Factsheet on Judaism and Resource Conservation
[Note: the material below was gathered for the 2001 third edition of my book, :Judaism and Vegetarianism” so some updating might be needed in some cases.
This is Factsheet four of a series of five fact sheets on Jewish teachings related to vegetarianism.
A. Jewish Teachings on Resource Conservation
The prohibition against wasting or unnecessarily destroying anything of value, bal tashchit, (“thou shalt not destroy”) is based on the following Torah statement:
“When you shall besiege a city a long time, in making war against it to take it, you shall not destroy (lo tashchit) the trees thereof by wielding an ax against them; for you may eat of them but you shall not cut them down; for is the tree of the field man, that it should be besieged by you? Only the trees of which you know that they are not trees for food, them you may destroy and cut down, that you may build bulwarks against the city that makes war with you, until it fall.” (Deut. 20:19-20)
The sages of the Talmud made a general prohibition against waste:
“Whoever breaks vessels or tears garments, or destroys a building, or clogs up a fountain, or destroys food violates the prohibition of bal tash’chit.” (Kiddushin 32a).
The seriousness with which the rabbis considered the violation of bal tashchit is illustrated by the following Talmudic statements: (1) The sage Rabbi Hanina attributed the early death of his son to the fact that the boy had chopped down a fig tree (Baba Kamma 91b). (2) Jews should be taught when very young that it is a sin to waste even small amounts of food (Berachot 52b).
“This, then, is the first law (Deuteronomy 20:19, 20) . . .: Regard things as God’s property and use them with a sense of responsibility for wise human purposes. Destroy nothing! Waste nothing! (Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, Horeb,” Chapter 56, Section 401)
Rabbi Hirsch also stated that “bal tash’chit is the first prohibition of creation,” and that “destruction does not only mean making something unfit for its designated use; it also means trying to attain a certain aim by making use of more things and more valuable things when fewer and less valuable ones would suffice; or if this aim is not really worth the means expended for its attainment” (Ibid, Section 399)
B. The Wastefulness of Animal-Based Agriculture
1. The average person in the United States eats almost five times as much grain (mostly in the form of animal products) as does a person in aless developed country.
2. It takes 8 to 12 pounds of grain and soybeans to produce one pound of edible feedlot-beef in the United States.
3. Over 70% of the grain grown in the United States and almost 40% of the grain produced worldwide is fed to animals. destined for slaughter, as an estimated 20 million people worldwide, primarily children, die of hunger and its effects each year.
4. Half of the Earth’s land mass is grazed by livestock and 64% of U. S. crop land produces livestock feed (as compared to only 2% of U. S. crop land producing fruits and vegetables).
5. A non-vegetarian diet requires about 3.5 acres/person, whereas a total vegetarian (vegan – no animal products at all) diet requires only about a fifth of an acre. A shift to vegetarian diets would free much valuable land, which could be used to grow nutritious crops for people.
6. The standard diet of a person in the United States requires 4,200 gal. of water/day (for animals’ drinking water, irrigation of crops, processing, washing, cooking, etc.) A person on a vegan diet requires as little as 300 gal./day. The production of only one pound of edible beef in California requires hundreds of gallons of water, as contrasted with only 25 gallons or less to produce an edible pound of tomatoes, lettuce, potatoes, or wheat. Livestock production in the United States accounts for over half of the water consumed for all purposes. In 1988, Newsweek reported that “the water that goes into a 1,000 pound steer would float a destroyer.”
7. A non-vegetarian diet also wastes large amounts of energy. In the United States, an average of 10 calories of fuel energy are required for every calorie of food energy obtained; in many other countries, they gain 20 or more calories of food energy per calorie of fuel energy. To produce one pound of steak (500 calories of food energy) requires 20,000 calories of fossil fuels, most of which is expended for feedcrops. It requires 78 calories of fossil fuel for each calorie of protein obtained from feedlot-produced beef, but only 2 calories of fossil fuel to produce a calorie of protein from soybeans. The production of grains and beans requires only two to five percent as much fossil fuel as the production of beef.
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