of the world. We must be involved by speaking out an acting. Some traditional Jewish ways to help needy people are to pursue justice, practice charity, show compassion, share resources, and simplify lifestyles.

2. Pursuing Justice

The pursuit of a just society is one of the most fundamental concepts of Judaism. The statement in Deuteronomy (16:20), “Justice, justice shall you pursue,” is a cornerstone of the Torah’s humane legislation and of the prophets’ demand for social righteousness. Words are seldom repeated in the Torah. When they are, it is generally to add emphasis. Since we are told to pursue justice, we are not to wait for the right opportunity, the right time and place, but instead to be alert for opportunities to practice justice. Proverbs 21:3 asserts: “To do righteousness and justice is preferred by God above sacrifice.” The psalmist writes: “Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute” (Psalms 82:3–4). The prophet Amos warns the people that without the practice of justice, God is repelled by their worship:

Take away from Me the noise of your songs;
And let Me not hear the melody of your psalteries.
But let justice well up as waters,
And righteousness as a mighty stream. (Amos 5:23, 24)

Isaiah states:

The Lord of Hosts shall be exalted in justice,
The Holy God shows Himself holy in righteousness. (Isaiah 5:16)

The prophets constantly stress the importance of furthering justice:

Learn to do well—seek justice, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow….Zion shall be redeemed with justice, and they that return to her with righteousness.   (Isaiah 1:17, 27)

To practice justice is considered among the highest demands of prophetic religion:

It has been told you, O human, what is good, And what the Lord requires of you: Only to do justly, love mercy And walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)

The practice of justice is even part of the symbolic betrothal between the Jewish people and God:

And I will betroth you unto Me forever; And, I will betroth you unto Me in righteousness, justice, loving kindness, and compassion. And I will betroth you unto Me in faithfulness. And you shall know the Lord. (Hosea 2:21–22)

Justice is such an important concept in Judaism that the patriarch Abraham even pleads with God to practice justice: “That be far from You to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked…shall not the Judge of all the earth do justly?” (Genesis 18:25)

Rabbi Emanuel Rackman points out that Judaism teaches a special kind of justice, an “empathic justice,” which

…seeks to make people identify themselves with each other—with each other’s needs, with each other’s hopes and aspirations, with each other’s defeats and frustrations. Because Jews have known the distress of slaves and the loneliness of strangers, we are to project ourselves into their souls and make their plight our own.17

He notes that in thirty-six places in the Torah we are commanded not to mistreat the stranger in our midst.18 In Jewish numerology, the number thirty-six is associated with righteousness, and the Talmud states that there are never less than thirty-six tzaddikim (righteous individuals) in the world.19

3. Giving Charity (Tzedakah)

Judaism places great stress on the giving of charity to help the poor and hungry. The Hebrew word for charity (tzedakah) literally means justice. In the Jewish tradition, tzedakah is not an act of condescension from one person to another who is in need. It is the fulfillment of a mitzvah (commandment) toward a fellow human being, who has equal status before God. Although Jewish tradition recognizes that the sharing of our resources is also an act of love—as the Torah states, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18)—it emphasizes that this act of sharing is an act of justice. This is to teach that we are obligated to assist people in need. They too are human beings created in the Divine image; they too have a place and a purpose within God’s creation.

In the Jewish tradition, failure to give charity is equivalent to idolatry.20 This may be because a selfish person forgets the One Who created us all, and, in becoming preoccupied with personal material needs, makes himself or herself into an idol. So important is the giving of charity by Jews that Maimonides could say: “Never have I seen or heard of a Jewish community that did not have a charity fund.”21

Charity was considered so important that it took priority even over the building of the Holy Temple. King Solomon was prohibited from using the silver and gold that David, his father, had accumulated for the building of the Temple, because that wealth should have been used to feed the poor during the three years of famine in King David’s reign (I Kings 7:51).

Judaism urges lending to needy people, to help them become economically self-sufficient:

And if your brother becomes impoverished, and his means fail in your proximity; then you shall strengthen him….Take no interest of him or increase….You shall not give him your money upon interest….(Leviticus 25:35–37)

Every third year of the sabbatical cycle, the needy were to be recipients of the tithe for the poor (one-tenth of one’s income) (Deuteronomy 14:28; 26:12). The general Jewish view about aiding the poor is indicated in the following Torah verse :

If there be among you a needy man, one of your brethren, within any of your gates, in your land which the Lord your God gives you, you shall not harden your heart, nor shut your hand from your needy brother; but you shall surely open your hand unto him, and shall surely lend him sufficient for his need. (Deuteronomy 15: 7–8)

According to Maimonides, the highest form of tzedakah is to prevent a person from becoming poor by providing a loan, a gift, or a job to enable him to adequately support himself.22 Consistent with this concept is the following Talmudic teaching: “It is better to lend to a poor person than to give him alms, and best of all is to provide him with capital for business.”23

4. Reducing Poverty

Judaism places emphasis on charity because of the great difficulties that poor people face: “If all afflictions in the world were assembled on one side of the scale and poverty on the other, poverty would outweigh them all.”24 Judaism believes that poverty is destructive to the human personality and negatively shapes a person’s life experiences: “The ruin of the poor is their poverty” (Proverbs 10:15). “Where there is no sustenance, there is no learning.”25 “The world is darkened for him who has to look to others for sustenance.”26 “The sufferings of poverty cause a person to disregard his own sense [of right] and that of his Maker.”27 Judaism generally does not encourage an ascetic life. Insufficiency of basic necessities does not ease the path toward holiness.28

Many Torah laws are designed to aid the poor: the corners of the field are to be left uncut for the poor to pick (Leviticus 19:9); the gleanings of the wheat harvest and fallen fruit are to be left for the needy (Leviticus 19:10); during the sabbatical year, the land is to be left fallow so that the poor (as well as animals) may eat of whatever grows freely (Leviticus 25:2–7). Failure to treat the poor properly is a desecration of God’s name: “The person who mocks the poor blasphemes his Maker” (Proverbs 17:5). The patriarch Abraham always went out of his way to aid the poor. He set up inns on the highways so that the poor and the wayfarer would have access to food and drink when in need.29

God sides with the poor and oppressed. He intervenes in Egypt on behalf of poor, wretched slaves. His prophets constantly castigate those who oppress the needy. Two proverbs reinforce this message: “He who oppresses a poor man insults his Maker” (Proverbs 14:31). “He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord” (Proverbs 19:17). Hence, helping a needy person is like providing a loan to the Creator of the universe.

5. Applying Compassion

Closely related to the Jewish values of justice and charity is the importance Judaism places on compassion. The entire Torah is designed to teach us to be compassionate: “The purpose of the laws of the Torah is to promote compassion, loving kindness, and peace in the world.”30 The Talmud teaches that “Jews are compassionate children of compassionate parents, and one who shows no pity for fellow creatures is not of the seed of Abraham, our father.”31 The rabbis consider Jews to be distinguished by three characteristics: compassion, modesty, and benevolence.32 As indicated previously, we are to feel empathy for strangers, “for we were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 10:19). The Birkat Hamazon (grace after meals) speaks of God feeding the whole world with compassion.

While in Egypt, Joseph had two sons during the seven good years of abundant food, but no children during the seven years of famine. The great Torah commentator Rashi interpreted this to mean that while some people are starving, others who have enough should engage in acts of self-denial to show compassion and sympathy.33 We are not only to have concern and compassion for Jews, but for all who are in need. “Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us? Why, then, do we deal treacherously with one another, profaning the covenant of our ancestors?” (Malachi 2:10) As indicated previously, we are to help even our enemies when they lack sufficient food or water (Proverbs 25:21).

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch writes eloquently of the importance of compassion:

Do not suppress this compassion, this sympathy, especially with the sufferings of your fellow man. It is the warning voice of duty, which points out to you your brother in every sufferer, and your own sufferings in his, and awakens the love which tells you that you belong to him and his sufferings with all the powers that you have. Do not suppress it!…See in it the admonition of God that you are to have no joy so long as a brother suffers by your side.34

6. Sharing

Compassion for the poor and hungry is not enough. A fundamental Jewish principle is that those who have much should share with others who are less fortunate. The Talmudic sage Hillel stresses that we must not be concerned only with our own welfare: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am for myself alone, what am I?”35 The Haggadah, which is read at the Passover seder, exhorts the sharing of food. We are to reach out to all who are hungry and in need. The act of prolonging one’s meal, on the chance that a poor person may come so that one may give him food, is so meritorious that the table of the person who does this is compared to the altar of the ancient Temple.36 Judaism’s great emphasis on sharing is also illustrated in the following Chassidic tale:

The story is told of a great rabbi who is given the privilege of seeing the realms of Heaven and Hell before his death. He was taken first to Hell, where he was confronted with a huge banquet room in the middle of which was a large elegant table covered with a magnificent tablecloth and crystal. The table was covered from one end to the other with the most delicious foods that the eyes have ever seen or the mouth tasted. And all around the table, people were sitting looking at the food…and wailing.

It was such a wail that the rabbi had never heard such a sad sound in his entire life and he asked, “With a luxurious table and the most delicious food, why do these people wail so bitterly?” As he entered the room, he saw the reason for their distress. For although each was confronted with this incredible sight before him, no one was able to eat the food. Each person’s arms were splinted so that the elbows could not bend. They could touch the food but could not eat it. The anguish this caused was the reason for the great wail and despair that the rabbi saw and heard.

He was next shown Heaven, and to his surprise he was confronted by the identical scene witnessed in Hell: the large banquet room, elegant table, lavish settings, and sumptuous foods. And, in addition, once again everyone’s arms were splinted so the elbows could not bend. Here, however, there was no wailing, but rather joy greater than he had ever experienced in his life. For whereas here too the people could not put the food into their own mouths, each picked up the food and fed it to another. They were thus able to enjoy, not only the beautiful scene, the wonderful smells, and the delicious foods, but the joy of sharing and helping one another.37

Rabbi Jay Marcus of the Young Israel of Staten Island comments on the fact that karpas (eating of greens) and yahatz (breaking of the middle matzah for later use as the dessert) are next to each other in the Passover seder service.38 He suggests that those who can live on simple things like greens (vegetables, etc.) will more readily divide their possessions and share with others.

To help share God’s abundant harvests with the poor, the Torah instructs farmers:

  •  If less than three ears of corn are dropped during the harvest, they must

    not be gleaned, but are to be left for the poor (Leket) [Leviticus

    19:9–10].

  •  A sheaf forgotten by the farmer cannot be retrieved but has to be left

    for the poor (Shik’khah) [Deuteronomy 24:19–21].

  •  A corner of the field always has to be left unharvested; it is the

    property of the poor (Pe’ah) [Leviticus 19:9–10].

  •  Every third year a part of the tithe of the harvest has to be set aside for the poor (Ma’aser Ani).
  •  On the eve of every holy day, mat’not Yad, a special gift to the poor, has to be put aside.

    Vegetarianism is consistent with this Jewish concept of sharing. As Jay Dinshah, late long-time president of the American Vegan Society, said:

    After all, vegetarianism is, more than anything else, the very essence and the very expression of altruistic sharing…the sharing of the One Life…the sharing of the natural resources of the Earth…the sharing of love, kindness, compassion, and beauty in this life.39

    The Jewish group Mazon attempts to help Jews share their joyous occasions with hungry people. It urges people to contribute three percent of the money spent for weddings, bar mitzvahs, and other celebrations to the group, which then funnels the money to organizations working to reduce hunger.

    7. Simplifying Lifestyles

    While millions starve, it is imperative that those who have much simplify their lives, so they can share more with others. A group of outstanding religious leaders, including several Jewish representatives from the United States and Israel, met in Bellagio, Italy, in May 1975 to consider “The Energy/Food Crisis: A Challenge to Peace, a Call to Faith.” They agreed on a statement that includes this assertion:

    The deepest and strongest expression of any religion is the “styles of life” that characterize its believers. It is urgent that religious communities and individuals scrutinize their life style and turn from habits of waste, over consumption, and thoughtless acceptance of the standards propagated by advertisements and social pressures. The cry from millions for food brought us together from many faiths. God…calls us to respond to the cry for food. And we hear it as a cry not only for aid but also for justice.40

Simpler lifestyles, with less wasteful diets, can be an important first step toward justice for the hungry of the world. Simpler diets do not imply a lack of joy or a lack of fellowship. As Proverbs 15:17 states: “Better a dinner of herbs with love than a fattened ox with hatred.”

During the Middle Ages, local Jewish councils sometimes established “sumptuary laws” for the community. People were forbidden to spend more than a specified amount of money at weddings and other occasions. These laws were designed so that the poor should not be embarrassed at not being able to match the expenditures of the wealthy, and so that a financial strain was not placed on the community as a whole. Perhaps the spirit of such laws should be invoked today. (Actually, several Chassidic communities currently have such regulations.) Can we continue to consume flesh that requires so much grain to be fed to animals at a time when millions of people are starving? Is it time for officiating rabbis to suggest guidelines to reduce waste and ostentation at weddings, bar mitzvahs, and other occasions?

Realities of Animal-Based Agriculture

Can a shift to a vegetarian diet make a difference with regard to world hunger? Consider these statistics:

1. Today, over seventy percent of the grain produced in the United States and over one-third of the world’s grain production is fed to animals destined for slaughter.41

2. It takes about nine pounds of grain to produce one pound of feedlot beef.42

3. While the average Asian consumes between 300 and 400 pounds of grain a year, the average middle-class American consumes over 2,000 pounds, mostly by eating meat from grain-fed animals.43

4. While fifty-six million acres of U.S. land are producing hay for livestock, only four million acres of U.S. land are producing vegetables for human consumption.44

5. While 2.5 acres of land growing potatoes can feed twenty-two people, and one hectare growing rice can feed nine people, that same area producing beef can only feed one person.45

6. If Americans reduced their beef consumption by ten percent, it would free up ten million tons of grain, enough to feed all of the world’s people who annually die of hunger and related diseases.46

7. U.S. livestock consume over six and a half times as much grain as the U.S. human population does. According to the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology, an Iowa-based non-profit research group, the grain fed to animals to produce meat, milk, and eggs could feed five times the number of people that it presently does if it were consumed directly by humans.47

8. Feeding grain to livestock wastes ninety percent of the protein, almost 100 percent of the carbohydrates, and 100 percent of the fiber. While grains are a rich source of fiber, animal products have no fiber at all.48

Additional facts related to the wastefulness of animal-centered diets are discussed in Chapter 5, and can be also be found in many of the vegetarian books in the Bibliography, especially Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappé, Beyond Beef by Jeremy Rifkin, Diet for a New America by John Robbins, and A Vegetarian Sourcebook by Keith Akers.

These facts indicate that the food being fed to animals in the affluent nations could, if properly distributed, end both hunger and malnutrition throughout the world. A switch from animal-centered diets would free up land and other resources, which could then be used to grow nutritious crops for people. It would also be necessary to promote policies that would enable people in the underdeveloped countries to use their resources and skills to become food self-reliant.

With so much hunger in the world, explicit Jewish mandates to feed the hungry, help the poor, share resources, practice charity, show compassion, and pursue justice, plus the trials and tribulations of Jewish history, point to vegetarianism as the diet most consistent with Jewish teachings related to helping hungry people.

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