LIVING AS A JEWISH VEGAN
In this book, I have attempted to present evidence that the world is in the throes of a climate catastrophe. Selfreinforcing positive feedback loops (vicious cycles) are moving the climate system toward irreversible tipping points. If we fail to act rapidly and decisively, these will bring massive climate disruptions, with calamitous results for all life on Earth.
Because animal agriculture is a major cause of global warming, a shift toward veganism is key to the effort to avert this climate catastrophe. Such a shift is becoming easier than ever, thanks to monumental progress in simulating popular animal foods with plant-based and animal cell–based ingredients.
As this book documents, many potentially fatal diseases can be prevented and in some cases reversed by positive lifestyle changes, including a vegan diet; in an age of resource scarcity, diets full of animal products require far more land, energy, water, and other resources per person than plant-based diets; and although the world already produces more than enough food to feed every person on the planet, we waste it through turning so much of it into animal feed. In addition, climate the change will only exacerbate tensions around the planet as desperate refugees flee droughts, wildfires, storms, floods, and another severe climate events, making terrorism and war more likely.
These issues animate my life, and they impact what food I place in my mouth. Although I have been a vegan for many years, I still encounter the assumption that my diet is a deprivation—an ascetical practice that runs contrary to a deeper biological or emotional need that I may have to eat animal products. It is as if vegans are expected at any moment tothrow up their hands and return to eating meat and dairy, relieved oftheir burden of conscience.
For me, veganism is a life-affirming and life-giving diet and set of values that are about plenitude and pleasure. It offers a daily reminder of our responsibilities as stewards of creation and environmental remediation, and it provides me with a way to protest the sheer insanity that non-vegan diets represent. It offers a prospect of peace and security for all.
In fact, veganism couldn’t be further removed from deprivation or denial. Not only is there an astonishingly wide variety of plant-based foods, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, pulses, and grains, but cuisines from all over the world offer thousands of dishes that are either already vegan or can easily be made so. Indeed, over the last couple of decades, vegan options have moved from health food stores, co-ops, and stores selling ethnic foods, to supermarkets all over the United States and many other places around the world. Tofu, tempeh, and seitan—to name some of the classic formulations of bean curd and wheat gluten, respectively—have now been supplemented with an ever-expanding range of plant-based burgers, sausages, crumbles, and slices; an enormous array of cheeses made of various kinds of nuts and many varieties of yogurts, milk, and butter; and a panoply of vegan juices, smoothies, and snacks sit alluringly on or near the check-out counter.
The Active Vegan
“How can you tell if someone is vegan?” runs a set-up to a joke that’s familiar to vegans. “Don’t worry,” comes the answer. “They’ll tell you.”
As you can probably tell from reading this book, I am passionately committed to veganism, and I am not alone. We can see how much is wrong with our current treatment of animals and how consequential that maltreatment is for the environmnt, human health, and the future of the planet, so that it is hard not to want to tell everyone we meet about the problem and the remedy, as we see them. Many of us see it as a moral Imperative to change people’s minds as well as their practices before it is too late.
Furthermore, remember that veganism is only part of our struggle for a more just, peaceful, compassionate, environmentally sustainable world. All of us should try to affect public policy with regard to vegan-related issues, including preserving health, showing compassion to animals, conserving natural resources, helping hungry people, and seeking and pursuing peace.
If you ever feel frustrated or overwhelmed by the many crises facing the world today and the difficulties in trying to help shift people toward vegan diets, please consider the following. Jewish tradition teaches, “You are not obligated to complete the task, but neither are you free to desist from it” (Pirkei Avot 2:21). We must make a start and do whatever we can to improve the world. Judaism teaches that a person is obligated to protest when there is evil and to proceed from protest to action. Judaism also teaches that the world is evenly balanced between good and evil and that each person’s actions can determine the destiny of the entire world.
Even if little is accomplished, trying to make improvements will prevent your heart’s hardening and affirm that you accept moral responsibility. The very act of consciousness-raising is meaningful because it may lead to future changes. Also, as you plant seeds of information, you never know what positive things might eventually result.
Veganism is my practice and my journey. In this book, I’ve tried to show that veganism is the diet and lifestyle most consistent with fundamental Jewish teachings, which oblige us to preserve our health, treat animals with kindness, protect and preserve the environment, feed the hungry, and pursue peace. I hope I have demonstrated, using the wisdom of the sages and the scriptures, that the exploitation of animals is an egregious violation of the Jewish obligation to be kind to animals.
I have suggested that Jews, including those who observe kashrut, have freedom of dietary choice and that choice should not be based solely on habit, convenience, or tradition. Instead, it should be animated by an ethical consideration of the impact the food we eat has upon our fellow human beings, the animals with whom we share this planet, and the planet itself.
Furthermore, Jewish traditions call upon us to be active agents in the fight to avert catastrophic climate change while promoting peace, justice, and compassion for all. We must strive for Tikkun olam to repair a broken world. And we can do it in the way that fits our interests, skills, and personality: from “being the change” we wish to see in the world, to engaging in respectful one-on-one conversations, to writing, tweeting, leafleting, voting, and demonstrating.
FOR ME, VEGANISM IS A LIFE-AFFIRMING AND LIFE-GIVING DIET AND SET OF VALUES THAT ARE ABOUT PLENITUDE AND PLEASURE. IT OFFERS A DAILY REMINDER OF OUR RESPONSIBILITIES AS STEWARDS OF CREATION AND ENVIRONMENTAL REMEDIATION.
Furthermore, Jewish traditions call upon us to be active agents in the fight to avert catastrophic climate change while promoting peace, justice, and compassion for all. We must strive for Tikkun olam to repair a broken world. And we can do it in the way that fits our interests, skills,and personality: from “being the change” we wish to see in the world, to engaging in respectful one-on-one conversations, to writing, tweeting, leafleting, voting, and demonstrating.
I believe the principles I’ve articulated are not only my vision of Judaism, but are fundamental truths of the faith. Judaism teaches us that God’s compassion is over all His works (Psalms 145:9), that the the righteous individual considers the well-being of animals (Proverbs 12:10), and that Jews must refrain from tza’ar ba’alei chayim, the needless infliction of pain on animals. Judaism calls upon us to engage boldly and unshrinkingly in the struggle against injustice, oppression, and idolatry, and to proclaim that God is the Creator of all life, and that His holy attributes of kindness, compass on, and just benevolence are to be emulated by us, His children.
Judaism asserts that every person is created in God’s image (Genesis1:26, 5:1) and is precious and invaluable, and directs us to work withGod to preserve and perfect the world as stewards of Earth’s resources toensure that God’s bounties are used for the benefit of all (see Genesis 2:15). Judaism cautions us that nothing useful should be selfishly or frivolously wasted or destroyed (bal tashchit, based on Deuteronomy 20:19, 20), and bids us love other people as ourselves and to be kind to strangers. For, note the scriptures, “we were strangers in the land of Egypt,” and we should be compassionate toward others who are poor, homeless, orphaned, widowed, or simply members of other species.
It is a Judaic priority to relieve hunger. One who feeds a hungry person is considered, in effect, to have fed God Himself. Judaism mandates that we must seek and pursue peace. Great is peace, for it is one of God’s names, all of God’s blessings are contained in it, and it will be the Messiah’s first blessing. Judaism likewise exhorts us to pursuejustice, to work toward a social order in which every person is able to obtain through meaningful and dignified work a secure and fulfilling life. And that, finally, the Jewish people are mandated to be a “light unto the nations,” compassionate followers of a compassionate God, setting a positive example for others to follow.
For these reasons, and much more, I am proud to be a Jew. I am proud of our wonderful and universal teachings. Applying them to the world today is vital if we are to steer our endangered civilization onto a sustainable path. I hope that if you are Jewish, and even if you are of another faith or no faith at all, you will join in the mission to apply these values to the challenges of today. I hope my efforts will help to revitalize Judaism and return disaffected Jews to its embrace. It is also my hope that this book will provoke respectful discussions within the Jewish community and beyond. Such discussions can lead us to a vegan world in which “they shall neither harm nor destroy on all My holy mount.” (Isaiah 11:9).
The futures of Judaism and our imperiled planet depend on it. There is no Planet B!
Richard H. Schwartz, PhD, is the author of Vegan Revolution: Saving Our World, Revitalizing Judaism; Judaism and Vegetarianism; Judaism and Global Survival; Who Stole My Religion? Revitalizing Judaism and Applying Jewish Values to Help Heal our Imperiled Planet; and Mathematics and Global Survival, and over 250 articles at JewishVeg.com/schwartz. He is president emeritus of Jewish Veg, and president of the Society of Ethical and Religious Vegetarians
THEEDENMAGAZINE.COM e April 2021