Vegetarians and vegans, especially those who have recently changed their diets, are generally on the defensive. They must deal with many questions from nn-vegetarians. Those who eat meat have the support of society, and thus they never consider the consequences of their diet. It is vegetarians who are asked to explain the reasons for their diet, rather than those who support the cruel treatment and unnecessary slaughter of animals that an animal-centered diet requires.
Perhaps there are times when vegetarians (and vegans) should take the offensive in conversations with meat-eaters. Answers when questioned, and queries vegetarians (and vegans) put to their interrogators, can help show the benefits of plant-based diets and its consistency with Jewish values.
Here are some questions that can help vegetarians politely and respectfully “turn the tables” on non-vegetarians:
- Do you know how much cruelty is involved in raising animals for food today?
- Are you aware of the links between meat-eating and heart disease, cancer, and other degenerative diseases?
- Could you visit a slaughterhouse or kill an animal yourself?
- Do you know that while millions die annually of starvation, most grain grown in the United States and in most affluent countries is fed to animals destined for slaughter?
- Are you aware of the consequences of animal-centered diets with regard to pollution, destruction of tropical rain forests and other habitats, use of land, water, and other resources, and global climate change?
- Since Jews are only permitted to kill animals to meet an essential human need, and it is not necessary to consume animal products in order to maintain good health (the contrary is the case), can we justify the slaughtering of animals for food?
- Can we justify the force-feeding of ducks and geese to create pâté de foie gras? Can we justify taking day-old calves from their mothers so that they can be confined in cramped crates until they are killed, so that people can eat veal? Can we justify the killing of over 250 million male chicks immediately after birth at egg-laying hatcheries because they cannot produce eggs and have not been genetically programmed to have enough flesh to make it profitable to raise them for slaughter? Can we justify artificially impregnating cows every year so that we can continue to drink milk intended for their calves? Can we justify the many other horrors of factory farming?
- Since our sages state that we do not know the true value or reward for one mitzvah as compared with another, why do we seek to build extensive fences to expand certain ritual mitzvot while often ignoring broader mitzvot such as tikkun olam (repair the world), bal tashchit (do not waste resources), bakesh shalom v’rodef shalom (seek peace and pursue it), and tsa’ar ba’alei chayim (do not cause “pain to living creatures”)? By doing so, do we miss the forest for the trees?
- Do you know that vegetarianism and, even more so, veganism, is the diet most consistent with Jewish values?
When confronted with questions from people who are unthinkingly supporting current practices, it may be useful and effective to keep the focus on these wider concerns.